A Fine Time for Prayer

The account of the following incident made its way to our office in France and caused tremendous chizuk among all who read it:

My name is Jonathan A. I am thirty years old and live in Drancy, Paris. I work for a huge firm called Generali, which is divided up into various departments. Altogether, this firm employs approximately five thousand workers.

Every Shabbat, I pray at the synagogue in Blanc-Mesnil, near Paris. For years, I would pray by rote, never feeling especial emotion or concentration in my prayers. Slowly but surely, I veered from the path of Torah.

But Hashem did not give up on me. He sent His messenger to bring me back to the path of righteousness. A young woman in our congregation became engaged to a very pious young man by the name of Jeremy, from the Nineteenth Quarter in Paris. Whoever observed Jeremy’s prayers could not but sense his pure intentions. His special way of praying instilled in me the desire to pray like him, as well as commit myself to Torah study. On Shabbat, I had the merit of learning Torah together with him. We even conducted a competition between us to see who could come up with original Torah insights. This paved my path to teshuvah.

One evening, Jeremy called me up and invited me to join him for a Torah shiur on the Rue du Plateau. I agreed on the spot. I had often tried to participate in Torah classes of various rabbanim, but I could never find one that was suited to my needs.

Rabbi Yoel, shlita, was the speaker that evening, and he talked about the topic of teshuvah. To my chagrin, after only three sessions, I stopped going. My Yetzer Hara had talked me into believing that my teshuvah was airtight, and there was no need for further support. Of course, once I stopped going, my spiritual level plummeted. Only after I realized this, did I take the reins in hand and continue coming to the shiurim, but this time with humility and subservience.

  1. The Rav’s son, Yoel Shlomo Yichyeh, shlita, with youth who thirst for the word of Hashem

During the first session that I attended after returning, Hashgachah pratit arranged that Rabbi Yoel should speak about a subject that really spoke to me. He said that when a person believes his teshuvah is stalwart, it is a definite sign that it is weak and crumbling. I felt he was the mouthpiece of Heaven, speaking directly to me. I determined not to forego one shiur of this wonderful man. I made good on my vow, never missing a shiur. But I felt that something was missing.

Then Heaven arranged that Rabbi Yoel should deliver the shiur that changed my life forever. He spoke about the power of prayer and explained how a person should pray. When I was a little tyke in preschool, I learned the words of tefillah, but Rabbi Yoel showed us how to put our hearts into the words.

After the lecture, everyone stood up to begin the Ma’ariv prayer. With extreme concentration, I asked Hashem, “Why did I fall so low in my spirituality? Why do I not feel anything when I pray? I so long to do teshuvah!”

Hashem answered my prayers immediately. A physically handicapped young man, who had been present at the shiur, slowly walked over to me. Watching him make his painstaking way over, I felt that Hashem was responding to my question. It was my impetuousness and impatience which barred my path from reaching Hashem. Then and there, I undertook to act according to the advice of Rabbi Yoel: To walk slowly but securely, one rung at a time. Only when I felt stable with my spiritual level would I endeavor to climb to the next one.

I like my job and am satisfied with the conditions. My department employs only ten workers. The work is interesting, and the atmosphere is pleasant. But there is one woman, in her fifties, with the initials J.V. She is not an agreeable person to deal with, to say the least. She comes to work with her dog and is a real racist.

When I am at work, I feel it is my duty to change her mindset, or at least to minimize her anti Semitic leanings. I often purchase a cup of coffee for her at the coffee machine and do other small acts of benevolence, which I hope will alter her outlook on Jews as a whole. I believe my actions create a kiddush Hashem in the workplace.

One Thursday in November, I awoke in an especially good mood. I decided to begin tithing my money for charity, apart from the other mitzvot I generally do. I put forth a prayer that Hashem should give me more so that I could give more to His children. That evening, as was my custom, I attended Rabbi Yoel’s evening shiur. He told us that whatever Hashem does is for our best, even if we do not realize it immediately. We are obligated to thank Him for everything, no matter what.

I drove home with my friend, Jeremy. Near Rue Petit, in the Nineteenth Quarter, we noticed an elderly man who was having trouble walking.

We looked at each other in wonder. Jeremy spoke first. “Jonathan, I am sure that I saw this man here last week, after the shiur. When I offered to walk him home, he flatly refused.”

I began to tremble. I, too, had seen this man last week in this very same spot. But it was half an hour after Jeremy had seen him. How could this be? Jeremy spoke up. “Maybe today he does want us to take him somewhere. Open the window and offer him a lift.”

I did as he said. To our surprise, the old man accepted my offer. We took him to his destination. Jeremy said that at this man’s pace, it would have taken him two hours to get there. The old man blessed us over and over. We felt good to have done this mitzvah.

I let Jeremy off at his house on Rue Petit. I was filled with a sense of satisfaction. I had merited performing the mitzvot of charity, praying with concentration, and doing a kindness with this elderly man.

After about another ten minute drive, I finally arrived home. There is a stop sign a couple of meters from my house. As I reached it, I looked in all directions. The streets were clear, so I continued on without stopping. Not a moment passed before I heard the wailing of police sirens. They had caught me red-handed. They stopped me and ordered me to pull over. I politely listened. I have learned that the price of anger and impulsiveness is very steep.

“You did not stop by a stop sign. Hand over your license and registration, please.”

“I don’t have either of them with me,” I said. “I left everything in my other coat. I live across the street on the third floor. I’ll leave my car keys with you if you want, while I go up to get the papers.”

But the officer was adamant. “You’re supposed to have your documents with you, not at home!” he bellowed.

I had nothing to answer the cop after his valid accusation. I pulled out a form that was lying in my car, which had my full name on it. Maybe this would help matters.

The policeman contacted the central police station and confirmed that indeed, I had a license. He stepped aside and began filling out tickets: A fine for driving through a stop sign, a fine for not having my driver’s license with me, a fine for not having the car’s registration papers with me, a fine for not having the insurance forms with me …

As the minutes went by, my mind began wandering back to Rabbi Yoel’s shiur that evening. He said that one can speak to Hashem at any given time, for any reason at all. One should never be afraid to speak to Hashem in his own language, and aloud, asking for whatever it is he needs.

I entered my car and began to yell at the top of my lungs, “Hashem, today I did everything for You. And now this happens. But I don’t have any grievances toward You. I even thank You. Everything is for my best. Thank You! Thank You!”

The second cop noticed that I was talking. He motioned with his stick that I should come out. “Who were you talking to just now?” he demanded.

“I was talking on my cell phone,” I replied.

“You’re making me into a fool,” he stated. “Who were you talking to? All of the fines you got are not enough?” he threatened me.

I decided I would speak the truth. “You know what, Mr. Officer? I’ll tell you the truth. I spoke just now with G-d and thanked Him for everything that happened. I am paying up for my sins in this world so that I can arrive at the World to Come with a clean slate.”

The policeman did not buy my story. He threw me against the car and began a thorough search of my clothes. He was looking for drugs or drink, but he found neither. He decided to run an alcotest, which reveals if a driver drank an alcoholic beverage before hitting the road. This too, came out clear. The only thing he came up with was my work card, which said Generali, with my name and picture.

In the meantime, the first cop finished with his battery of fines. He now said, “We have to take you and the car to the police station in order to check out your identity. We have no proof that you’re Jonathan A.”

Upon hearing these words, I said, “I live here. Come, walk me home and there you’ll find all the documentation you need. That will make things easier for me as well as you.”

But the officer declined. That was just not the way things were done.

Then the second cop intervened. “He’s called Jonathan A. I found his work card at Generali, with his name and picture.”

Finally, a hint of a smile appeared on the first policeman’s face. “Do you really work for Generali?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered in all innocence.

“Do you know the woman by the initials J.V.?” the policeman asked suspiciously.

“Of course,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”

The cop then took out his cell phone. He pressed a few buttons and waited a moment. “Hello,” he said when someone picked up. “Do you know anyone by the name Jonathan A.?”

“Of course, and I owe him a debt of gratitude. You’d better not make him any trouble now!” his wife shouted from the other end of the line.

The man finally said good-bye to my co-worker. Then he tore all of my fines to fine shreds. He allowed me to go home without further delay.

This incident taught me a few lessons. First and foremost, Torah and mitzvot always protect a person from harm. Additionally, everything that happens is for the best. Hashem is omnipotent and can do things that contradict nature. He can make a policeman write out a series of tickets and then rip them to pieces.

Moreover, I learned about the power of prayer. Had I not entered my car to put forth a petition to Hashem, the cop would never have frisked me and found my work card. I would not have been witness to this amazing turn of events. But since I offered a prayer from the depths of my heart, Hashem came to my aid in a most dramatic way and saved me from my predicament.


A Fine Time for Prayer

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Ask for a blessing from the rabbi