It was right after Rosh Hashanah, in Bnei Brak, one of Israel’s most densely populated communities, and thousands of visiting families of every age and description were congregating around the ubiquitous Israeli bus stops eagerly waiting to get home. The bus stop reserved for the 402 express line to Jerusalem was extremely crowded as tired seniors, parents blessed with many children and crying infants were waiting none-too-patiently for a bus that was nowhere in sight.
After what seemed an eternity, an Egged bus could finally be spotted in the distance. But relief turned to dismay as the bus pulled into the station. It was #318, heading for Rechovot, not Jerusalem. The poor driver was besieged by the disappointed passengers. “Look at the size of this crowd! Can’t you help us get to Jerusalem!” they begged. “Have mercy on our senior citizens who have been standing here forever,” they asked. The driver, while sympathetic, pointed to the numbers 318 and said, “This bus goes to Rechovot and there’s not much I can do about it.”
The parents of a wailing infant approached the driver and said, “Have you no heart at all? Please for the sake of the babies who are suffering here by the roadside…”
This plea seemed to resonate with the driver, who actually got up from his seat and announced with some resignation in his voice, “Okay, okay. We’re going to Jerusalem,” as he fiddled with buttons that transformed the bus into a 402 Express.
Smiles broke out and the crowd spontaneously cheered. As they climbed aboard, the passengers thanked the driver profusely for his extraordinary kindness and wished him the traditional holiday blessings reserved for those we love and hold dear.
“May you live a long, healthy life,” wished a Hasidic older gentleman. “May you prosper greatly,” said a grateful young mother. “May your children become leaders of Israel,” a rabbi said.
The packed bus left the station as the maximum number of allowable standees gripped the bars. A gentleman approached the driver and asked if he could use the public address system for a special announcement. After the slightest hesitation, the diver said, “Sure, why not.”
The man clutched the mic and launched into a masterful speech about just what kind of man this bus driver must be, sprinkling his remarks with adjectives like “a saint,” “a giant of a man,” “someone of sterling character who deserves our everlasting gratitude…”
Loud applause capped the man’s eloquent speech and things began to settle down. Just minutes before reaching the central bus station in Jerusalem a young man approached the driver and asked, “Do you mind if I asked you a question?”
“Not at all,” said the driver.
“Despite your really beautiful act of kindness, I just can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you were prepared to probably lose your job over what you did. No self-respecting bus company would ever let a driver get away with changing his route on the fly, regardless of how nice a gesture it is.”
The driver responded with a chuckle. “Let me tell what really happened. Back at the depot we’ve got cameras trained upon all the busier bus stops. At some point my supervisor saw the swelling crowd at the 402 stop and how the mob was beginning to turn ugly. The kids screaming, their parents complaining, he yelled out to the waiting drivers, ‘Who wants to do the Jerusalem run?’
“My friend Dovid says, ‘Not me. I don’t want to be cursed by all those cranky people.’ My buddy Shimon calls out, ‘You wouldn’t believe the abuse I got on the 402 last Saturday night. Not me!’ And so it went with all the drivers.
“I called out, ‘I’ll take it and I bet you I can transform the curses and complaints of all those frantic Jews into heartfelt blessings!’ They looked at me like I was nuts, but I just climbed onto the bus changed the numbers to 318 and it worked like a charm! I haven’t been blessed like that since my Bar Mitzvah!”
The best way to transform misery into blessing is simply to drop the sense of expectation and entitlement, and just like the driver of bus 318/402 and his passengers, live (more) happily ever after.