Before one of his overseas trips, a woman asked Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein, a lecturer in Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Program, if he could take a suitcase to Eretz Yisrael for her. Reb Yerachmiel was happy to do the favor and she was appreciative of his graciousness. Rabbi Milstein made it to the airport in time. After take-off, he prepared for some of his upcoming meetings at Aish HaTorah, and then sat back and reflected on the possibility of visiting his grandmother’s kever.
Rabbi Milstein’s grandmother, Rebbetzin Fayga Gnatt a”h, was the daughter of Rabbi Yerachmiel Yaakov Gnatt zt”l. Being able to visit her kever in Cholon held special significance for Rabbi Milstein, who was named after his great-grandfather. He had been unable to travel to Cholon on his last few trips to Eretz Yisrael, which made him all the more eager to do so now.
On the third day of his trip, Rabbi Milstein was planning his visit to the cemetery when the doorbell rang. It was Chaim Stern, who came to pick up the suitcase his sister-in-law had sent with Rabbi Milstein. Chaim and R’ Yerachmiel had never met but they quickly got acquainted. “So, what are your plans for today?” Chaim asked. “I’m hoping to take care of a few things near the Tel Aviv area,” was the reply. “No kidding? That’s exactly where I’m headed now. My taxi is waiting for me outside. Maybe you’d like to come along? I would enjoy a companion and there’s a place on the way where you could get off and catch a bus.” Rabbi Milstein always liked to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. “Sure,” he said. “Just let me grab my hat.”
About 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem, after a short pit stop to buy a drink, Rabbi Milstein reached for his wallet. Suddenly, his stomach bottomed out in the free-fall panic known by anyone who has ever forgotten his wallet at home. Rabbi Milstein helplessly pictured his wallet sitting on the night table in his bedroom in Har Nof. He didn’t even have any small change in his pocket. He was penniless. He reviewed his options quickly. He could ask Chaim to take him back to Jerusalem. But that would delay Chaim by almost an hour. He could borrow some money from him, but Yerachmiel would need enough for bus fares around Tel Aviv and Cholon and back to Jerusalem in the evening. He couldn’t bring himself to ask someone he barely knew for that much money. Getting back to Jerusalem wasn’t his biggest concern – what really upset him was that there was no way he could visit his grandmother’s kever in Cholon. As this was the only free day of his trip, it meant he would have to forfeit this most meaningful item on his agenda. And who knows how long it would be until he’d be back in Eretz Yisrael again? Waves of disappointment washed over Rabbi Milstein as he hid his shame and despair behind a false smile.
And then came the question Rabbi Milstein was dreading. “So, what are you planning to do today in Tel Aviv?”
“Well, uh, I, uh, was planning to...visit my grandmother’s kever in Cholon.” R’ Yerachmiel’s voice trailed off as he thought about the visit that he obviously would not be making now. Chaim sat up abruptly, as if the taxi had stopped short. “You are going to your grandmother’s kever?” he echoed in a whisper. Rabbi Milstein nodded, puzzled at Chaim’s response. “You’re going to daven at your bubby’s kever,” Chaim repeated slowly, almost to himself. He turned his face towards the window.
A few moments later, he turned back to Rabbi Milstein with reddened eyes. “Look, would you please do me a tremendous favor?” Chaim begged. Suddenly, he took out his wallet and quickly removed a few bills. He urgently pressed them into R’ Yerachmiel’s palm. “Here’s 300 shekels. I know you don’t need the money. But please, let me sponsor your trip to the kever. Take taxis wherever you have to go today – on me.” Rabbi Milstein was shocked. Chaim swallowed and continued. “My grandparents were all killed in the Holocaust. My parents’ entire families were wiped out without a trace. How I envy you that you even know where your grandparents are buried!” Tears filled his eyes. “I will never have the z’chus to daven at my grandparents’ k’varim. If you will accept this money from me, then I might have a small share in the great mitzvah that you are doing today. Please, I realize you hardly know me. But it would mean so much to me if you would accept this money.”
Rabbi Milstein was speechless. He barely managed to nod his head in agreement. “Thank you,” Chaim said. “Thank you so much.” R’ Yerachmiel’s t’filos that day at his grandmother’s kever held even more significance than usual.