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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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A Journey Worth Taking

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I often find myself dreading the thought of taking a bus to the center of town in Yerushalayim. The wait between buses can seem endless and once aboard, I frequently find myself surrounded by masses of humanity on an overstuffed vehicle.

On one recent particularly hot day, I decided to spend my time observing those around me, and suddenly the ride was no longer just an uncomfortable experience. I began to notice that the people crowded next to me were individuals, and I started to smile. I saw and heard much that reminded me that many of them were traveling along a similar path to mine. We were no longer strangers.

It seemed that all around me, people from all walks of life and levels of religiosity were engaged in either morning prayers or some form of learning.

A few seats away, I noticed a man with a Mishnah in hand, talking intently into a cell phone. I soon realized the man was participating in a Daf Yomi shiur, utilizing his traveling time well.

My seatmate was also on her cell phone. I could not help but hear her end of the conversation. She was trying to assist the young person on the other end with a crisis.

The young woman had recently become a chozeret bi’teshuvah, keeping the mitzvot. The woman next to me was trying to coach this newly religious young woman on how to cope with questions like her decision to change her way of life that her friends and family were posing. After conversing for a while, the two arranged for a follow-up meeting. The woman next to me then apologized if she had disturbed me while I was praying with kavanah due to her conversation. I said that it had actually been a very uplifting way to start my day.

And then my day got even better. An old man had moved to the front of the bus and was having trouble keeping his balance as he waited for the driver to pull over to the next stop. The driver turned toward the passenger and reached his hand out to steady the man. He told the old man to wait, as he would try to bring the bus as close to the curb as he could so that the old man could disembark more easily.

My bus may have been crowded, hot and stuffy, but I felt I had been part of a special journey that I often did not notice in the daily rush of things.

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A few seats away, I noticed a man with a Mishnah in hand, talking intently into a cell phone. I soon realized the man was participating in a Daf Yomi shiur, utilizing his traveling time well.

I insisted that one decoration, a dancing sevivon (dreidel) man, remain hanging in recognition of the chag. Some in my family questioned the appropriateness of this decision. Was it proper to have decorations hanging in what would soon become a house of shiva?

Shimon’s early years were not easy ones. His mother struggled to support both of them. She never acquired the knowledge needed to help her son through school years filled with homework and tests.

Chaim (not his real name) was walking down the street, feeling very discouraged. It seemed that lately, the news was filled with stories depicting the disparities, distrust and dislike between the different streams of Jews living in Israel. Much of it revolved around the different religious affiliations or non-affiliations that people adhered to. There were times when Chaim felt the situation was hopeless, with no way to bring people together as a cohesive group – despite their differences.

Like many religious Jews, our bookshelves contain a variety of sefarim. Among the sifrei Mishnah, the Gemara, the Chumashim, among others, there is one sefer that has special meaning to my family and me.

The rav was not a wealthy man, but earned enough to live comfortably. He earned his money by serving as the rav of a religious community in Yerushalayim. He also received some royalties from sefarim he had written over the years. He was well known, and many people approached him for a berachah, advice and help. They were not turned away.

Like many children, some of my grandchildren tended to rush through the berachot they recited each day. Somehow, the first few words were inclined to run together. The last few words often got swallowed up, especially those that were part of berachot made before eating something they really liked.

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