Last year on the seventh morning of Chanukah our phone stopped working. It wasn’t completely dead; it was still receiving calls and placing outgoing ones. But there was a funny kind of static on the line. So on the seventh afternoon of Chanukah we called the phone company. At the time we had been living in Israel only a few months, and I still got shaky every time I made a phone call in Hebrew. Luckily, the customer service representative was pleasant, and said a technician could come between either 3 and 5p.m. − or 7 and 9p.m.
“Which time would you prefer?” he asked.
Which time? Well, that was a no-brainer. Nice and early in the afternoon or smack in the middle of bedtime?
I made an appointment for between 3 and 5 and hung up. Then I informed my husband about the impressively quick service we’d be receiving.
He turned to me with an ominous look in his eyes. “You know when he’s going to come,” he said, and I could practically see the storm clouds in the air.
“Between 3 and 5 p.m.?” I ventured. Somehow I knew that was not the answer.
Meir shook his head. “He’s going to come exactly when it’s time to light the Chanukah candles.”
I gasped. Okay, so I exaggerate. (Anyone who knows my husband knows that “ominous” and “storm clouds” are not words generally associated with him.) But the truth is he very much likes to light Chanukah candles at the earliest possible time, at sunset, and, somehow, nearly every night of Chanukah that year something happened to delay us. And now the eighth night was rapidly approaching and we were waiting for a telephone repairman.
“Well,” I said with an attempt at cheeriness, “this is Israel. If he comes when we’re about to light, we’ll just invite him to light with us!”
On Meir’s face was that certain expression he gets when I am being particularly exasperating.
“And I bet you’re going to tell me that Hashem made our phone break just so that an Israeli repairman can light Chanukah candles.”
I shrugged and he sighed as he went back to cleaning out the glass cups of the menorah.
The technician, Roni, arrived at 4:15 while my husband was at shul. I showed him the phone, and he began to work, when Meir walked in the door.
“Time to light!” he called out.
“He’s here,” I mouthed, pointing to the room the man was working in, and glancing at my husband nervously.
A moment’s hesitation – then my wonderful husband walked right over to the technician, gave him a warm greeting, and asked him if he wanted to join us for Chanukah lighting.
Roni was on his cell phone, but nodded and held up a hand, indicating that we should wait for him. I wasn’t sure if he thought he had to join us out of politeness, and felt a little bad about wasting his time when he probably had other jobs to get to after ours.
We gathered around the menorahs, the six of us, and Roni. We lit the candles, my children and my husband in turn. I noticed Roni listening attentively, an arm draped over his bare head, answering amen to the blessings.
When we were almost finished, he thanked us and said, “You have no idea what a mitzvah you did. I told myself this year I would light candles at least one night of Chanukah. But each night I came home too late. Tonight is the last night, and once again, I realized I would be home too late to light. But now I was able to see it here!”
Well, with such a revelation, there was really only one thing to do. It was my husband’s turn to light one last set of candles by our front door. Instead of lighting all of them himself my husband lit just the first candle and then waved Roni over. Holding out the Shamash, he said, “B’Vakashah, please, finish the job for me!”
I handed Roni a kippah that was hastily snatched from under my four-year-old’s baseball cap (it was a bit unnerving, though definitely heartwarming, watching Roni struggling to light the candles with one hand while covering his head with the other). Roni lit the candles, beamed at us and went back to work.
That was it. He finished the job, we both thanked each other, and he left. No grandiose ending here, no passionate declarations that from now on he’s going to make sure to light Chanukah candles every year. Just a few simple Jews performing a simple mitzvah, in a land in which the extraordinary is born from the ordinary; where spiritual goals determine physical realities and a Jew’s need to light Chanukah candles can – just maybe − cause a telephone to break.
(And yes, I did tell my husband “I told you so.”)