Twelve years ago, on 18 Sivan 5752, I was on the way to buy food for a kiddush in honor of our newborn daughter. The next thing I remember was waking up on a stretcher being wheeled into Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, Yerushalayim. Bewildered and in pain, I was astonished to hear that I had been in a serious car accident. An experienced medical technician who "happened" to witness the accident began to care for me immediately and called an ambulance to the scene. (How appropriate that it was on "chai" Sivan, the eighteenth day of Sivan, Hashem gave me life anew!)
To the amazement of the medical staff, tests showed that I had suffered no major physical or neurological damage. Aside from cuts, bruises and two broken bones, the doctors found nothing wrong. After three days, they sent me home. Everyone - - including the nonobservant professionals in the hospital -- agreed that the hand of Hashem had definitely worked a miracle in my case.
Rabbeinu Yonah writes in Sha'arei Teshuvoh (3:17) that the mitzvah of expressing gratitude to Hashem is derived from the verse, "And you should remember the entire way that Hashem led you these forty years in the wilderness" (Devorim 8:2). Therefore, twelve years later, as part of the fulfillment of my obligation to thank Hashem for returning my life, I am publishing this story.
We also learn from this verse that we cannot possibly recognize the full extent of Hashem's kindness unless we try to analyze exactly what happened and look at everything preceding and following the event itself (Rav Shaul Miller, cited in Mizmor Lesodoh, p. 279).
Thirteen days before the accident, I had spent the entire evening of Shavuos learning Torah. When, two weeks later, the doctors were wondering how I had escaped such a devastating crash without sustaining any major injuries, I remembered that the Arizal says that anyone who learns all of Shavuos night will be spared serious injury that year (Mishnah Berurah 494:1).
Nevertheless, the car crash was only one of a long list of tribulations that my wife and I had suffered within the year, starting with the death of my father-in- law on Tisha B'Av, four days before our wedding. Rav Shlomo Brevda, to whom I had turned for advice, assured me that the only possible solution when one is undergoing such an extraordinary number of tsoros is tefilloh. He urged me to plead with Hashem for help at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharis and Mincha, before taking three steps backward, and to conclude my petition with the following prayer:
Even though I am not worthy to ask for such requests, nonetheless please do not leave me empty-handed before You, for I am pleading to You with a broken heart, and on Your tremendous kindness and Your incredible mercy I put all of my trust, may my heart rejoice in Your salvation.
HaRav Brevda told me, in the name of his rebbe Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, that most people think that when they have tzoros they should pray in order to get away from them. But troubles are the "illness" and tefilloh is the "cure." Hashem brings us tzoros because He wants to hear our prayers. (Some time later, HaRav Shimshon Pincus zt"l told me that the Chofetz Chaim once said that most problems come because people don't daven beforehand. If people would pray as if they had a tzoroh, then they would not have to experience the actual tzoroh!) Rav Brevda's words of chizuk touched me deeply, and soon after, I began to recite this tefilloh regularly during Shacharis and Mincha, our situation improved radically.
One year after the accident, I made a seudas hodayah to thank Hashem for the great miracle that had transpired. However, as happy as I was to be alive and to finally have my life return to normal, it seemed to me that experiencing such a miracle should have made a major impact on my life. Why, then, did I feel almost the same as before?
That "chai" Sivan, I started to research the halachos regarding the brochoh that one makes upon revisiting a place where he experienced a miracle, and I began to learn them in depth.
As a result of this study, I soon had a manuscript ready to publish on these halachos. Someone suggested to me that I combine the text with divrei Torah of the gedolim and, almost miraculously, I had soon collected two hundred pages of these writings and was able to publish them together under the title, Mizmor Lesodoh, my "Song of Thanks," in book form.
A friend of mine subsequently told me that he had seen a sefer published about four hundred years ago called Bircas Avrohom, written by a Rav Avrohom Treves, with an approbation from Rav Yosef Karo. The author describes how the Prophet Eliyahu once came to him in a dream, hinting that he would experience a miracle and later thank Hashem for it in a glorious fashion. A short time later, he fell into a river and was miraculously saved from drowning.
In order to give thanks to Hashem for what had transpired, he wrote a sefer about hilchos brochos. Scholars have since told me that there is strong reason to believe I am related to Rav Treves. I thought that I had conceived a unique way of thanking Hashem, but in fact I had been preceded four hundred years earlier by a rov who was very likely my relative.
Mizmor Lesodoh was my first serious undertaking to learn halochoh, and I found that it a gratifying experience. I joined Kollel La'asukei Shamaitesa, and for seven years studied in-depth halachic topics on an advanced level. During that time I also published three other books on halochoh- related topics, started to give shiurim in halochoh, and began writing halochoh-oriented articles for the Yated Ne'eman. After seven years in Kollel La'asukei Shamaitesa, I felt a need to give over to others that which I had acquired, and with tremendous help from Hashem I started my own halochoh kollel, Kollel Toras Chaim, The Torah of Life, as a further expression of my thanks to Hashem for the life that He has given me.
