The next day I took my tefillin, which I’d had since my bar mitzvah almost 30 years earlier, to my sofer, Reb Shua Lichtenstein.
As told to Bryna Cohen
I opened my eyes feeling uneasy. The curtains were still drawn the light off the house quiet. I rubbed my eyes hard and looked at my watch. Seven a.m. My shifting evidently disturbed my wife. She awoke sat up and looked at me for a long moment frowning slightly.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Nochum Sternlicht was just standing at the foot of my bed.”
I felt curiously wide awake. I peered behind me consciously apprehensive. My wife gave a small sleepy chuckle. Nochum Sternlicht an acquaintance of mine as well as a renowned sofer was no longer among the living. But for all intents and purposes two minutes earlier he had been present in my bedroom. Not surprisingly my eyes met with the wallpaper and the small window overlooking the street.
“So you had a dream.” My wife didn’t understand why I was still feeling and obviously looking disconcerted.
“It was so vivid. He was there. Right there.” I pointed to the edge of my bed. “All I remember saying to him in the dream is ‘What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here.’ ”
Now she raised her eyebrows. “Didn’t you tell me the other week that you wanted to get your tefillin checked? Maybe he came to remind you.”
Whatever the case the dream certainly pushed me into action. The next day I took my tefillin which I’d had since my bar mitzvah almost 30 years earlier to my sofer Reb Shua Lichtenstein. I asked him to check to ensure they were still completely kosher.
Shortly after Reb Shua called me.
“Until now kosher; from now passul ” he informed me. “At first I thought they were fine ” he explained. “But after opening and examining them closely I saw that the ink is coming away like a cloud of dust.”
He willingly lent me a pair of his own until I bought a new pair. I was grateful to be able to wait a few days as my oldest daughter had given birth to our first grandson the week before and my wife and I had booked tickets to visit her in Eretz Yisrael. We left the following week enjoyed our stay immensely and I bought myself a brand-new entirely kosher pair of tefillin.
Upon my arrival back home I once again visited Reb Shua. This time it was to return the tefillin he’d so kindly lent to me.
“Do you know what prompted me to have my old pair checked?” I asked him.
“They had been yours for a while I presume ” he said a familiar sparkle in his eye.
“Yes and no.”
My one-man audience was now curious. I continued.
“Nochum Sternlicht appeared to me one night in a dream.” I could still picture him within reach in my bedroom. “He obviously had the zechus to make sure I have a kosher pair of tefillin.”
Since my tale ended there I was surprised to see Reb Shua’s face turn pale.
“I can’t believe what you’re saying,” he whispered. “Let me fill you in on my part of the story.”
He shook his head in disbelief as he continued.
“As you know, my daughter just got married. We were in the thick of chasunah preparations when you brought your tefillin to me, and I was distracted.”
I remembered he’d had an upcoming simchah a couple of weeks earlier.
“As I was checking your tefillin my mind kept wondering. All the myriad details to arrange before the chasunah were disturbing the concentration I need to have for my work.”
I nodded, fully understanding.
“I kept feeling Nochum, zichrono livrachah, hovering over me. It wasn’t just once, it was constant, the entire time.” He paused and continued, “His ghostly presence was so acute that I even uttered out loud, vos vilst du fun mir? What do you want from me?” He threw his hands open wide in a gesture of a question.
I gaped. “It seems that our dear, departed friend continues his holy work from where he is now,” I said, amazed.
I returned home, eager to share the account with my wife.
My wife, duly impressed, reminded me that I, too, was once the conduit in a dream to stimulate my own parents to fulfil an obligation that could easily have slipped their minds.
One morning when I was a small boy, perhaps not older than three, my parents both awoke sweating. Each had had the same nightmare; that I, their youngest of three sons, had been crying out for help, drowning in a pool of water. They both shared the same vision and both awoke experiencing the same trauma.
Usually after a nightmare, or a particularly intense dream is over, it may take a few minutes to recover, but the dream recedes. Not in this case. The following night it reappeared, however, this time only to my father. It was the same scenario. A second repeat nightmare. His youngest son, submerged and flailing helplessly.
He awoke, shivering. It was apparent there was a deeper message, and as he lay in his bed it became instantly clear. He clapped his hand to his forehead and gasped, with a measure of relief, “The mezuzah!”
A few days earlier he had taken down the lintel from our succah door. It was an outdoor, wooden garage, and he had removed the outer post, fully intending to rehang the mezuzah. It had completely slipped his mind.
“Ba’avon mezuzah banim meisim — Because of the sin of mezuzah, sons will die,” he quoted excitedly to my mother from gemara Shabbos. “Hashem, in His infinite kindness, sent me this reminder to protect us!”
He rehung the mezuzah and the dream was dreamed no more.
Such a comfort, I reflected: The knowledge that — when we try our best, when we work hard to be close to Hashem and to do His mitzvos — He will gently remind us if we innocently forget our duties.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Issue 678)