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When Wrong Is Right

It was the first Rosh Hashanah for Rabbi Moshe Bryski in Agoura Hills, CA, where he served as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. After morning services on the first day of the holiday, Rabbi Bryski invited the congregation to walk together to a nearby lake for the Tashlich ceremony, a prayer in which we ask G-d to "cast our sins into the depths of the sea."

At the appointed hour the congregation gathered and the procession was underway. The lake was about an hour's walk away, but fortunately the weather that day was exceptionally good. After about a half hour, one of the congregants suggested that they take a shortcut through a housing development under construction. They all agreed, but unfortunately it turned out that the shortcut only complicated their way.

While attempting to get back onto a familiar street, some people noticed an elderly woman in the distance, leaning on crutches, with her face toward the heavens, mumbling to herself. As the group got closer to her, they heard her say, "What a miracle! G-d has answered my prayers!"

The woman, obviously Jewish, became emotional as she explained what she was praying for. "Not long ago, I had surgery on my leg. This is the first year of my life that I was not able to walk to synagogue to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. I prayed to G-d that he make a miracle for me, to enable me to hear the shofar. And then -- you came! G-d sent you to me, so you can blow the shofar for me!"

Rabbi Bryski did not share the woman's elation. In fact, he became increasingly uneasy as she expressed her excitement and gratitude. He could not bear to disappoint her and admit that he did not have a shofar with him. It simply did not occur to him to take a shofar along with him on the walk to Tashlich. On second thought, he began to berate himself. What kind of rabbi are you -- while your colleagues are dragging themselves around town carrying a shofar, chasing after Jews in the streets, in hospitals and nursing homes -- you didn't even think to take a shofar with you to Tashlich?

However, it was too late. Even if he would rush madly back to the synagogue to pick up his shofar and then back to the woman, the sun was due to set. And so, other than profuse apologies, Rabbi Bryski had nothing at all to offer the woman. He blessed her with a speedy recovery and a blessed new year, and went back on his way.

The next day, after the prayers of the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Bryski did not go back home to eat. The events of the previous day weighed on his conscience, and he felt compelled to go back to that woman and blow the shofar for her. He explained to his wife where he was going, and set out on his way.

Finding the woman turned out to be not a simple undertaking. Rabbi Bryski had not asked the woman her name, and as she had said, the day before was the first time she had left her house on crutches. It would be difficult to find a neighbor who could identify the "elderly woman on crutches." But Rabbi Bryski was determined to find her house -- and after a lengthy search, he succeeded.

But an unpleasant surprise awaited him. An elderly gentleman with an angry face opened the door and shouted, "What do you want!"

"Shalom! Happy new year!" said Rabbi Bryski, pasting the widest possible smile on his face. "My name is Rabbi Bryski. I met your wife in the street yesterday. She is on crutches, yes?"

"What do you want?" the old man growled.

Rabbi Bryski hesitantly took the shofar out of his pocket. "I only wanted to blow the shofar for her…"

"Go home!" said the old man gruffly, slamming the door in his face.

Failed again! A feeling of defeat washed over Rabbi Bryski. He did not dare to knock on the door again. Turning on his heels, he heard a window open and the weak voice of the old woman: "Rabbi, thank you for coming back here to blow the shofar for me."

The woman explained to Rabbi Bryski that her husband was very angry at religious people, because they "stole" their only son from them. The year before their son had become religious and stopped visiting their home. "That's why he reacted the way he did."

She invited Rabbi Bryski to come inside and blow shofar for her. Her husband, as expected, did not join them. He went into the kitchen and closed the door behind him.

After Rabbi Bryski finished blowing shofar, an idea entered his mind. He asked the woman to call her husband, and he made this suggestion: "Would you agree if your son would bring his own kosher food into your home, and eat together with you?"

The man nodded his head in agreement. "This evening, after the holiday is over, I will speak to your son and convince him to come home," promised Rabbi Bryski.

The old man shook the rabbi's hand with great feeling. "Now," said the rabbi, "I will blow the shofar for you as well."

The old man's answer was surprising. "Listen, rabbi, my brother lives not far from here and he has not yet heard the shofar. Let's go and blow for him there," he said, taking his car keys in his hand.

Rabbi Bryski explained that it was forbidden to ride in a car on the holiday. The brother lived only a twenty minute walk away, and the two walked there together.

When they came to his brother's house, the old man explained that the rabbi had promised to help fix their relationship with their son. The brother became very excited. He asked them to wait, and returned 10 minutes later with a whole group of about 20 Jewish neighbors who had not yet heard shofar.

All thanks to a wrong turn.



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