This past Sunday morning, at 7:55 a.m., I was driving to work from Far Rockaway to Hewlett. As I drove down Central Avenue, I approached the light at Cedarhurst Avenue. Ahead of me, there was a white minivan that began to veer to the right side of the road in order to park on Central Avenue. I continued to go straight. In the flash of an eye, the van made a sudden left turn towards Central Perk, directly into the path of my vehicle. I had to make a split-second decision—if I continued straight, I would hit the driver side of the van. So my instincts drew me to swerve to the right, completely missing the van. I now found myself heading right towards the front of a store with no ability to stop the car. The next thing I knew, I had driven right into the front door of a store and crashed into a wall, which brought the car to a halt.
As I write this article, it begins to further dawn on me the possible catastrophe that could have occurred. But on with the story . . .
I exited the car in a complete state of shock. I walked out of the store and within seconds there was a Hatzalah member asking me if I was okay, eyewitnesses stating how they “saw the whole ordeal take place” and “it was completely the white van’s fault,” and firemen and police officers assessing the damage.
The reaction from them all was the same—something along the lines of “I can’t believe that your car ran into a store, your car is totaled, and you are perfectly okay.” Only once the shock began to wear off, as tons of people walked by, some in complete awe of the scene, others taking pictures to put on Instagram, did I start to realize the miracle that had just occurred. The firemen and the police officers told me it was a miracle that I was unharmed. My car had gone right through the front door; on both sides of the door were the steel weight-bearing beams holding up the building. I was told by one fireman, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. If you had hit one of the beams, you surely would have cracked your neck, or worse, from the impact.” Five feet on either side of the doors were electric poles. Had I driven into one of them, the result would have been catastrophic. They told me, “It must be your lucky day.”
At that time, I was thinking to myself about my wife and two young children, and why Hashem saved my life in such a miraculous way.
This is where the story really gets spooky. As I finished speaking with the fireman, a good friend of mine was walking by and wanted to see the scene. When he noticed it was me, he said in shock, “That was you in the car and you don’t have a scratch. That’s crazy.” As he walked away, he whispered in my ear, “Tzedakah tatzil mi’maves,” “giving charity saves from death.” It felt like someone had taken the air straight out of me (as I write this, the hairs on my arm stand up). A few hundred dollars had saved my life. You see, this very same friend had called me a few days earlier, telling me that he couldn’t afford to pay his bills and his electricity had been cut off. I agreed to pay part of the bill for him.
(On Monday, I spoke to that same friend and asked him what he had been doing on Central Avenue on a Sunday at 8:10 a.m. His response further shocked me. He told me that he is “never on Central Avenue Sunday mornings.” He always takes the train from Far Rockaway, but he has a friend that pays for his train fare to work and he wanted to buy him a coffee to thank him. So, he stopped by Central Avenue.)
There are many lessons to take from this story. The first being, if I knew the tzedakah would have saved my life, I would have paid the whole electric bill. The second is that the person you give charity to is really doing much more for you than you are doing for him. We hear so often that every day is a gift from Hashem, but when you see that your whole life could change in the flash of an eye, you really start to appreciate it. The other important lesson I learned from this is that if you have your health, you are truly a wealthy person.
There were a few reasons why I published this story. First was that when I bentched gomel at the White Shul, I told the story, and people came to me after davening amazed by the story—and they gave me money to help my friend! One person said, “You have to publicize the miracle; people can get a lot of chizuk from the story.” When I spoke to rabbanim, they told me, “It’s a mitzvah l’farseim es ha’neis.” Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg told me it’s worth it to publish the story if even one person gets chizuk from it and it will inspire people to help others to give generously to charity.
My chavrusa really got me to publish the story when he shared with me his own miracle. He was in a terrible accident without a scratch. The next day, during mussar seder in the yeshiva, he approached Reb Avigdor Miller with a question: Yaakov Avinu said to Hashem, “Katonti mikol hachasadim.” The Midrash explains that Yaakov was afraid he had lost all of his merits because Hashem had saved him from Eisav. So my chavusa asked, Is this true—that if Hashem saves you from death, you lose your merits? Reb Avigor Miller replied it is true. My chavrusa asked what he should do then. Rabbi Miller replied, “Every time you say over the story, you rebuild your merits.”
So I hope this can help me get my merits back.
One person I told the story to said he was now inspired to get back to someone who asked him to pay for his electric bill. One person who davens at Beth Sholom thanked me for telling him the story, and he said he would daven a better Ma’ariv that night because of the story.
I hope that there is at least one person reading this who got some chizuk from this incredible story. I have decided to help a family who is struggling because of this tremendous neis, which clearly saved my life because of charity. If you would like to join me in this great mitzvah, please e-mail me at Charitysaveslife@yahoo.com. v