Last January I went to Eretz Yisrael all by myself. Difficult logistics and conflicting schedules meant that my husband and I had been unable to organize a proper winter vacation together, as we normally do. Finally he said: “Why don’t you go on your own? You’ll be frustrated without a vacation, and then I’ll be frustrated also. If you want, just go – then I can relax too!” Smart guy.
So I went alone to Yerushalayim for two weeks, and besides being wonderful, it was also an interesting experience – one that I will digress on more another time. But now I want to tell you about a small, but extraordinary, thing that happened to me.
In order to ensure that I would have a meaningful experience I had decided from the outset to go on some kind of excursion. However, I felt it would be a bit unfair to my husband to go somewhere new and exciting, where by rights we ought to go together, so I signed up for an old Hoffman favorite, “Holy Places of the North”, consisting mainly of visits to the graves of tzaddikim – very great and very holy persons. You can’t get too much of that.
The little 15-seater bus that picked me up at the designated spot that morning was pleasingly half-full (you see what an optimist I am) so, naturally, I grabbed the seat immediately behind the driver and prepared myself for a day in splendid comfort. Unfortunately, it soon turned out that this was only the shuttle that would take us to the real bus, a monster of a vehicle, stuffed to the rafters with Jews who were on a quest for more graves of more tzaddikim. (Luckily though, I am much more tolerant of physical discomfort in Eretz Yisrael than I am here – because there I am more in touch with the spiritual aspects of life, I think – so I didn’t mind too much how we all had to climb over each other and get our shins scraped in the process.)
During the drive to the Real Bus, the driver proudly regaled us with the full scoop of how, only two days previously, he himself had had the privilege of picking up none other than the Satmar Rebbe from the Ben Gurion airport, and driving the Rebbe, in this very bus, to Meah Shearim. We were all suitably awed and impressed. Then the driver caught my eye in the rear view mirror – and spoke some words that significantly upgraded my life, right then and there. “The Rebbe was sitting exactly where you are sitting now”, he said to me. Did my ears deceive me? Nope. “He sat exactly in that seat” the driver confirmed, “and you know what – nobody else has sat in that seat between him and you!”
How do I describe the sensations that coursed through me? Perhaps I ought to clarify that I am not chassidish, not of any stripe. Based on my family background I would be a yekke, a German Jew; by choice of Rabbi, a Litvak. And yet, sitting in a seat that had so recently been occupied by a great Rebbe, a tzaddik, felt like an honor, a crazy kind of z’chus. If you think about it, considering that the Satmar Rebbe doesn’t generally go by public transportation, it is the kind of thing that probably doesn’t happen too often to anyone – especially to a woman. Was Hashem bestowing upon me some special kind of gift? Were there still some lingering sparks of Divine energy that were to be transmitted to me by means of a bus seat? What was the big idea? It is said that a tzaddik cannot stand in the place of a ba’al teshuva, a person who has returned to the Torah life – but maybe a ba’alas teshuva can sit in the seat of a tzaddik…