By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Just recently, my father, Mr. Dennis Berman, told me a story that blew me away. We speak on the phone almost every week, so the fact that this anecdote had been unknown to me for the past fourteen-plus years made it all the more extraordinary. Not long after the catastrophe of 9/11, my father was visited by Rabbi Shmuel Fishbain of the White Lake Beis Medrash. “I want you to know,” Rav Fishbain exclaimed, “that you saved a man’s life on 9/11.” My father responded, “Well, that obviously cannot be so – I was nowhere near the World Trade Center on 9/11 – but there must be a good story behind that comment, so please do tell.” Rav Fishbain told his story:
“As part of my fundraising efforts on behalf of our Beis Medrash, I had been trying to get in touch with a certain Reb Dovid Green (Reb Dovid z”l was niftar about three years ago at the age of 79). A man of not insignificant means, I was hoping that Reb Dovid would be able to lend some support to our Beis Medrash. For months, though, I had been trying to secure a meeting with him, but to no avail. Nothing worked out. Finally, I managed to get an appointment. It was scheduled for September 11th, 2001. 8:30 am sharp. I drove to the appointment-“
At this point in the narrative, my father interjected to comment, “I couldn’t believe it when he told me that he drove there. All the trains go right there!”
“-And I arrived with plenty of time to park, but try as I may, I simply could not find anywhere to park my car.”
“As the clock was ticking closer and closer to the appointed hour, I realized that I might miss this long-sought-after appointment. I was devastated. But, then, a fleeting thought passed through my mind that gave me a ray of hope to grasp on to. ‘Maybe Reb Dovid will be as nice as Mr. Berman.’ Out of the hundreds of people I meet with, there are about four or five that are as kind, considerate, and humble as they are generous. So, with that in mind, I dialed the CEO’s number on my mobile phone and hoped that he would be amenable to my outrageous request. ‘Hello? Mr. Green, this is Rabbi Fishbain.’ ‘Hello Rabbi Fishbain! I should be seeing you in just a minute or two in my office, right?’ ‘Well, I don’t know exactly how to say this, but I’ve been circling the area for some time now looking for a place to park, and there’s absolutely nothing. I know you told me that you need to leave your office by 9:00 am, but I do not think that I will find a place to park by then. I hate to impose, but would you perhaps be willing to come down and meet with me in my car? I am so sorry to trouble you.’ Without hesitation, Reb Dovid responded, “Certainly!”, and soon he was in my car. We obviously could not just stay there, so we drove about twenty blocks away. A few minutes later, his tower was hit by the first plane. Being located on one of the top floors of the tower, and thus trapped with no avenue of escape, not one of his employees who were at work survived that day. He alone was spared.”
Mouth-agape, I said to my father after I heard that, “Dad, I must say that I agree with the Rabbi. You saved that man’s life!”
Either way, let’s try to picture in our minds the scene of Reb Dovid Green z”l sitting in his office at that crucial hour. At the very moment he is on the phone with Rav Fishbain, a jetliner is in a deadly trajectory; careening at 590 miles per hour straight at his building. Within minutes, every person – to the last one – on his floor is about to have his or her tragic demise sealed, with absolutely no window of escape. At that level of the building, not one survivor will emerge. His phone rings. It is the Rabbi who was supposed to meet with him to make a fundraising pitch for his Beis Medrash. The Rabbi makes an odd request: could he – the big businessman whom the Rabbi needs, and not the other way around – come downstairs and meet with the Rabbi in his car. A lifeline – in the most literal sense – is being tossed to him from Above. If he will take hold of it, his life will be spared. If not, he will perish with all the others.
Talk about a fateful decision!
And the incredible thing about it is that Reb Dovid Green was as blissfully unaware of the momentousness of that phone call as Rav Fishbain was. Neither one of them had the slightest inkling of how urgent and determinative that moment was.
I think that can give us pause to wonder. A lot.
You see, sometimes Hashem gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the Divine plan and the place our actions have therein, and we are left simply awestruck. But that is the exception, not the rule. Really, every action we make is incredibly momentous, the effects of which ripple through all of the Heavenly spheres, as Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains at length in the first chapter of Nefesh Ha’Chaim. When we do something, we have no idea of the crucial gates that are being opened directly on account of our actions. The long-lasting consequences can reverberate for generations to come without us ever knowing. Just consider my father’s part in Rav Fishbain’s story. Would he ever have thought, in a million years, that his way of treating fundraisers – which he considers basic derech eretz (and rightfully so!) – would one day be the cause, albeit indirectly, of literally saving a man’s life?!
What exactly may be the fateful reverberations of one smile, one helpful act, one teffilah davened with whatever bit of kavanah we could muster, or one small act of self-control in a heated moment, we may never know. And usually we don’t. But that the repercussions are absolutely enormous and earth-shaking, that’s a reality that we should never forget.