I hung up the phone with a smile, and shook my head in disbelief. “Why?” you ask. Ill tell you, after a brief introduction.
Our Rabbis have taught us “One mitzvah brings along another mitzvah”. I always understood this teaching to mean that if one performs a mitzvah, then Hashem causes another mitzvah to come to your hands as well. But this week, I learned a new meaning.
I first started visiting the malls in San Diego on my vacations from my yeshiva in Baltimore, when I was about the age of fourteen. Each week, Id go to the various malls around town, and find the Israelis working at the little kiosks in between the storefronts. How few of us have been able to get out of the mall without being stopped by a stylish, young Israeli trying to sell you Dead Sea products, or some other recent invention?
I realized that these young Jews are at a very special position, where they are willing to reexamine their Jewish identity and values in life. When I walk into the mall wearing a kippa proudly on my head, I suddenly get an anxious “shalom!” for these salespeople, who I don’t even know. Why?
Israelis live in a society, where it is taken for granted that one is Jewish. But after being in a foreing country for so long, never meeting anyone who speaks your language or shares your heritage, can cause one to become disheartened and heartsick. Suddenly, they are willing to say hello to the same “ultra-Orthodox” Jew who they wouldn’t even blink at in Israel!
It was Erev Rosh Hashana, three years ago. I was back in Yeshiva, after spending two months teaching and learning in San Diego, not to mention hours at the mall speaking to people about their heritage. I called my mother as she was cooking for the holiday, and asked her if she could do me a favor. Our conversation went as follows:
“Hi Imma, can you do me a huge favor?”
“Of course, just remember its Erev Chag today”
“I knew a young college graduate working in the mall over the summer, named Mali, and I promised her that she could come for a Yom Tov meal.”
My mom, being the tzaddeket she is, answered:
“Of course! Tell her to come, wed love to have her!”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know her number. Or anything else beside her first name, for that matter.”
“Then how do you expect me to invite her?!”
“By going to the mall, and looking for an Israeli girl named Mali.”
“Yoni, its Erev Chag. I have guests tonight!”
“Imma, tonight, when you sit at your table with your guests and family, imagine that there is an Israeli girl out there, who does not have a meal to eat.”
Enough said, my mother went to the mall and set out on her search for “Mali”. An hour and a half later, she had met all the Israeli’s at the mall, and they all said that they are a new group of workers, and have no idea who Mali is. My mother headed towards her call in the parking lot, but suddenly stopped. She remembered I had mentioned something about Mali selling Indian skirts.
She rushed over to the skirt kiosk, only to find, to her surprise, a blue-eyed and blond-haired, one-hundred percent, American running the kiosk. Taking her last shot, needing to get back home for chag, my mother asked her if she knew of a “Mali”.
“The Israeli Mali?" Of course I know her, do you want her number?”
“Please! I’ve been looking for it for hours!”
The young lady kindly gave my mother the number, and she called this mysterious “Mali”, who she had never met or spoken to before.
“Yes. Who’s speaking?”
“Yehudit Halevy. Yonatan Halevy’s mother.”
“Yonatan Halevy, as in the rabbi who comes to the mall to give us candles and challot?”
“Yes, him. Would you like to join us for Rosh Hashana?”
At this point, Mali started crying. My mother, afraid she had hurt her, asked her if she was ok.
“When did you speak to my father?! How do you know him?”, Mali said in between sobs.
“What? I never spoke to your father?”
“You must have. My father called me today, and was so upset with me. He told me that I should be ashamed of myself, the daughter of a religious family, who came to America and started working on Shabbat. Not only that, but now, I had decided to work on Rosh Hashana as well, since I had nowhere to go. He hung up, but not before saying “Mali, someone will find you”
And someone did. All because of two wax candles.
Mali came for chag, and they had a lovely Yom Tov together. She slept and ate at our house, and I was so thrilled to hear that my mother found her after my holiday was over. After the Chag was over Mali asked my mother if she could come back with a friend or two for Yom Kippur. My parents said that she could bring whoever she wanted, and just to come for the meal before the fast.
An hour before the fast, Mali knocks on our door, with an entourage of six or seven Israeli saleswomen with her. In my fathers words “It was the first time there were that many women in the Halevy household” (Were a family of five boys!)
One of the girls, was an Israeli woman from a totally secular house in Tel Aviv. She said she didn’t need to wash her hands for bread, because she had just taken a shower! She had never, in her life, heard of people fasting on Yom Kippur. She thought it was just a vacation day on the Israeli calendar. Lets call her Tal.
We also had another guest, lets call her Galit, who spent the holiday with us. Supposedly, I had also met her in the mall and gave her Shabbat candles.
My family was really happy to have the merit to take part of such a big mitzvah, and I realized that the handing out of a set of Shabbat candles to one Israeli woman, could make such a huge impact.
We were mistaken. The story didn’t end here.
A year later, we got a postcard in our mailbox, from Tal in Thailand. She writes that although she “is not religious like you are”, she decided, that ever since that Yom Kippur at our house, she decided she would always keep Yom Kippur properly. She found a Chabad house in Thailand, and sent us the postcard from there. One more Jew in the world, observing Yom Kippur, from the merit of two small candles.
The story though, is still not over.
Last week, I got a phone call from a number which I didn’t recognize. I answered the phone, nonetheless, and was surprised to hear Mali’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Yoni? Its Mali. Do you remember me?”
“Mali….Mali?! How are you? Of course I remember you! How are you?”
“I just wanted to invite you to my wedding on July 1st. I’m getting married to a religious man in Ashdod, and wanted to close this saga that we have shared over the last few years. I’m religious now, and I want you to be there. And just so you know, Galit? She’s getting married to a religious young man on the same night as I am!”
My dearest readers. This is where I hung up and smiled. My smile was one of joy. My disbelief, was one of shock at how far a mitzvah can go. If only I would have known how much two simple candles could affect a persons destiny, I would have spent every spare moment I had giving out candles to my fellow Jews!
I ask you, as a friend. Please, remember that every time we do something good for someone, to cherish it. We never know the ramifications that it may have, and the merit we will receive for it.
I pray, that if we all take upon ourselves one small mitzvah, we will tip the scale of the world, and bring about the ultimate redemption – and we can all dance at Mali’s wedding together, here in Israel!
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