“I sleep, but my heart is awake.” (Song of Songs 5:2)
“I have dozed off in exile, yet my soul is longing for the Torah and her Mitzvos.” (Midrash and Zohar)
The morning sun was just peeking over the horizon as we gently touched down on the runaway. “Willkommen in Deutschland,” the loudspeakers boomed. “Welcome to Germany.” The flight attendant then carried on with the usual reminder to remain seated with our seatbelts fastened until advised otherwise. And their wishes of thanks that we chose their respective airline, even though we had many choices. (Our pleasure.) With that, my friend and I — amongst a couple hundred other passengers — sleepily landed in one of the major metropolises at the center of Germany.
You see, with three days left until Passover, as the majority of the strictly Passover-observant community labored at scrubbing and washing down their homes — with the supposed purpose of freeing it from all leavened particles and crumbs (and the unspoken ambition of clearing the house from all dirt and dust), my friend and I had left that action behind and journeyed into a city we didn’t know. We had volunteered for Merkos Shlichus — a Chabad initiative where yeshiva students are sent into hundreds of far-out cities (as remote as Mozambique) with the purpose of providing whatever Jewish spark to the local community — if at all existent, and for the Jewish tourists that are traversing along. The program is generally in action three times a year: during the High Holidays — to lead and enable prayer services; during the summer months — more in the form of house visitations and community connections; and over Passover — to lead and facilitate communal and personal Passover seders. It was with that mission in mind and armed with matzos and haggados, that my friend and I disembarked into the heart of Germany.
In the coming three days, we were to prepare the hall for the community seder — which was split into two sections for the purpose of language; my friend and I leading among the English speaking crowd — housing about a hundred total, and visit the outlying smaller townlets to provide the local Jews with matzos and information. To enable their own holiday experiences. (As well, as mandated by Jewish law, we were required to clean up our personal quarters from any leaven products. Which was quite the breeze considering we hadn’t really had much time to make it non-Passovery.)
It was on the eve of Passover that my friend remembered a valuable asset. I must preface, though, that he was just a bit familiar with the area we were in. For, in fact, he had been sent during the previous summer to that very location — with a different friend of his — for a summer mission. During that visit, the local Chabad rabbi had provided him with a short list of names and numbers of Jewish fellows living in the broader area, whom the rabbi had perhaps once met, but hadn’t been in continued contact. My friends had gone through that list and had met with these people amongst the other Jews that they were visiting in these towns. (I may add that they were received very well, as they provided whatever mitzvos they had on hand — tefillin, mezuzah, etc. — and supplied useful Jewish resources to these residents. Many townsmen had engaged them in long conversation and perhaps a l’chaim or two were shared.) And now, on the eve of Passover, my friend pulled up that list again, and reached out to the ones he remembered, one by one, to wish them a Happy Pesach, and — although it was too late for us to continue making rounds in the larger area — to offer them to come by the synagogue where we were situated, and pick up a box of matzah.
One fellow whom he remembered particularly well, was an Israeli man who lived maybe a half-hour out from the main city. (My friend even had a picture saved from their warm meeting.) He looked down the contact list and picked out the name that seemed familiar — Yossi. He texted Yossi a Chag Sameach (the Hebrew version of Happy Holidays!) and offered him to come by; that we had matzah we’d be happy to share with him.
About an hour later we received this back from Yossi. “Shalom! I just landed at the main airport from my trips abroad. I didn’t make any plans for this Pesach. I’d love to come by to pick up the matzah! I’m coming to you straight from the airport. see you in 45 minutes.” Followed by a, “Where did we meet again?” My friend responded that he was the student that had visited him during the summer. And with that, we got ready a box of matzah to give to our friend.
Well, the time came, and Yossi rang our bell. We eagerly let him in. Yossi was standing there with his suitcase. Turns out, Yossi had made this long detour on his way home, with a full-sized piece of luggage, using only public transportation. Just to get some matzah. My friend and Yossi shook hands and shared a somewhat inquisitive look. (In my naivete, I translated it to be a look of love; of brothers who were reconnecting after a long time apart. It’ll all be explained in time.) For the sake of this conversation, we’ll name my yeshivah friend Chaim.
“So, you must be Chaim?”
“Thanks for reaching out! Remind me again when we met? Something in the summer?”
“Yeah, I came by your place with a friend. We had put on tefillin, spent some time talking…” My friend was sticking to his story.
Yossi looked sincerely confused. But then he moved on. He put on tefillin with us, took his matzah, thanked us profusely (hugs included,) and headed on his way. Trudging along with his luggage and the box of matzah. Lugging it all back to the public train for the long ride back home.
“So,” I commented, “that was really nice he came by!”
Chaim turned to me a bit bashfully, “that wasn’t the guy I know…”
Oh. The fellow he remembered from his previous trip was an Israeli by the name of Yair… Yossi was from those at the end of the list that he never had a chance to contact. Until now, that is. Well, that worked out rather nicely.
There’s a beautiful subplot as well: at this point, with only an hour until the seder, Chaim reached out to Yair. Yair responded, “I don’t think I’d use the matzah because this year I haven’t gotten around to arranging a seder.”
“So why don’t you come to ours?”
“Can I bring my friends?”
“Is that really a question?!”
And that night Yair and his friends graced our seder. Perhaps the latest of the guests to be invited.
Quite a few factors were necessary for this story to be a reality. Determination, courage, and thoughtfulness on the part of my friend to reach out to those he had only briefly met, and a couple months back; A strange turn of events for Yair to be confused for Yossi; but perhaps the most inspiring was the care that Yossi gave for the mitzvah. To respond to a prompt — from a rabbi he doesn’t know, and to schlep to us, adding about two hours, on his way home! — just to have matzah for a seder he didn’t plan. And I’m sure he got home just in time for his impromptu seder. It was, after all, the eve of Passover.
I saw here a Jewish soul, that was as awake as ever to do a mitzvah. Yossi, with his humble act, had vindicated what my teachers were prone to say; the soul truly never sleeps. And that is a lesson I won’t soon forget.