I left work with a holiday bonus stuffed in my purse. I climbed into my car, a ’96 Chrysler Voyager. I put the car in reverse, backed out of the gravel parking space, switched gears to “drive” and headed west on the narrow mountain road in the direction of the village exit. Had I known then of the frightening occurrence awaiting me around the bend I would have exited the Adumim village by the main road.
The access road I use is a two-kilometer long, serpentine asphalt swath called the “Sabbath Road.” It is barely wide enough for two cars, yet passage is safe because oncoming traffic is almost non-existent. Besides, the Sabbath Road is much more enjoyable to drive than the straight-but-boring main road.
It wouldn’t be much fun that day, but I didn’t know it yet.
As I drove away, my mind was filled with considerations of a more prosaic nature: Where shall I go first: the bank, or the gas station? The bonus check was burning a hole in my purse, but, on the other hand, my car needed gas. Besides, I had promised my boss that I’d pick up some printing blueprints in nearby Mishor Adumim on my way home.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car whiz around the hairpin turn 100 meters in front and to the left of me. My view was blocked just then by the curve in the mountain yet I suspected the vehicle was approaching at high speed. Sure enough, the car burst out from behind the wide bend to the south. It then swerved into the curve to the east, straddling the road surface as it came out of the turn. The Sabbath Road is straight along this short stretch; my car was directly in the other driver’s line of sight, less than 20 meters away. Quickly, I adjusted the steering so that my car’s right wheels were touching the right edge of the asphalt. Much to my shock, the other driver held steady to the center of the road. Either the driver hadn’t seen me, or I had become an unwitting player in a dangerous game of “chicken”. Instinctively, I turned the steering wheel sharply to the right. The Voyager lunged off the paved surface and onto the sloping gravel. I felt a sharp thud coming from the underside of the car, but thank G-d, that was all. I realized the other car must have missed mine by centimeters.
I kept a firm grip on the steering wheel and somehow steered the car back onto the road surface. I continued on my way, keeping a sharp eye on the dashboard’s oil icon. If a large rock had hit the underside of the car then the oil pan could have been damaged. One kilometer passed, then two. The oil icon remained dark. Good!
Clearing my mind of the near-collision, I returned to the matter at hand: “Where to, now? The bank? Or the gas station?” As I approached the Mishor Adumim junction, a feeling arose in my gut, a feeling that I’d learned to recognize as my guardian angel’s “voice”. The voice-feeling told me to turn off the highway and go to the adjacent gas station. Sure, no problem, I answered. First we’d get gas, and then we’d go to the bank. (“I” always turned into “we” following one of these angelic encounters.)
I turned off the highway and circled around to the gas station. I saw four or five Arab construction workers repairing the roof of the self-service gasoline bay. There were no other cars or people in sight. I parked, got out of car, swiped my credit card through the proper slot, opened the gas cap, inserted the pump’s nozzle into the Voyager’s gas tank and squeezed the pump. I saw the construction workers lower themselves to the ground with the help of a motorized scaffold. Each of them was 20-something years of age, dressed in greasy overalls and work boots. I watched nervously as they scuffled past me towards the passenger side of my car. The gas pump clicked off “full”. Hurriedly, I replaced the pump and gas tank cap, jumped in the car and yanked the door shut. Whew, safe inside my car haven.
Just then one of the Arabs knocked on the front passenger window. My heart skipped a beat. I didn’t know what he wanted and I didn’t care to find out. I tried to insert the car key into the ignition but my hand was shaking as though struck by Instant Parkinson’s, a disease I get every now and again.
The Arab knocked on the window a second time. “Don’t start your car!” he said.
Ignoring him, I finally succeeded in inserting the ignition key but my shaky index finger entered the wrong code numbers into the ignition lock. The car wouldn’t start!
“Lady, there’s a pool of oil under your car!”
That got my attention. I opened the driver’s side door, and walked around to the front of the Voyager, where the Arab now stood. A two-meter wide, glossy-black puddle was spreading outwards from the underside of the car. The Arab dropped to his hands and knees. I watched him lower his head until it was even with car’s front bumper. He stuck his head under the front chassis. “Did you get hit?” he asked, from under the car.
I remembered the sharp “thud” when my car went off the mountain road. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“There’s a hole the size of a hammer-head in your oil pan, ” the Arab said, pushing himself out and back into a squatting position. “The engine’s dry.”
“Whah, whah…what does that mean?” I asked.
