Every year, prior to the High Holy Days, I visit the graves of four generations of my ancestors buried on Har HaZeitim (the Mount of Olives).
The following story happened last year on Rosh Hashanah eve, after an exhausting day of working as a tour guide. It was getting late, and I decided to forgo my annual pilgrimage to my parents’ graves and go straight home. But as we all know, the mind may make one decision, but the heart leads us otherwise. My heart led me to the Mount of Olives, and I followed it there.
And there, a few rows above my grandmother and grandfather’s graves, facing the Temple Mount, I saw a man, his wife, and their three children holding prayer books and singing. In the hundreds of times I had visited Har HaZeitim, I had never seen anything like this. I approached curiously and listened.
The family was singing Tefillat Chanah (the Prayer of Chanah). I was filled with a desire to unravel the secret of this mysterious sight … but was it polite to ask?
I waited until they finished, and then turned to the man. “I have been visiting this site for 40 years, and I never heard a prayer like yours. May I ask what it is about?”
The man looked at his wife, and she seemed to hesitate, so I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interfere.” But then she seemed to agree to share their story, and so her husband began:
“We were childless for many years. We tried everything: blessings, prayers, medical treatments… and nothing. A few years ago, on Rosh Hashanah eve, I left the house in a state of anguish. I wandered about aimlessly until suddenly I found myself peering into the window of an ancient house in Jerusalem. I saw a very elderly man leaning on the table studying Torah. I was transfixed. His face shone with light. Ten minutes passed, and he continued to be absorbed in his learning. Suddenly he looked up and signalled for me to come in. I entered the door, and the splendor of Torah enveloped me.
“I approached him and without any introduction he instructed me: `Take your wife to the Mount of Olives, opposite the Temple Mount, and pour out your hearts and recite Tefillat Chanah. Hashem will answer your prayers. Return to do this every year after you are blessed with children.’
“I was incredulous. I ran home and recounted this story to my wife. We both cried and went on our way to the Mt. of Olives. And here opposite the Temple Mount we stood and prayed, we cried and recited Tefillat Chanah.”
“And I,” continued the wife, “felt that Hashem was listening and would respond to our prayers…”
She then motioned lovingly to her three children. “And here they are − the answers to our prayers. Their names are Shmuel, Chanah and Elkanah. And since then we come here every year to thank Hashem as that elderly man instructed us.”
“I returned to that elderly sage’s house to thank him,” finished the father, “but I never found him again.”
“Where was the house?” I asked.
“You probably wouldn’t be familiar with the place − it’s a small and old neighborhood in Jerusalem.”
“Well, it just so happens that I am very familiar with Jerusalem.”
“It’s called Beit Yisrael.”
Now it was my turn to be filled with emotion. I led the family four rows of graves down the mountain and pointed to a grave:
“Here lies Baruch ben Mordechai Shimon Rappaport.”
They were filled with trembling.
“And now,” I said, “it’s my turn to tell a story. In 1965, I came to learn in Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav. Every Shabbat, I would visit my aunt and uncle, the children of Rav Baruch Rappaport, who lived on that street in Beit Yisrael.
“Once, while on my way to visit them I passed Rappaport Street and through a little window saw a small elderly Jew learning Torah by candlelight. He was studying with deep dveikus longing for Hashem. I was transfixed and couldn’t move. I felt the place was filled with glory and holiness. And suddenly, he signaled for me to enter.
As I stood in the doorway, he said, “You’ve returned! You are the grandson of Rav Baruch Rappaport, the son of Itzik. You are continuing the chain. You will redeem the Land.”
I trembled, and my eyes filled with tears. Then I saw his special cane and realized that he was blind. And I remembered that my father had told me about a blind man on that street that knew all of Tanach and Shas by heart.
“Tell me,” I asked the blind sage. “Why do you have a candle?”
The old man smiled and answered, “There are qustions for which you will not receive
I kissed the young father, turned, and walked towards the Day of Judgment.
Era Rapaport, a professional tour guide, is the former mayor of Shiloh and lives in Shiloh with his wife and family.