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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Strength of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai


In mid-December, I traveled to Eretz Yisroel with my wife, Chanie, for a twofold purpose. Firstly, I wanted to visit my two children who are learning in yeshivos there. Secondly, in light of the fact that I had assumed the position of executive director of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, I wanted to solicit as many brochos from gedolim as possible, and to pray at kivrei tzaddikim (graves of righteous people).

We arrived in Eretz Yisroel on Tuesday evening, and stayed overnight at my uncle’s home in Ra’anana. On Wednesday morning, which was the fast of Asoro b’Teves, I began the day by immersing in a mikvah, and davening in the Lechu Neranenu shul. My family then visited my grandmother’s grave at the Ra’anana cemetery.

The next step was to begin our trip up north for a day of tefillah. We reached Miron in the early afternoon, and davened and recited Tehillim at the kever of the holy tzaddik, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Following an uplifting hour or so in Miron, we proceeded to Amuka, the burial place of R’ Yonason ben Uziel. Tradition has it that those who make the trip to his kever will be helped, especially those in need of shidduchim. We prayed both for the singles in our family and for many others whose names we carried with us.

Our next stop was the holy city of Tzfas. Many great people are buried in the ancient cemetery there. Since we are Kohanim, my son and I were not able to enter the cemetery, but my wife and daughter spent close to an hour at the various gravesites. By this time, it was starting to get dark, and I was trying to calculate what time Maariv would take place.

We have a niece studying in a seminary in Tzfas, and I figured that we would be able to reach her seminary and still be in time to daven Maariv in her neighborhood. We began driving there, and soon became hopelessly lost. We asked directions and made phone calls, but without success.

Suddenly, we saw a group of men on the street coming from shul. They told us that the seminary was just around the corner. However, much to my chagrin, we had missed Maariv! We inquired when the next Maariv would take place, and we were told that there usually was a Maariv minyan at 9:00 p.m. But since it was a fast day, everyone had probably already davened, and there was only a slim chance that there would be another minyan tonight.

After a short visit with our niece, we headed back into the center of Tzfas, hoping to find others who had not davened Maariv yet. However, we were unsuccessful. Several people suggested that we go to Miron. Perhaps we would yet find a minyan at the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. And so we got into the car and drove back to Miron.

In Miron, we found only one other person who had not yet davened Maariv. We waited for a while, and slowly came to the realization that we would not find anyone else to complete the minyan. I asked the people there to get together for Borchu, and davened Maariv without a minyan. It really bothered me that I would not daven with a minyan. However, I consoled myself with the fact that I was davening at one of the holiest sites in the world.

In the middle of Maariv, my cell phone rang. Of course, I ignored it. After Maariv, the phone rang again. Since I am a Kohen, I had been davening on the outer porch, and did not feel it wrong to answer the phone. It was a woman who urgently needed to speak to me on a work related matter. At the close of the conversation, I asked her if she had any request she wanted me to convey at this holy site.

After a few seconds of quiet, she said, “Of course. You know that my grandson Shimmy urgently needs a refuah.”

I had completely forgotten that her two-year-old grandson, Shimon, was suffering from cancer. This woman told me that the child was named Shimon, because close to three years earlier, the child’s father had traveled from New York to Miron to daven at the very spot where I was now standing. At that time, the father had promised that if their next child would be a boy, he would name the child Shimon, after Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Nine months later, Shimmy was born.

With this information, I realized why I had missed Maariv in Tzfas. Hashem had directed my steps back to Miron to beseech Him on Shimon’s behalf!

I thought that this was the end of the story. But it was not.

The next evening, the same woman called me and told me the following amazing story. On Wednesday, Shimmy was in the hospital getting blood transfusions. His blood count was low, and he was weak. Then, all of a sudden, his condition began to improve, and within a few hours, he was discharged from the hospital. What caused that sudden turnaround?

The child’s mother said that the improvement began at about 1:00 p.m. Calculating a seven hour distance between America and Eretz Yisroel, his improvement began at the exact time that I was praying at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai!

I know that I am no tzaddik and cannot effect such miraculous occurrences. However, I was humbled by the fact that through my tefillos at the right time and the right place, the koach of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai helped bring a refuah to this child on that day.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

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