“It means, lady,” one of his friends said, with infinite patience, “that your engine will be destroyed if you turn on the ignition.”
Shivers went up and down my spine. I realized my engine would be dead right now if I had continued driving towards the bank instead of turning in to the gas station. I realized, too that the failed activation of my car’s ignition was a minor miracle, not a hindrance. Once again, my guardian angel’s advice had saved the day. Heaven be praised!
“You’re not going anywhere without a tow,” the first Arab said, then, as he wiped his hands on his overalls.
I realized, too, that the Arab had been a divine messenger, not a threat. I thanked him, suddenly aware that my heart’s natural timidity may be a stumbling block to faith.
I called the tow-truck dispatcher from my cell phone. Now that going to the bank AND picking up the blueprints had been scrapped from my itinerary I sat down in the driver’s seat to await the arrival of the tow-truck. It turned out to be a long wait, 94 minutes to be exact, in enveloping darkness, at the farthest western end of the gas station, without electric lighting anywhere except on the main highway 50 meters to my right, and in the gas station office 10 meters to my left. There was no one to keep me company, either, except for the radio DJ, and a persistent Arab peddler who gave me the creeps, with his beat-up box of cigarette lighters and sun visors, appearing close to my car window every five minutes or so until he was shooed away by Hallel, the gas station manager.
Hallel was great. He made me a cup of coffee and offered me a chair in his air-conditioned office. I declined, preferring the enclosed space of my car. Timidity, you know.
The tow truck finally arrived. While the towing fee came to half my Passover bonus at least I wouldn’t have to go into additional debt.
After that I did two things I never do: One, I phoned Miriam, my friend & neighbor, instead of a cab company; and two, I walked over to Hallel’s office to await my ride home.
My ride came 10 minutes later. It was Tomer, Miriam’s Israeli husband, and one of my dearest male friends. I got in the car and closed the door. On the way home I regaled him with great enthusiasm about all the miracles and kindnesses that had happened to me that day.
“You know,” he began, when we had pulled into our parking lot, “I was hoping to find you in tears, or at least raving mad.”
Taken aback, I found myself struck silent. Tomer can be as perceptive as a police detective, and equally as unnerving. “No one likes a whiner”, I snapped back.
“Whining? Do you think shedding a tear is whining?” he asked.
“No one likes to hear it.”
He turned to me, a serious look on his face, “Channa, I’m someone, who doeswant to hear it.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Look, you went through some harrowing experiences today…you just missed being in an collision through no fault of your own. Your car’s oil pan needs replacing, and this is after the costly repairs you made to your car last month. You spent an hour and a half in the dark waiting for the tow truck while some creepy guy wouldn’t let you alone. You received a holiday bonus -- and we both know you need the money -- but half of it is gone now.”
“Why are you focused on the negative?” I asked, “Especially when I’m trying to rise above it to focus on the spiritual.”
“Ah,” he said in a teasing manner. “ ‘Focusing on the spiritual’. So that’s what this is about.”
“Yeah,” I said, hurt that he hadn’t appreciated my efforts at self-control. “What’s wrong with that?”
Tomer was silent for a moment. He got out of the car and shut the door. Then he spoke again: “I’m talking about feeling your feelings, Channa.. You’re entitled to be human.”
“I’m human,” I protested.
“Maybe, but your engine dried up.”
“What are you talking about, Tomer?”
“I just realized the message of the damaged oil pan,” he said.
“We knowthe message of the oil pan, “ I said with exaggerated patience.“ My car can work without air-conditioning, a radio or quality gasoline, but it can’t work without oil. One second without oil – boom, no engine.”
“No, I meant in an allegorical sense.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Your feelings are like car oil,” Tomer explained. “Your life needs the free flow of feelings in order to keep working. Honor them, and you’ll help to prevent your life’s ‘engine’ from drying up.”
Kindness comes in surprising forms. Sometimes it comes as a near collision. Other times it comes as a human being. Still other times it comes as a result of a conversation connecting ideas that have no logical basis being connected together. Tomer is always after everybody “to go with the flow”. I know he means well, but I also know that his assessment is off base. That day’s events weren’t about free-flowing oil/feelings. They were about an oil/feeling spill. They were about choosing the time and with whom “to spill” my guts. Not, as some do, all over everywhere and everybody, but in prayer, with Hashem.
If anything, the day’s events made the search for closeness with Hashem a more urgent priority. And that was a kindness, too.