The Midnight Ride

A True Story

It was too late. Too late to be standing by the side of the road hitching for a ride. Too late to catch the last bus from Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem to the center of town. Too late to get back to the yeshiva in the morning on time. David Feldman stood a few feet away from the curb, his hand wearily outstretched in the traditional Israeli hitchhiker's sign, and watched the cars speed by. "Please, somebody, stop," he whispered, "Don't be scared. I'm a nice guy."

Moments before, he had closed his volume of Talmud and left the yeshiva, after spending several extra hours reviewing his studies. But the last bus had already passed, and now he was stranded. His only hope was to catch a lift. David leaned against a parked car, opened a book and tried to read a little by lamplight, but his attention kept wandering back nervously to the road. A cool, midnight breeze drifted over the mountaintop, and his thoughts turned inward. As his eyes followed the headlights of the oncoming cars weaving down the highway, he took stock of his day.

"It was a good day," he assured himself, "I made it to yeshiva on time, and and the morning went well. I took only one coffee break, (or was it two?) I cut my lunch hour short to get back to learning. The teachers and fellow students are good." He shifted uneasily from foot to foot, and glanced far up the road. "So what is missing?" he thought, "Why this constant feeling of dissatisfaction? Why don't I have enthusiasm for Torah study?"

A cool breeze of a memory floated into his mind, words of admonition he had heard from many teachers in the past. "You are not living up to your potential," he heard them say once again. "You could do much better if you tried." Nor was it his problem alone; most people fail to live up to their potential, even those who try. The Vilna Gaon said that the Afterlife's greatest torture is seeing what we could have been.

"But what can I do? How can I realize my potential?" he mused. As he stood considering his options, a prayer slowly formed on his lips. "Please G-d," he beseeched, "I want to succeed in Your holy Torah and mitzvos. I don't want to waste my life. Please help me live up to my potential."

David was still repeating these words when a car pulled up in front of him: a sporty, red BMW. He got in the front seat and fastened himself in. The driver was a young Sefardic man, dark skinned, clean shaven, sporting a stylish haircut and a small velvet yarmulke cocked slightly to the side of his head. David eyed the dashboard: it was decorated with cartoon stickers and idiotic sayings. His gaze took in the fuzzy dice that hung from the rear view mirror and the hand-shaped amulet, inscribed with Hebrew letters to ward off the evil eye. "So much for potential," he thought. But then he reconsidered. "On second thought, G-d did sent him to give me a lift. Maybe He sent an answer to my question, as well."

"Tell me," he asked his host, "how does a person live up to his potential?"

The driver answered immediately. "B'tachon -- trust in G-d."

It was a obvious answer, but David was pleased at how quickly the driver had responded. If a person truly trusted in G-d, his mind would be much calmer; he would waste much less time, and could apply himself more devotedly to his endeavors. As David considered this answer, the driver spoke again.

"Take me, for example. I live in the Givat Shaul neighborhood. Every night I wake up at midnight and drive to the gravesite of Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi, the famous Kabbalist. He's buried on Har HaMenuchot. Then I say these ten Psalms." He pulled out a small pamphlet on Breslov chassidus from under his dashboard. On the back was the famous Tikun HaKlali of Rabbi Nachman. "Recite these ten Psalms," it stated. "They are a wonderful remedy for all your ills."

"It's dark and deserted there, but I have trust in G-d that I will be safe," he continued, "and so I'm not afraid."

David was amazed. This simple Jew was rising each night and going to the grave of one of the holiest tzaddikim of our generation! So much for his casual, deprecatory assessment.

After a few minutes, the car pulled up on the corner of Kiryat Moshe and Givat Shaul. "This is as far as I go," his host told him, "Be well, and I hope you live up to your potential." Then he drove away.

Once more, David stood by the side of the road with his hand outstretched. Across the street, the bright lights shone through the doors of Angel's 24-hour Bakery. The smell of fresh pastries filled the air. David reflected upon the driver's response -- trust in G-d. It was a good answer, yet, for some reason, it was lacking, as though it were only half a solution. However, now was not the time to consider the issue further. The only thing that mattered was getting to bed. If David didn't get a another lift, he would have to go the rest of the way alone, an infinitely long twenty minute walk.

"Oh, L-rd, I'm so tired. I have no more strength. Please, please, send me a lift." The words had barely left his mouth when an old, blue Peugot pulled up. A thin, Yerushalmi Chassid, with a battered hat, long sidecurls and straggly beard, beckoned him in. David sat quietly as they drove to the center of town. He thought about his day, about his potential, about trust, about bed, and he was pleased that G-d had so quickly answered his prayer for a lift. His driver, too, was silent, and neither said a word.

As David was stepping out of the car, he felt the need to share a word with his host. He turned to the driver and said. "Thank you so much for picking me up. Do you see G-d's kindness? Just when you pulled over, I had been praying, 'G-d, I have no more strength, please, send me a lift.' And then you stopped!"

"If you had no more strength," the driver replied, "why did you pray for a lift? You should have prayed for strength! A person should always pray for the main thing, not the secondary one!" And with that, he sped away.

David was stunned -- as though the words had been spoken to him by a prophet. Not only was this an answer to his question, it was an answer to his answer -- a commentary on the reply he had previously received.

What, then, does it mean to have trust? Is it merely a matter of doing more than before, or making a greater effort? No, trusting in G-d is only half the answer. If we are to fulfill our potential in life, we must also trust in ourselves.

Each person comes into this world for a specific task and is blessed with special gifts; no two individuals will ever be alike. The famous tzaddik, Reb Zusia of once exclaimed, "When I stand before the heavenly court, I am not afraid that they will ask me 'Zusia, why weren't you Moses?' But I am afraid they will ask, 'Zusia, why weren't you Zusia?'"

G-d, too, desires that each of us fulfill our potential. But to do this, we must know where our potential lies. We must pray for the main goal in life, not the secondary ones. Then G-d will surely guide our development. If not, we may waste our lives without ever being satisfied. If we recognize our strengths, however, then our lives and our serving G-d will be filled with joy and enthusiasm.

Rabbi Nachman said that every person has some idea of what his or her unique potential may be. A person's heart may be drawn to a particular type of Torah study, or certain mitzvos, or a particular style of serving G-d; this is not accidental. Only, one needs the courage and the trust, to pursue this path, and to seek out teachers and friends who recognize the validity of his way, and who will help him develop it further. Above all, a person should never be apologetic because he finds himself drawn to a mode of worship different from that of others.

Each of us can reach our fullest potential. We only need to trust -- in G-d and in ourselves. May the Almighty help each one us find our own true path to serve Him.

(C) Eliezer Shore, Bas Ayin