All From Heaven
By Nachum Mohl
This is a true story. I heard it first hand and changed the name of the subject.
We know that every thing comes from heaven; every one knows that. Just some people know it better than others. Our case in point is of one "chassid" (exceptionally pious person) by the name of Chaim.
Chaim was always trying to improve himself. He was not satisfied that he had a decent job, a nice family and was reasonably well liked in his community. He had a deep feeling in his heart that he should and could get closer to G-d.
On the Shabbat, Chaim customarily would rise early to recite Psalms and to learn about the Weekly Torah Portion. As the time for the morning services would arrive, Chaim would wrap the talit around him and march proudly to his synagogue.
Yet Chaim felt that with all of his Shabbat dedications to spiritual growth and seeking G-d's hand in all of his life, there was still room for improvement. Chaim decided that he would take upon himself the added dimension of going to a mikva (a ritual bath for purification) on the Shabbat morning prior to prayers. What could be a better way to raise his spiritual horizons and expectations than to purify his body before entering into the vehicle of prayer!
Each Shabbat, Chaim would rise early, say his psalms, learn the weekly Torah portion and then go to the men's mikva that was near his synagogue.
Now the custom of going to the mikva prior to prayer is actually an old custom that was started by the early Chassidim. The saintly Baal Shem Tov would go each early morning before prayer to the local river and immerse himself so that he would be in a positive state of ritual purity when he conversed with G-d. This custom was so important, that even if it meant breaking the ice in the middle of the freezing Ukraine winter, the holy Baal Shem Tov, would not begin to pray until he had immersed himself in the purifying waters of a free flowing river.
The subsequent students of the Baal Shem Tov continue this tradition to this very day. In almost every city where the "Chassidim" (the followers of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov) live, there are mikvas. Generally in large cities there are several mikvas, as was in the case of the city in which our subject, Chaim, lived.
Chaim, who had decided that going to a mikva, was a very important part of his spiritual life would not start his Shabbat prayers unless he had immersed his body in a mikva.
On one Shabbat evening, Chaim felt unnerved. Was it a feeling in the stomach or sensitivity in his head? He did not know for certain, but something seemed unsettled.
True, his wife's traditional Shabbat meal was outstanding; his children were well behaved; yet he felt something was not going to be the same. Some thing was looming, something, but he could only feel a distant sense telling him that something was not in order.
Chaim's spiritual disposition caused him to be introspective. After the meal, he sat in his easy chair trying to fathom this strange feeling of uncertainty that had overcome him. Yet, try though he would, nothing seemed to give him a clue as to why he should feel that something was going to happen.
The Shabbat morning arrived and Chaim rose at approximately the same time as he did for all Shabbats. He said his psalms and read the Weekly Torah Portion as he had done on so many Shabbats before this. He then began his walk to the nearest mikva. Upon arriving, Chaim was surprised to find that the door was locked. Normally, the mikva man, the man responsible for the men's mikva, leaves the door open for all to use in the morning and only later in the day does he lock it.
Chaim stood puzzled by the locked door and contemplated his choices of action. Should he look for the mikva man or should he go to a different mikva? Chaim remembered that there was a men's mikva near the synagogue where he was going to pray at this Shabbat. He decided that he did not want to waste time looking for the mikva man at this mikva and perhaps not find him. He would chance his luck that the other mikva would be opened. After all, for a person who is trying to come closer to G-d, he believed for certain that G-d would give him help.
To Chaim's chagrin, as he arrived at the second men's mikva he was disparaged to see that the door was locked. What should he do? He waited several minutes hoping that someone else would come that would know the location of the key, but no one came.
Hmmm! Chaim thought, how can this be? Here I am, trying to do the will of G-d and pray to him in purity and I can't find a mikva! What should I do?
In reality, Chaim thought, I should just go to the synagogue because the time for prayer is about now. However, he thought, I took upon myself the stringency of ritual immersion to get closer to G-d. Chaim decided to seek one more mikva. Let this be the deciding factor, he mused! He looked up to the heavens as if to say, "Good L-rd, I am trying to come closer to you. Please let it happen!"
Then Chaim remembered that there was another mikva not too far away. The time was getting late, the chances of this mikva being opened was slight. But Chaim had faith, G-d would not let him down.
This mikva was in the basement of a large building. Chaim ran down the stairs and ran smack into a locked door. Frustration overcame Chaim. He banged on the door, perhaps there was some one still inside who would hear his noise and open the door. But no such luck. The door was an extremely heavy metal door. It made much noise as Chaim pounded on it, but it budged not an inch.
Such frustration Chaim had never felt before. Not only did he not keep his personal vow of immersing on the Shabbat morning, but he also was now very late for the synagogue services. Not giving up, Chaim decided to scout around the building, maybe there was an open window.
All the windows were opened, but they were barred. Out of sheer frustration Chaim bent down to look in. Why? Who knows? But Chaim looked in and saw an old man lying on the floor near the door!
"Hello, hello!" Chaim shouted, but to no avail. The man appeared to have passed out!
Quickly Chaim ran to the closest synagogue to find out who had the key to the mikva. In the synagogue the congregants were near the end of their prayer service when Chaim came running in with his story of an elderly man on the floor of the synagogue. One of the congregants knew the address of the mikva man and went flying there while another ran looking for a telephone to call the rescue squad.
In a few minutes Chaim, the mikva man, the rescue squad and several hundred men and children closed in on the mikva. The door was quickly opened and the rescue squad came in to give first aid to the disorientated man.
After the man was brought to his senses he related that he was the last man in the mikva. He himself did not understand exactly what happened but after immersing himself in the mikva he began feeling weak. He tried dressing but he collapsed and did not have the strength to get up. He tried to call, but no one heard him.
Thanks to Chaim, very possibly this man's life were saved. According to Chaim's reckoning, the man had collapsed just about the time that he had arrived at the first mikva. Now Chaim began to understand the workings of G-d.
Chaim prayed to G-d very late that Shabbat. He realized that G-d had chosen him to be a messenger; that he was chosen to help this poor unfortunate man who had collapsed.
Chaim related this story to me. I am telling it to you because there is a very important moral in it. We must realize that belief in G-d does not just mean that we acknowledge that He exists. It does not only mean that we acknowledge that G-d is running the world. It means that we accept every act and action that comes into our lives as a direct result of G-d's desires. The fact that we may not understand the reason why is of little consequence.
Often, we cannot understand the "why". Sometimes, like in Chaim's case, it becomes apparent to us at the end. But what is more important is that we must always, ALWAYS realize, that all is from G-d, for the good and for, (let us not say bad, but rather:) what is not apparently good.
from the November 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine