I had gone to Montreal in December for a friend's wedding. I was unprepared for the bitter cold and its numbing effect on my sightseeing interests. The day after my arrival, I decided to go to an underground shopping mall where I could purchase some warm winter boots. As I hailed down a taxi, the wind lashed across my face. I gave the driver the address of a store that an acquaintance had recommended and I arrived at my destination some 15 minutes later. I paid the driver, exited the cab, and tried to get my bearings. By the time I realized that I was in a totally residential neighborhood instead of anywhere near a shopping mall, the driver had sped away.
I was hopelessly lost. There were only attached houses sitting atop steps as far as the eye could see. I had no choice but to knock on someone's door and hope that they would be kind to a stranger.
I climbed the first set of stairs that I saw. As I reached the top, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a reassuringly familiar sight. A mezuzah was affixed to the doorpost of the home. Presumably, the owner was Jewish and might be willing to help a fellow Jew.
I rang the doorbell, not knowing what to expect. After what seemed like a long time to me, a woman's voice behind the door asked me to identify myself. I sheepishly admitted that I was a lost American who was trying to find my way to a boot store. The voice replied that there were no stores in that neighborhood. She seemed to think that I might be using a ploy to gain entrance into her house.
I tried again. "I am a Jewish woman who came here for a friend's wedding. I was staying in Cote St. Luc, and got bad directions to get to a store. I'm hopelessly lost. Could you please tell me how I can get a cab back to the shopping area?" I pleaded.
There was silence. I tried once more. "Don't open the door for me. You don't know who I am. But could you please call a taxi to take me to the underground mall?"
I was soon to find out that Someone had a more important plan for me than buying a pair of boots.
Still, no answer. Yet I heard the unmistakable sounds of releasing chains and unbolting locks, and the door slowly opened a few moments later.
A short woman in her sixties, with reddish-brown hair swept up in a bun, stood before me. She was at least a head shorter than me, plump, and wore a shapeless black dress with open-toed shoes. She sized me up very quickly and bid me to come in. "My, my," she exclaimed, "it's freezing out there. Come in, come in." With a wave of her hand, she ushered me into her modest living room. "Can I get you a cup of tea?"
"No, thanks," I declined, "but thank you for letting me come in. I'm sure it must be a little worrisome having a stranger come to your door."
"Yes, it was," she admitted, "because I live alone. You looked innocent enough, though. What are you doing in this neighborhood?" she inquired.
"I really don't know myself. I can't imagine how I ended up here. By the way, how far away is the address on this piece of paper?" I asked.
The lady studied the paper carefully and replied, "That's on the other side of town. It will take you half an hour to get there at this time of day."
"In that case, I guess that I'll just forget about shopping and get a cab back to my hostess' house where I'll be staying for the weekend. Can you help me order a cab from here?" I wondered.
"I'll be happy to," the lady replied, "only it will take them about twenty minutes to get here. Make yourself comfortable in the meantime."
My first order of business was to take off my coat and enjoy the warmth emanating from the radiator. As the woman called the taxi, I wondered why in the world I had ended up so far from my destination. I was not pleased about spending the rest of the weekend without a warm pair of boots. And I was very annoyed at having wasted the day going absolutely nowhere. I was soon to find out that Someone had a more important plan for me than buying a pair of boots.
The woman sat back against her faded green couch and reassured me that the taxi would be here soon. In the meantime, she was a very gracious hostess and asked me where I was from.
"Well, I'm originally from Baltimore, but I've lived in New York for the past few years," I replied.
"Are you religious?" she inquired.
I wondered if there were something about my appearance that broadcast that I was. "Yes," I acknowledged, "why do you ask?"
"If you're religious, and you're from Baltimore, then you'll appreciate the story that I'm going to tell you. I'm not religious, but my son is. He became religious when he was 15 years old. I was happy for him. He wanted to go to a religious school and decided that the best place for him would be at Ner Israel yeshiva in Baltimore. When he came home for the summer, I was not feeling so well. Before he went back to school, he insisted that I see a doctor. I told him that I didn't think I needed to, but that if it would make him happy, I would go.
The doctor told my son that I had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in my stomach.
"So, he came with me to see my doctor. The doctor did some tests on me and told me that everything was fine. He then told my son to go into his office and he spoke with my son for a few minutes. I didn't know it at the time, but he told my son that I had a tumor the size of a grapefruit in my stomach. My son was stunned, and didn't know what to say. The doctor told him that I couldn't be expected to live for more than three months, and that there was nothing medical that anyone could do to help me.
"My son didn't say a word to me about that conversation. He went back to school a few days later and told someone there what happened to me. That friend told the head of the yeshiva. The head of the yeshiva announced that all of the boys and men in the school would pray for me at every prayer service, three times a day.
"My son came home for winter break three months later and insisted that I see the doctor. I didn't know why he wanted me to go since I felt fine, but he wouldn't stop bothering me about it. I wanted him to be happy, so I finally went. The doctor did some tests and told me that I was fine. Then he called my son in the room with me and asked if I had done anything out of the ordinary since I saw him last. I said, "No."
"The doctor then explained that the grapefruit-sized, lethal tumor that he had seen three months earlier had completely vanished without a trace. He had no explanation for it.
"My son did, and he told both of us what happened.
"I'm not a religious person, but isn't the power of prayer amazing? It saved my life."
"That was eight years ago," the woman explained. "I've been in fine health ever since. I'm not a religious person, but isn't the power of prayer amazing? It saved my life."
Now I understood why I had ended up in this woman's living room instead of in a shoe store. I had prayed for so many things for years and it had seemed that many of my prayers had gone unanswered. I knew that prayer could result in the One Above changing people's lives, but it had been a long time since it happened for me. My prayers had become so lackluster that even though I prayed twice a day, I usually thought about all kinds of matters that had nothing to do with the words of prayer that I uttered. When I thanked God that my body functioned, I didn't feel grateful. While I asked the Almighty to give me health, or financial success, or wisdom, I might be concentrating on what I would eat for breakfast while I gave lip service to the words that I recited. As I requested that my Creator hear my prayers, I was often so distracted that I was mentally focused on what I would do at work that day. It seemed I had stopped viewing prayer as something to take seriously.
This woman's son, and those who prayed for her in the yeshiva, truly believed in the power of prayer. They believed that if God created the world and runs it, He can surely, and often does, intervene in the lives of His creations. Prayer can create a spiritual conduit for this to happen. We have to pray seriously, though, if we want prayer to be effective. If we pray with sincerity, there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. We may not always get the answers that we want, but we will always be heard and be answered.
That blustery day in Montreal a divine Hand guided me to an unintended destination because there was a message that I needed to hear. The encounter with this woman was a catalyst for me to realize that my prayers simply weren't what they could be. With prayer, we can change the world. When we don't change the world, sincere prayers are never wasted if we use them to change ourselves and foster a closer relationship with the One to whom we pray.
I now know, with the passage of time, that many of my prayers were answered. I simply hadn't gotten the answers that I had wanted to hear at the time that I prayed. When we are equally ready to hear a "No" from our loving Heavenly Parent as a "Yes" because we value the relationship and any communication that we receive, our prayers can take us to a different dimension. The prayers of the boys in the yeshiva undoubtedly took them to Heaven. The woman I met was the beneficiary of prayers that brought Heaven down to earth.
|In honor of the birth of Gavriel Nosson|