By Rabbi Herb Cohen
BEIT SHEMESH, Israel — When I left Dallas on July 27, I began driving to New York with my son Ezra, hauling a 4×8 trailer filled with items to drop at my children’s homes in the Northeast before my aliyah to Israel. On the way, we stopped off in Memphis and Nashville to enjoy the music scene in those cities. We had a wonderful time with one another, bonding on a road trip as only a father and son can. All was going well until we hit the proverbial bump in the road. In Salem, Va., our 1999 Toyota Corolla broke down, requiring a new engine and a skilled mechanic who could install it in a timely way.
Ezra and I were perplexed. How could we get to New Jersey in time for Shabbat with our cargo? Ezra, a rabbi himself, realized that he would have to reschedule some important meetings scheduled for Thursday and Friday. We both kept looking for messages from God, for life lessons, which we could learn from this challenging ordeal.
Our car limped into the parking lot of a Quality Inn. I had absolutely no idea how we were going to deal with our problem. The trailer company, which posts an emergency number, was not responding and the local trailer companies had no vehicles available for a one-way trip. Ezra and I slept restlessly.
In the early morning, as I was drinking a cup of coffee in the lobby of the motel with a troubled look on my face, one of the hotel workers, a woman perhaps in her 70s, asked me if everything was all right and I shared with her my dilemma. She then drove me to her own Toyota serviceman, who told me that he could have a replacement engine for me in a week. When I returned to the motel, another employee of the hotel, Mike Fulcher, the accounts manager who had become aware of my problem, came to my hotel room and told me that he could secure a 1999 Toyota Corolla engine by the next day and that he had a superb mechanic who could install it immediately. Moreover, all this could be done at a reasonable price.
Not having any alternative, I agreed to Mike’s plan. Mike drove me to the local bank so I could get the necessary cash to pay for the engine and the mechanic. He then chauffeured me to the man who would order the engine so that I could pay him in advance before he ordered it. After that, he drove me to the shop of “Fast Eddie,” the mechanical whiz who would install the engine so I could make the deal with him as well. The entire process took three hours and Mike had driven close to 100 miles. Ezra and I marveled at Mike’s efforts on our behalf and felt that God was orchestrating our rescue from behind the scenes. We had a sense that we were experiencing our own Purim story. We had moved from despair to optimism; and it happened in the town of Salem, for which the Hebrew equivalent is shalom, peace.
Miraculously, the car was fixed the next day and we continued on our road trip. We were amazed and grateful for our good fortune, at our extraordinary rescue arranged by God’s providential hand. Most important, we were impressed by the kindness of strangers.
The belief in the kindness of strangers was reinforced by the good people I met in Salem. They reminded me that all men are created in God’s image. This is one of the fundamental ideas in this week’s Torah portion. It is a profound statement that asserts and confirms our common humanity. As John Donne, the 17th-century English metaphysical poet, once said: “No man is an island.” We are all connected. This is a valuable message to keep in mind as we navigate our human relationships each and every day.
Rabbi Herb Cohen made aliyah from Dallas this summer. He can be reached at email@example.com.