I was seventeen years old so it must have been the winter of 1963 and plans for the upcoming Chanukah break were non-existent. In those pre-historic days, families really didn’t vacation during school breaks the way they do now, we just couldn’t afford it or didn’t know that we should. So as usual, it was hanging out with friends, see a few movies, watch lots of TV, torment my siblings and work with my father in his apartment buildings.
I was attending Yeshivah Beth Yehuda High School in Detroit, Michigan and living in Windsor, Ontario. I had school chums who were religious in one country and secular/traditional friends and community in another, I was a spiritual schizophrenic. At lunchtime in Yeshivah I was passing Rabbi A. A. (Avraham Abba) Friedman (may his remembrance be a blessing) in the hallway and he asked me to step into his office. Rabbi Friedman was the head honcho at the Yeshivah, he was a sweet man, very giving and gracious to both students and staff and was always positive in his outlook. In my early days at Beth Yehudah, I had spent many a Shabbos in his home. I knew that I didn’t merit any disciplinary action as I had stayed out of trouble in the last week, so what did he want of me?
Rabbi Friedman told me that every year he would visit his mother in Brooklyn N.Y. at Chanukah time. He also informed me that he was having trouble with his eyes and couldn’t drive his car anymore. Much to my surprise, Rabbi Friedman asked if I would drive him and if so, was it OK to speak to my parents for permission. We would leave two days before Chanukah, spend a week there and return on the seventh day of the festival. As an added bonus, I would have use of his car while there.
WOW, New York, I had many friends there and some family and was going to have access to a car. That and the freedom to go out with friends during Chanukah break was a dream come true.
My parents agreed and I was very excited to be going on this major adventure. On the morning we were to leave, I arrived at Rabbi Friedman’s house on time and Rabbi Friedman started packing the car. I expected us to be traveling alone, maybe one or two of his children would accompany us. I helped him fill the trunk and then we proceeded to stack the roof-rack with more parcels – and then his family came out. Rabbi Friedman had about 8 kids, six of whom would be traveling with us, then he, his wife and I made nine, all crammed into his mid-sized car. There were kids everywhere, I remember looking in the rear view mirror and seeing one of his children lying on the ledge behind the back seat, by the rear windshield.
Knowing that this would be a long and arduous trip, out of respect, I didn’t voice my agitation and disappointment. The route was simple, take I-75 to Toledo and get on the Ohio turnpike. Follow that east until we hit the Pennsylvania turnpike. Take that across the whole state until we passed Philadelphia and then get on the New Jersey turnpike to the Lincoln tunnel. Cross Manhattan get on the Williamsburg bridge and we were home, a distance of about 700 miles and it should take us about 14 hours, I thought.
We’re barreling down I-75 and Rabbi Friedman saw a man on the side of the expressway changing a tire on his car. Rabbi Friedman told me to stop and help the man out. As soon as I asked this fellow if he needed help, he backed off and allowed me the great privilege of doing all the work for him. When that was over, I returned to the car and we continued on our way. Every time Rabbi Friedman saw anyone in need of help, he asked me to get out of the car, go out into the cold weather and aid them in his troubles.
After five or six such episodes I got mildly [sic] upset and asked Rabbi Friedman: “Why do I always have to help every “Shlepper” out there? Why don’t you send a couple of your kids to at least relieve me or just assist me, I mean we’re only in Ohio and we still have a long way to go?”
Rabbi Friedman then taught me an important lesson in life: “HaShem works Mida K’Neged Mida – measure for measure” he said. “By doing acts of kindness and helping people on the road, then when and if you need help, HaShem will come through for you. You’re the driver, only you can make this happen.”
Telling this to an impatient 17 year old didn’t really leave the impact on me that he desired, but I was polite and didn’t make an issue of it. Of course Rabbi Friedman continued to have me stop for travelers in distress (much to my dissatisfaction) and it took us around 20 hours to arrive in Brooklyn. I dropped the Friedman family off in Brooklyn and proceeded to Queens to stay with a friend.
I was had the time of my life, experiencing freedom, exploring new neighborhoods and just being in the Big Apple, I totally forgot about the Friedman’s.
Time quickly ran out, the plan was to pick up the Friedman’s on the 7th day of Chanukah and drive through the night back to Detroit. When I arrived at Bubby Friedman’s house it was snowing lightly, we packed up the car, loaded everyone in and began our trip home. The snow got increasingly heavy and by the time we were on the New Jersey turnpike we were in a full blown blizzard. Night had fallen, it was getting more difficult and dangerous to drive and Rabbi Friedman suggested we pull over at the next Howard Johnson’s rest stop. He proposed that we light Chanukah candles in the car rather than before the eyes of all the stranded travelers and then go into the building with our food, have supper and wait out the storm.
Rabbi Friedman stuck eight candles on the dashboard of the car, he made the Berachot blessings and lit the candles (most of the flames were in direct contact with the ice-cold windshield) and before we even got to sing HaNerot Hallalu and Ma’oz Tzur, we heard a large cracking sound and the entire windshield started to splinter into a spider web of small pieces. The windshield held together but it was impossible to see well enough to drive after the storm would have abated.
Suddenly, a van from a local auto-glass company pulled up next to us. The driver came out of his vehicle, looked at our shattered windshield and said, “Boy, it looks like I arrived just in time.” The driver looked at his manifest and informed us that he just happened to have the exact windshield that would fit this model car. Shocked I looked over to Rabbi Friedman; he looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Mida K’Neged Mida.”
The glass man went to the gas station and spoke to one of the managers and was given permission to pull our car into one of the empty garage bays and then proceeded to change the windshield. We waited out the storm, got back into the car and drove back to Detroit without incident.
A few years back, after Rabbi Friedman’s passing I related this story to one of the Friedman sons, he pointed his finger at me and said, “You’re the one. We often spoke of this trip and couldn’t remember who the driver was.” By the way, he also told me that he was the little one lying on the ledge of the back window.
Since that event the continuous miracles of Chanukah have had personal significance for me. Rabbi Friedman (may he rest in peace) taught me that “HaShem works Mida K’Neged Mida – measure for measure,” and I never forgot it.