A True Story By Rabbi Nachman Seltzer
As a seminary student in Israel you take buses a lot. For at least one year out of your life, there is nobody chauffeuring you around and no car for you to drive. You are dependent on the transportation system and its inherent pluses and minuses. A plus for the system – there are a lot of buses in Yerushalayim, and they are always on the go, from very, very early in the morning when the vasikin people head over to the Kosel, to very, very late at night, when the chatzos people return home from the Kosel. A minus for the system – if you leave something on the bus, there’s a good chance you will never see it again. With thousands and thousands of people traveling the same buses on a daily basis, it’s doubtful whether the missing object will even be reported missing.
That is why I was so nervous when I forgot the pouch with my credit card and Rav Kav on the neighborhood bus. When I realized they were missing, I was overcome with that sickening feeling you get when something valuable spirals off into the unknown. The first thought that came to mind was that it was incumbent on me to do my hishtadlus and see for myself whether the driver found my bag and brought it in to the lost and found at the Central Bus Station, before I went and cancelled my credit card. Which meant, that I soon found myself entering Jerusalem’s bustling hub of transportation – a artistically designed mall filled with a wide assortment of various enterprises, a food court, the bus station and the administration offices. People ride up and down the escalators and the bakeries are constantly filled with the ebb and flow of thousands of commuters traveling around the country. The moment I arrived, I asked passerby and workers if they knew where the lost and found was, but nobody did and by the time I finally found the office, half an hour had passed. I spent the next hour searching through the entire room, but my bag was nowhere to be seen. Finally I gave up the search, resigning myself to the fact that I’d probably never see my credit card and Rav Kav again.
Needing a new Rav Kav, I changed direction and headed over to the office where they issue bus passes. After waiting in the line for an hour, I finally reached the desk, where the man entered my details into the computer and attempted to set me up for another Rav Kav, but here we ran into trouble, because somehow the computer seemed sure that my card had been cancelled already days before and wouldn’t allow us to cancel and renew. After another hour of trying a host of passwords to give us entrance to the system and being unsuccessful every time, the man finally gave up, apologizing for leaving me in the lurch, but explaining that he needed to assist other passengers and couldn’t spend all his time with me. I walked out of the office extremely frustrated with the situation.
The hallway was filled with people running to catch their buses, coffees and attaché cases in hand and bags slung over their backs. As I walked I directed my gaze heavenward and spoke inwardly to Hashem.
“I don’t understand what’s going on here,” I began. “I keep on trying to figure this out and get my things back or at least to make a new card for myself, but I’m not having any success. By now I’ve done everything in my hands, and You know that I can’t afford to loose those things. So I’m placing this entirely in Your hands and please direct me to my next move, because I’m simply out of ideas!”
Then I turned to leave the station, mood significantly improved by my decision to hand this over to heaven.
Exiting the station, I headed towards the nearest bus stop, when my phone started to ring.
I glanced down at the screen trying to determine if I recognized the number, finally deciding that I did not. Now as everyone who knows me can attest, I have a phobia about answering numbers which I do not recognize. In general if I don’t recognize the number, I let the caller go to voice message.
“Wait a second,” a voice inside my head suddenly spoke up. “Maybe it’s someone you know. Remember, you just purchased this new kosher phone recently. Maybe it’s a friend and the reason you don’t recognize the number is because you haven’t entered it into your phone yet!”
By the time I got through all my internal deliberations, the phone had stopped ringing – but I dialed the number and someone answered and began talking to me in Ivrit. Now I was in trouble, because I had no idea in the world what the person was saying. I was about to hang up when I managed to identify the words “Rav Kav,” through the garble of rapid fire Ivrit.
The next few minutes were slightly miraculous in the sense that despite me not being able to say two words in the local lexicon, I managed to discover words in my vocabulary I had never known existed. I described my bag to the woman, telling her that it was multicolored (I can’t figure out how I got her to understand that) and that the credit card was blue and the Rav Kav green. Pretty miraculous all things considered, when I had never even learned the Hebrew words for colors! The moment we established that the woman had my belongings, the miracle ceased happening and my Ivrit machinery closed down, so I handed the phone to a passerby who was kind enough to jot down the woman’s address for me.
She lived in Ramot daled, but I never heard of the street and I was slightly daunted by the task of finding an address in a predominantly Ivrit speaking neighborhood, where I wouldn’t know how to explain myself if I got lost. Still I was a lot closer to retrieving my belongings than I’d been when I’d set out on my quest and I was also a lot calmer knowing that my things were safe and sound in the home of an honest person. I was also feeling the soothing/guiding Hand of Hashem directing me in my quest – which made me smile. Now all I needed was to reach this lady’s house – which was easier said then done.
Ancient Chinese Saying – when in need, call a friend.
I decided to do just that.
“Hi Miri,” I said, when friend number one answered the phone. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“I need you to look up an address for me on Google Maps so I can find out how to get there.”
“What’s the address?”
I read her the address and she entered it into her computer. Then we waited. A few minutes passed.
“I’m sorry Tehilla,” she said at last, “Google Maps is not responding. It’s almost as if the address that you gave me doesn’t exist.”
“Guess I’ll have to try someone else.”
“Hi Elisheva, could you look up on address on Google Maps for me?”
“Certainly, what’s the address?”
