Choked to Life

”Thank Hashem for His kindness, and His wonders you should tell over to people” (Tehillim 107, 21). The Shelah notes that this passuk starts in the singular (kindness) and concludes in the plural (wonders). Furthermore while we thank Hashem for kindness, when we speak to other people we are told to mention His wonders. What is the significance of these differences? We may suggest that David Hamelech is revealing to us the secret of strengthening our relationship with Hashem and of helping others to do the same.

When it comes to our relationship with Hashem we must thank him for the smallest acts of kindness, as Chazal say “On every breath a person takes he is obligated to thank Hashem” ( Midrash Rabba , Devarim 2). However, when speaking to others about Hashem’s greatness we have to wake them up from the deep sleep that causes us to forget all the acts of kindness He does for us constantly. When someone experiences special hashgachah from Hashem he is obligated to tell this to others. When Moshe Rabbeinu met Yisro after all the miracles of Mitzrayim, he told him immediately about the miracles (Brisker Rav, Shemos 18:8). Eliezer too, returned from his mission to find a wife for Yitzchak and before anything else told Yitzchak how he had experienced kefitzas haderech and how the water had flowed upwards to Rifka at the well (Mizmor L’esoda page 291).

The following experience brings these thoughts to life.

Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. During the daytime, for obvious reasons, it is impossible for a religious Jew to visit them. Early in the morning they are less crowded.

During Elul 5752, a few weeks after our marriage, we were visiting my wife’s family in Rio . Because it was Elul, I decided one morning that I would tovel in the sea before anyone got there. This way I would be able to see the beauty of these famous beaches while performing a mitzvah . My wife warned me that there were muggers around, but my desire to tovel and see the beaches overrode her admonition. I wore my bathing suit underneath my clothes and headed for the beach.

As I watched the sunrise, I reflected on the month of Elul and its predominant mitzvah to do teshuvah and return to Hashem. My heart was filled with awe over the sheer splendor of the experience.

As I prepared to go into the sea, suddenly two enormous hulks loomed up beside me. I contemplated running, but realized that I had no chance of escaping them. What could I do? One of the thugs grabbed my neck and started to choke me while forcing my face into the sand. The other one searched through my few possessions, repeatedly muttering, “No money, amigo.” This was an abrupt lesson about what Chazal mean that one must thank Hashem for every breath. The air supply to my lungs was getting less and less, and I was sure that my end had arrived.

Suddenly a thought popped into my mind, a shiur that I had heard about the Brisker Rav. His life was endangered and he thought, ein od milvado “there is nothing in the world except for Hashem”). Chazal promise that anyone who concentrates on this phrase will be spared from all danger, and this thought had saved the lives of the Brisker Rav and many others.

As these words came into my mind the mugger released his grip on my throat and both muggers ran away. As they departed with my few possessions they shouted, “The Mafia of Brazil!” Still determined to complete my mitzvah , I toveled in the sea and ran quickly back to my mother-in-law’s apartment.

During the same year as the mugging in Brazil, on 18 ( chai ) of Sivan, Erev Shabbos Shelach, I was in a serious car accident where I was miraculously saved. These two revelations of Hashem’s niflaos woke me up and pushed me to think that maybe Hashem wanted more from me. As a result I started to write sefarim, and five years ago opened up Kollel Toras Chaim.

May Hashem help us to recognize Him constantly by merely hearing about His wonders, amen.

Rabbi Travis will be making a seudas hodayah on Shabbos the eighteenth (Chai) Sivan at the Gra shul in Har Nof. Please be in touch with him if you would like to attend. The following article will appear in this week’s Hamodia.

6 comments on “Choked to Life

  1. Question? I am a Torah observant widow who dresses modestly. Do I cover my head as one who is married or uncovered since I am now single? At all services I wear some kind of covering on my head, but I do not now know what is correct for me as widow. Thank you, Shalom

  2. “Another Jew” wrote,
    “To tovel at sunrise when specifically there is a mitzvah at that time to daven, is to place one’s own spiritual needs as primary.”

    Plenty of Orthodox Jews prepare for morning davening by preceding it with another Jewish activity, such as:

    1. Early learning seder in Gemara or Chassidic works
    2. Daf HaYomi
    3. Mikveh
    4. Bakashot (for Sephardim)

    These are often done after sunrise, as is davening itself, b’tzibbur or b’yachid.

    This is the only situation I can think of that would raise a question:
    If the only available minyan was vasikin, and the person had to forego that and daven b’yachid because of a delay he caused by doing an optional activity, such as one I listed above.

  3. For a rabbi to use the term “mitzvah” in an incorrect manner in a story, particularly on a site devoted to BT’s, many of whom are starting on their religious journey, is a serious pedagogical error. To tovel at sunrise when specifically there is a mitzvah at that time to daven, is to place one’s own spiritual needs as primary, thus my use of self indulgent behavior. Of course he could have found another mikvah, the issue was the time as well, not just the place.

    And Elie, there are Jews who learn Torah in Evanston and your assumption that nobody here can offer Rabbi Travis advice is incorrect.

    Rabbi Travis uses the story in a sweet way. However, in a story told about himself, he should have pointed out not only what he learned, but also his halachic errors that put him in that situation in the first place!

  4. As another jew living in Chicago. I am very offended by “another jew in evanston’s post”. Seriously, it was a heart felt story, aprreciate for what it is and thank Hashem you’re alive. I’m sure Rabbi Travis doesnt need a halachic advice from someone in Evanston, IL!

  5. I question “Another Jew’s” view above that this was self-indulgence. However, less risky places to tovel, such as actual mikvaot, must exist in a big city like Rio. Sometimes, aesthetics have to take a back seat.

  6. 1. There is no mitzvah to tovel. To call it that is a distortion. It may be better defined, in this particular case, as self indulgent religious behavior.
    2. There is certainly a mitzvah of sorts to daven at sunrise. Perhaps that is what should have happened.
    3. Putting oneself in such danger was not an act of piety, but poor decision making.
    4. The moral of the story is God protects fools.
    5. Congratulations to the rabbi for doing much more important things now.

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