"I had no concept of mitzvos as obligatory. I thought they were more like extra credit points"
As I mentioned last week, there was only one slight flaw in the very moving Kesher Yehudi event that launched a national campaign to pair study partners l’illiu haneshamos of those lost at Meron: I felt that Meirav, a recent addition to the long-running study partnership of Miri and Inbal, had been cut off in the middle. So I subsequently obtained her number and called her to hear the rest of her story.
Boy, was I right that she had much more to say. When I told Meirav how sorry I was that she had not been able to finish her story, she immediately responded, “No, this is much better. In any event, I would have had only a few moments, and now I can share the full story.”
When Inbal first told Meirav about her ongoing, seven-year learning with Miri, Meirav became very excited, and asked whether she could join. She had long sought to live a more spiritual life.
“I always believed in G-d,” she told me. “But I had no concept of mitzvos as obligatory. I thought they were more like extra credit points. And the idea of reward in Olam Haba was entirely foreign to me.”
Meirav joined the daily study partnership shortly before Yom Kippur, and fasted on Yom Kippur. Not long after that, she decided to start keeping Shabbos, even though she found it difficult, especially as her husband was not supportive and she did not know how to fill the time left by giving up her familiar activities.
At some point, Miri sent Meirav a set of stories for children about tzaddikim. The volumes were brought by a messenger from Jerusalem to Be’er Yaakov, where Meirav lives. Meirav wanted to give the messenger a tip for his efforts, but could only come up with six or seven shekels. Later, she discovered a 50-shekel bill that she had overlooked in her purse. She folded it up, in a unique fashion, with the intention of giving it to tzedakah.
The next day, as she was folding laundry, her sons came to tell her that there was someone collecting tzedakah at the door. Meirav got goose bumps when she heard that, as she could not remember another tzedakah collector coming to her house in the five years she has lived in Be’er Yaakov.
The collector turned out to be a 21-year-old yeshivah bochur named Yitzchak. He told Meirav that he was collecting for the building of a new shul. Meirav immediately took out the 50-shekel bill she had set aside and gave it to him. She also mentioned that she had recently become shomer Shabbat, and was struggling with boredom on Shabbos. Yitzchak told her that he would put her in touch with the rabbanit of the shul being built, who had written several volumes on Torah themes.
A few days later, Yitzchak, along with a friend, was back at Meirav’s door with a set of works by the rabbanit. He told Meirav that he and his friend had a number of sets to deliver and wondered whether she would mind driving them. She was immediately struck by the refinement of the bochurim, especially when Yitzchak asked her whether she was makpid on their request for a ride. Until then, she had always viewed the dress of yeshivah bochurim as suffocating, but after having actually met a couple of bochurim in person,, her perspective changed entirely.
In the course of the conversation with the two young men seated in the backseat of her car, Meirav mentioned that her sons did not even know who David Hamelech was.
Yitzchak immediately responded, “Would you like me to learn with them?”
Since then, Yitzchak and two friends have been coming to learn with Meirav’s two sons for three hours, twice a week. On the days they are scheduled to come, her sons are constantly asking her, “When is Yitzchak coming? When is Yitzchak coming?”
“They are thirsty for Torah,” Meirav told me.
Yitzchak and his friends have rejected out of hand all of Meirav’s attempts to remunerate them for their time, which only impressed her further. The only thing she has managed to provide them so far is pita and chummus and other delights — all with Badatz or other top hechsherim.
Sometime after the learning with Yitzchak began, Meirav’s younger son, Omer, ten, came back from school one day and told his mother that he was being bullied and did not want to go back. Instead he wanted to go to a religious school.
There is a state religious school in Be’er Yaakov, but her study partner Miri strongly advised Meirav to find a Torani school for Omer. Through Yitzchak, Meirav was put in touch with the principal of the right kind of school, but it was far from Be’er Yaakov.
In the meantime, Meirav’s husband was adamantly opposed to transferring his son to a Torani school, and even more so when he put the name of the school into his Waze and it turned out to be 55 minutes away.
A few nights later, Meirav and her husband were scheduled to go to a wedding, and she decided before going that she would wear a skirt and not participate in the mixed dancing. When the dancing started, she remained seated at the table by herself. Soon, she heard a ping from her WhatsApp.
When she opened her phone, she saw that the ping was from a Likud Party group of which she is part. But the message was anything but political.
“What is true education?” the writer asked. “The end of every man is known,” he continued. The writer then offered his opinion that “Torah learning... is superior to any other form of education. All those who are immersed in Torah learning are made wise.”
Reading that completely unexpected message from the unlikeliest of sources, Meirav was overcome with a feeling that Hashem was with her and guiding her.
The next day, she prevailed upon her husband to at least visit the Torani school, together with their younger son. By the time, they arrived at the address in Waze, nearly an hour later, Meirav had to agree that the two hours spent commuting by bus each day would be too much for her son.
But they could not find the school. Meirav soon discovered the reason. Looking at her husband’s Waze, she realized that he had put in the wrong name for the school. And when the right name was put into Waze, it turned out that the school was over 20 minutes closer to their home. After a visit to the school and speaking to the principal, Omer announced in the car on the way home that he wanted to go there the next school year.
Looking back on the last nine months of learning with Miri, Meirav tells me that it has transformed her into a much better person, and a much happier one as well. And she is strengthened by the constant feeling that she is never alone and that Hashem is always with her.
Even before she started learning with Miri and Inbal, Meirav had always recited Shema at night with her sons. She had been doing so for many years. Recently, however, Miri sent her laminated cards of Shema so that her sons could recite it too. Within two weeks, they had memorized Shema.
One night, she was discussing with her sons that we should be aware of sanctifying Hashem’s name with every mitzvah that we do — for example, by saying “Shalom” to people.
The next day Omer returned from school and reported that he had entered the school restrooms while they were being cleaned. Remembering what his mother had said, he asked the cleaner how she was and thanked her for her hard work. The woman was so overcome that she later went to his classroom and told the teacher, with tears in her eyes, that it was the first time anyone in the school had ever inquired after her well-being or noticed her at all.
One thing that struck me about Meirav’s story was the sensitivity of every Torah-observant Jew with whom she came into contact — primarily her chavrutah Miri and Yitzchak — and their eagerness to assist her in any way they could.
I’m not so naïve to think that every chavrutah will have such a transformative impact or bear fruits so quickly, as that of Meirav with Miri and Inbal. But Meirav’s story teaches us that the potential to dramatically change a life and that of a family is always there.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 866. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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