I read her the address. She tried looking it up.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. “There seems to be some sort of problem with the computer. Maybe Google is having issues today because it’s not giving me an answer.”
I thanked her and hung up, electing to continue my quest with the hope of obtaining more accurate directions along the way.
“He who has directed me this far, will take me to my destination,” I said to myself, and hurried over to the closest bus stop.
The bus stop for Ramot was filled with people and I took a spot on the side and waited somewhat impatiently for it to arrive. When it finally pulled up, I paid the driver, thinking wistfully about my Rav Kav and hoping to be reunited with it in the near future. The bus had a neon sign that flashed the name of the approaching stations and I waited to see the name of the street where the lady lived, but being one of those days, the screen was unfortunately frozen and was no help at all - and before I knew it, the bus had already entered familiar territory and I saw the stop where I normally disembarked.
What a day this had been.
Time spent wandering around the Central Bus Station. Hours spent trying to find and then renew my Rav Kav. Answering a phone number that I didn’t recognize. Finding myself able to communicate in Ivrit when I’d never been able to do so before. Google Maps mysteriously not providing an address. A long chain of events which had deposited me back on my doorstep without having taken care of what I had set out to do. I had received the address. I just needed to find it, but I had no idea where to look.
“Hashem,” I said reiterating my original request for assistance. “I am powerless in this situation. Only You can lead me where I need to go. It doesn’t make sense that You would have brought me this far, only to leave me here at the gate. Please guide me in the direction that You want me to go next.”
I needed a destination. I needed someone to take me by the hand. Of course there was nobody around who could do that. Instead I caught sight of the neighborhood makolet. The grocery store. Without thinking too deeply into the situation, I decided to enter. Why did I choose that store instead of any of the others? I do not know. But something inside me was urging me in that direction. There were people inside. I asked a few of them to use Google Maps to try and find the address. They tried. Didn’t succeed. A woman was standing off to the side watching intently as I did whatever came to mind.
“Can I help you,” she offered in English, apparently noting my distress and seeming inability to solve my dilemma.
“Yes, thank you. When I call this number on my phone please speak to the lady on the other end of the line and ask her to clarify exactly where she lives, so that you can explain to me how to get there.”
I dialed. She spoke to the lady. Got directions. Wrote them down. After thanking the woman, she turned my way and gave me a series of directions that even I was able to handle. Thanking her, I left the grocery store and headed across the highway, still valiantly on the trail of my things.
The neighborhood was filled with children playing on every corner. I had never been there before and wouldn’t have been able to communicate with anyone I saw if I got lost because it didn’t seem like anyone spoke a word of English in this part of town. Though I was worried about taking wrong turns, the lady’s directions were excellent and I found first the street and then the building. I entered the lobby, which was filled with broken strollers and bicycles. The tiles were stained and cracked and the general atmosphere was one of neglect and financial constraint. The words “haunted house,” came unbidden to my mind and I felt hesitant to keep on searching. Still I had come too far to give up now. I searched the post boxes in the entranceway for the number of the apartment and eventually found myself ascending a narrow staircase towards the roof of the building. And then, finally, I was standing in front of the lady’s door.
She answered. It was a little old lady. She hobbled over to me, my cards in her hand. My multi colored bag. My Rav Kav. My credit card. All there. Safe and sound. I wanted to thank her, I wanted to bless her. It was difficult for me, because I the words that I needed escaped my mind. Still I refused to give up and gave her every bracha I could think of. She accepted my brachos graciously.
I stood there in the hallway holding my things. I wanted to leave. But before I could do that, I had to understand something. My phone was relatively new. So new, that many of friends didn’t even have my number yet. So how had this little old lady managed to track me down? Steeling myself, I used all my non-existent language skills to ask her my question. I combined the words with sign language and saw from the look of comprehension on her face that she understood.
She didn’t hesitate. Clearly she too, wanted to explain her side of the story/saga. Launching into a complicated explanation in Ivrit, accompanied by much hand waving and usage of props such as my pouch, I eventually understood what had occurred.
She had seen that the pouch was tiny, only capable of holding two cards, she pantomimed to me.
Since those cards didn’t hold the key to tracking me down, she figured that she’d look further. She turned the pouch upside down and inside out, and discovered a crumpled up piece of paper. It was a prescription that my doctor had given me ages ago. Now she had something to go on. Ever the intrepid investigator, the little old lady picked up the phone and called the doctor’s office, explaining how she’d found the pouch and wanted to track down the owner. The doctor remembered me though it had been a while since I’d last been there and was able to provide her with my up-to-date information, including my new number which I’d given the office.
Then she called.
Now it all made sense.
I thanked her once again, she waved it away and I took my leave.
Returning home through the gathering dusk, I reflected on my adventures that day and how every time it seemed like the trail had come to an end, I had thrown myself on the mercy of Hashem and asked Him to please take me by the hand and identify the next move to make. And how He had done so, time after time.
Though we normally feel at least partially in control in every given situation, this hadn’t been a normal situation and I had felt powerless and completely out of my element. There had been an equation here in the story - but I had not really been a part of it, relying solely on the subtle and silent guidance of the Master of the World, Who handed me the clues in response to my pleas and watched from above as I followed them to the end of the story.
“Thank You,” I whispered quietly, as I retraced my steps through the now quiet streets.