This true story happened this year on the first night of Chanukah.
There was a young couple, Yossi* and Sara*, married only about five months, who were planning to travel from their home in Ramat Shlomo in Yerushalayim to Netanya on the first night of Chanukah for a large family gathering. Everyone was looking forward to this very much, as Yossi had been the first grandchild to get married and also because it was an opportunity for him and his new kallah to spend time with his wonderful family.
But something else happened.
Sara has a married sister, Rina* with several young children, who were all looking forward to the week-long holiday. They had been learning about Chanukah for weeks, and knew so many facts, stories, songs, and even laws about Chanukah. They knew about the brave, outnumbered Maccabees, the evil Greeks, and the miracle of the oil. And they looked forward to the Festival of Lights with great anticipation and joy. But because of some urgent matter, their father unexpectedly had to be abroad during the entire holiday. When the children heard that, they were so disappointed, as was their mother, but there was nothing they could do about it.
This year their mother would light the candles and say the blessings, and the children would answer amen. Their mother would say Haneiros Halalu and softly sing Maoz Tzur with the children. She would give them Chanukah gelt and donuts, maybe even latkes, and would try to make the festival as happy as possible. But it wouldn’t be the same without Abba. During the year, they saw much more of Ima than Abba, but on holidays there was plenty of quality time – terrific, happy, exciting quality time with Abba as well as Ima. But this year it was not to be.
Their grandparents were aware of their son-in-law’s unexpected absence and knew that the children would be terribly disappointed. Maybe over the week of Chanukah, they would get used to it, but at least the first night of the holiday should be special, exciting, and happy. And so Sara’s mother, the children’s savta, called Sara and said, “I know you’re looking forward very much to going to your in-laws and their family in Netanya the first night of Chanukah, and I’m so happy for you. I know it will be very special.”
And then she continued, “Sara, forgive me for saying this, but please, do me a big favor and think of Rina and her kids. They’re going to be alone at home. It’s going to be so disappointing for them. Please, Sara, do me a big favor – I’d appreciate it tremendously. Before you and Yossi go to Netanya, could you go to Rina’s home and spend some time with the kids to make it more joyous for them? I’m sure it would mean a lot to them. And then, after a while, you and Yossi can continue to Netanya to his family’s celebration.”
Sara was surprised by this request. She and Yossi had been looking forward so much to being with his family in Netanya. She was uncertain about what to do, but after discussing it with Yossi, they decided that because the mitzvah of honoring parents is so important, they would change their plans in order to fulfill Sara’s mother’s request. Plus, they figured out that if they left their home early enough, they could spend time with Rina and the kids and still make the bus they had planned on taking, a bus that goes to Haifa but has a stop on the way in Netanya. And so the young couple made a detour and went to Neve Yaacov to visit with Sara’s sister and her children.
Savta’s idea was fantastic! Yossi was a refined young man with a wonderful heart filled with love and joy, and he and Sara made that first night of Chanukah so very happy, so special – far beyond anything the family had expected it to be when they thought they would be alone. They lit the first Chanukah candle, and everyone answered amen with pride as they proclaimed the miracle that Hashem had made for them and all Am Yisrael. They sang, they danced, they got Chanukah gelt. The children were asked questions about what they had learned and they answered eagerly and happily. Their mother was so proud of them, and so appreciative of this wonderful surprise visit. Sara was proud of her new husband who was giving his all to make this night an especially happy and meaningful experience for his new nieces and nephews. And he was doing all this in order to honor his mother-in-law’s wishes.
Time went by and Yossi and Sara saw that they had better get going if they wanted to make the bus to Netanya. But the children begged them: “Don’t go – please stay a little longer! Ask us more questions! And riddles! And we have to play dreidel, too. Please stay longer!” Yossi and Sara looked at them, and then they looked at each other, and together they decided to stay a bit longer. It was so special for the children, so important, and at the same time it was their fulfillment of the great mitzvah of honoring parents. And so they stayed and stayed, until eventually, Yossi looked at his watch and saw that it was too late – they had been there much longer than they had planned to, and there was no way they could make their bus. He spoke to Sara quietly for a minute or two and then, with a sigh of acceptance, he took out his phone and called his family in Netanya.
Yossi wished them a Chanukah Sameach, then explained the situation and his mother-in-law’s heartfelt request. He explained how important it was not only for her but for his sister-in-law and his nephews and nieces. And then he said, “I hope you understand. We wanted to come to you so much. We were so looking forward to this gathering ever since you invited us almost two weeks ago. But we missed the bus. Please forgive us. We’ll try to come please G-d another night this week. Please understand and tell everyone else there, too, that we really wanted to be with you very much. We didn’t plan it this way, but this is what happened.”
On the other side of the phone, the family was disappointed but understanding. “Everything’s from Hashem,” they said, “Gam zu l’tova.” (this too is for the good). “Thank you for being so understanding,” Yossi said. And then Sara got on the phone and also told them how much she had looked forward to being with them and that she hoped they’d do it again soon, even perhaps that week. Then they hung up and Yossi and Sara went back into the living room to join the children and their mother again.
Later that night, they all heard the horrible news of what had happened to the bus that they were supposed to be on – the number 947 bus from Yerushalayim to Haifa, with a stop in Netanya. The bus had suddenly swerved and crashed into a concrete bus stop, killing four people, injuring fourteen, and severely traumatizing all of the passengers. How did it happen? Was the driver looking at his phone? Was he texting? Was he tired? There were no clear answers.
But to Sara and Yossi and their families one thing was very clear. By doing Hashem’s will and honoring a mother’s request even though it was difficult for them, they merited to be part of a Divine plan which perhaps saved their very lives.
*Not their real names
This true story was told by Rabbi Menachem Stein.