My little family was returning to Houston from a Shabbat spent in the holy city of Austin: we had rendezvoused with a cabal of old friends – too many of us rabbis – in a tremendous house on a hill over Barton Springs.
The front driver’s side wheel blew out in a horrednous way. I managed to get us over to the shoulder where we came to a stop.
A complete stop on Highway 10 in Texas: A ribbon of highway where massive trucks drive 80+mph, and the intense summer heat could take the life out of anyone from Philadelphia.
I babbled frantically with AAA, trying to explain our whereabouts, my eye in the rearview mirror watching insane screeching machines hurl themselves toward us. AAA said our coverage was expired, I imagined certain death, the stories they would tell about us afterwards. My wife, the promising young poet. The rabbi educator. Our son: a whole life unfulfilled.
Who by water? Who by fire? Who by Texas Highway 10?
What happens next remains dreamlike in my memory. What happens next is a series of miracles and revelations by God Almighty.
The darkened hand of a young man raps on my window. Roused from my stupor, I jerk my head and look up at him. He yells at me through the thunder of the highway and the glass of the window, “Get me the key to the hubcap!”
I jump out of the car. My skin prickles like papadum in oil. He is wearing a dark old t-shirt, beat up blue jeans and boots. Not cowboy boots, work books. His hair is closely shorn.
I empty the hatchback, children’s toys drop to the dusty highway shoulder, and I produce a donut tire. He takes it without a word and begins the work – baby and wife still in our vehicle.
A second car pulls off the highway, and out hops a very round, and very tough little woman. She’s his mother. She positions herself between her son – hunched over cranking the wrench – and the diesel explosions crashing past only but four feet behind her.
The tire is changed. I singe my hand heaving it into the hollow space in the trunk.
The mother leans into the car. She says, “God bless you all.”
I scramble around for cash in my pockets: none. Half bottle of whiskey from the weekend: gone. I have nothing to repay these people.
He instructs me to drive below 55mph. We shake hands. They’re gone.
Shaky and inspired – like the immediate moments following my wedding or the death of my father – we make it off the highway, to a rest stop, and after a long, slow drive, finally to Houston.
In the High Holiday liturgy, we state emphatically that despite the terrible inner and outer place we happen to find ourselves each year, U’teshuva, u’tefillah, u’tzedakah ma’avirin et ro’a ha’gezera – repentance, prayer, and charity will remove the terrible decree.
But for me, after Texas, our prayer no longer suggests a potential to remove that terrible decree which I have been dealt.
Our messenger in the Texas hills, his Torah was the profound capacity each and every one of us has to act on behalf of the other. The profound capacity we all hold to act through prayer and repentance and charity to reverse and cast aside those horrible decrees that our neighbors hold.
Actually, so much Torah was revealed to us over those few minutes along the highway. A Torah of radical charity. A Torah of Mesirat Nefesh, the willingness to help others even at great peril to one’s self. A Torah of Anavah, tremendous humility.
In the names of our messenger in Texas and his mother who conferred blessings, I dedicate as many acts of spontaneous giving and kindness as I can muster over the coming year.email print