Just An Encounter?
"Hello! I'm sorry to send you a message in the middle of the night," the message began. It was Tuesday night after 2:30 AM. "And I'm not even positive that this number still belongs to the person who I happened to meet briefly in Manhattan about two years ago, who helped me put on tefillin for the first time, but if this is that person then I want to say thank you. That ended up being a life changing experience for me and it is something I still think about to this day. I would be happy to talk about it more provided this phone number still belongs to the same person."
After confirming that he was speaking to the right person, Rabbi Yehuda asked for some more details to refresh his memory.
“It was near 5th Ave and East 33rd street on November 25th, 2019. I'll send two pictures that I have as well. Essentially, I just sort of wandered in to the West Village Mitzvah Tank, you asked me if I was Jewish to which I replied, "Yes--well, my mother is Jewish and my grandmother is Jewish" and then you helped me put on tefillin and recite the appropriate beracha. You were in the middle of talking to someone about the Shoah when I came in and I had a bus to catch out of NY and back to Portland, Maine, which is where I live (my parents are both from NY and most of my family still lives down there), so I left almost immediately after that. I have your number because you texted me a picture, and I ended up exchanging a couple of messages with you about Judaism after that, but for the most part, that's it. I actually don't even know your name.”
Apparently, the encounter didn’t just end there. It had far reaching effects.
“The reason I remember the event so clearly is that it was a pivotal moment in my life that I believe helped to draw me much closer to HaShem. Up until that point, I had always thought of myself as "maybe technically Jewish but probably somehow not really," simply because I didn't understand what it was to be Jewish by birth. My mother's mother, of blessed memory, was born Jewish but my mother's father was not, nor was my father. I always figured that made me "1/4 Jewish" or something and figured that since I had never really taken part in any Jewish lifecycle events--no bar mitzvah, I was never even explicitly given a Jewish name, etc.--this meant that somehow I wasn't really Jewish and had no real right to think of myself that way or participate in anything Jewish. I know now that none of this is true and that knowing started the moment I put on those tefilin. When I did, it wasn't that I felt HaShem speak to me so much as I felt myself surrounded by HaShem, to put it into words poorly and partially.
"In any case, in the two years since that moment, my level of observance has increased, and it's something I'm very thankful for."
It started out with small things like "Maybe I'd better not eat pork anymore" and "I think I should make sure I actually light the menorah this year" and gradually increased to the point that I now study Torah, observe the Shabbat, and even wear a knit kippah beneath my normal hat (I've always been a hat person, but the kippah serves as a different type of reminder to me).
"None of this is to say that I've become a better Jew or a better person, although I do feel like I'm now actively trying to do those things. The process is far from done and I don't know that it ever could be "done," but I do know that my connection with HaShem is now far greater and it's something I'm extremely thankful for. You definitely played a part in it by being there that day and serving HaShem in the way that you did/do, so again, thank you!”
All we can say is, “Wow!” G-d works in miraculous ways. We never know what each encounter brings. It is up to us, though, to utilize every “chance” meeting we have with another to add G-dliness into the world.
Candle Lighting: Friday, 4:10 PM
(Reshared with permission from the sender)