They asked him how he did it. I mean, he was a nice enough guy. But how did he manage, when so many from his background were seeing little-to-no nachas from their kids; that his had somehow managed to come out both frum and normal?
He’d say he didn’t know. He’d say it was just siyatta d’shmaya. He’d say that they’d had other tests, and God doesn’t test a person beyond what he can take.
All of this was true. But deep in the recesses of his heart, in a place where even he was afraid to visit, never mind host guests – he had a theory.
It was Rosh Hashanah in Uman – back before it became a thing. Maybe 800 people had shown up, though they’d claimed it was a thousand.
He’d been invited to a night meal by an American Rav, a hidden tzaddik, who acted like he didn’t know anything, until someone would put down something said by Rebbe Nachman and then he’d throw Tosfosos at him from all over Shas to prove he was wrong.
As they sat, about six of them, cramped into the smelly Uman rented tenement apartment – back then about a dollar a bed – his host had quipped concerning the special prayer you could say during Kedusha in the repetition of the morning Amidah; choosing during that holiest of moments to ask for either parnassa tova (plentiful income), Ruach ha-Kodesh (spiritual communion with God), or good and spiritually upright children. (You can only ask for one of these at that time.)
“Personally, I always pray for my kids,” the Rabbi had said with a chuckle. “Income is up to God, and as for communion, He’ll find a way to speak to me if He has something to say.”
The next day, the holy moment arrived and it was time to choose.
He and his young family had been living on air, and he’d walk the streets of Jerusalem with overdue, unpaid bills bulging out of his shirt pocket like a dagger at his heart. His thirst for God was even greater – he’d come so far and given up so much for this life, yet for as long as he could remember he’d felt as spiritually dry as bone.
Wealth or spiritual inspiration?
Which of these two desperate needs would it be? As he weighed the options in his mind, the Rabbi’s words of the night before came back to him. He swatted them away. His kids were still hardly more than babies – how much spiritual help could they need at the moment?
But, despite himself, he heard the prayer for good children spill out of his mouth. And he’d done the same ever since. During years when their refrigerator had a perpetual echo; during years when even buying bathroom tissue was a financial scramble…
During years when the Gemara looked to him like a sheet of matzah (and tasted just as dry); during years when his prayers felt like they were bouncing off the roof of the shul – that is, if he could manage to get them past the roof of his mouth…
Nowadays, he doesn’t get to Uman (though he has a son-in-law who does). And things are thankfully a little better in the wallet and under the tallis. (Though wealthy or communion-ized no one could accuse him of being.)
His kids (like all kids) are gifts of God; their choices are their own. And he knows full well he is not a dust-speck better or worthier than anyone else. But it could be – just could be – the advice he’d heard one Rosh Hashanah long ago, and the often counter-intuitive stubbornness that somehow allowed him to keep on taking it, might have helped move things along.