Some years after I had recovered from the accident, I was looking through my notes and found the original draft of a dvar Torah that had been published in the Mir Torah journal. I remembered that I had experienced such unusual siyata deShmaya when learning that particular sugya on that particular night that I had been able to sit down and write in a few hours what normally would have taken me days to complete. The date on the paper was 18 Sivan, 5751.
I realized that 18 Sivan must be a good day for me and that I should always make the most of it in spiritual endeavors. It also crossed my mind that it might also be a day of good fortune in other spheres, so when that day rolled around again, I decided to buy a lottery ticket. Sure enough, mine was a winning ticket -- only the amount I won was exactly the same amount that the ticket had cost.
The next year the same thought crossed my mind, and once again I purchased a lottery ticket on 18 Sivan. Again I won the exact price of the ticket. A Rav suggested to me that Hashem was hinting that He had already given me everything I needed.
After reading my sefer, Rav Daniel Lehrfeld, rosh yeshivas Beis Yisroel, Yerushalayim, wrote to tell me that our Sages say that someone who experiences a miracle inevitably loses from his merit in exchange for what transpired. But, he added, this refers only to a hidden miracle. If one uses the experience as a vehicle to glorify the honor of Hashem, he will acquire merit (Yeshuas Yaakov 682:2), and my book was an excellent example of this principle.
Three years ago, on 18 Sivan, having just delivered my second sefer to the printer (Yoreh Binah, an additional "thanks" to Hashem), I passed the site of the accident and had the opportunity to recite the brochoh. According to some poskim, if you recite it on the day of the miracle you must add the words, "Blessed are You, Hashem, Who did a miracle for me in this place on this day."
As I recited the brochoh, I realized that because of this day, an apparently tragic one, many positive things later occurred. Although the ways of Hashem are far beyond our comprehension, at that moment I had a small glimpse of understanding into the words of the Sages, "A person should accustom himself to say that everything that Hashem does is for the good" (brochos 59, Shulchan Oruch 230:5).
A close friend of mine, who had been at the site of the accident and who also helped me greatly in the hospital, made such a favorable impression on my wife that she arranged a shidduch for him with a close friend of hers. It wasn't easy, because the kallah lived abroad, but after many months of arrangements they finally met. Now they are married, all because of the accident!
In the course of writing Mizmor Lesodoh, I found a dispute among the poskim as to what constitutes a miracle. From my understanding of their writings, it seemed quite clear to me that what had transpired in my car accident fit their description. I spoke to many leading poskim, including Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, and it also appeared quite clear to them that in such a situation one should say the brochoh "she'osa li nes bemokom hazeh" (Who has made me a miracle in this place), using Hashem's Name.
During the year of tribulations which led up to the accident, I had spoken a few times with HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Although I did not know him previously, when I spoke to Rav Shlomo Zalman I had the feeling that he cared about me and my situation more than anything else in the world. I always left his presence uplifted and imbued with fresh hope.
Before publishing my sefer I returned to Rav Shlomo Zalman to receive his blessing. In passing I asked him if I should recite the brochoh of "she'osoh li nes bemokom hazeh" in the place where the miracle took place. I was sure that he would agree with the other gedolei poskim who told me to say this blessing.
However, he ruled that since it was not clear that this incident fit the halachic guidelines of a miracle, I should not say the brochoh with Hashem's Name. Somewhat surprised, I responded, "If a person does not make this brochoh after being in a serious car accident, when does he make the brochoh?"
Picking up his arms as if to pounce on me, he answered, "When a lion jumps on top of you (the case that the gemora in Brochos 54a mentions in reference to this brochoh)."
Instead, he told me to go to the place of the miracle in the morning and recite Bircas HaShachar there. When I reached the brochoh, HaGomeil Chassodim Tovim, I should try to say it in front of a minyan or at least in front of two other people. According to many poskim, this brochoh is Bircas HaGomel, which would be an excellent substitute for the brochoh, "she'osah li nes" (See Halichos Shlomo ch. 23, Orchos halochoh 10). Rav Shlomo Zalman then proceeded to give me a brochoh that included almost the entire nusach of Yekum Purkon!
Now I was in quite a quandary. On the one hand, Rav Eliashiv and other poskim said that I should definitely make the brochoh, and this was also what I had understood from the halochoh. On the other hand, Rav Shlomo Zalman ruled that I should not say the brochoh using Hashem's Name. Although I knew I could rely on the ruling of Rav Eliashiv, I did not feel at ease doing something which did not find favor in the eyes of Rav Shlomo Zalman. I turned my heart to Hashem to help me.
The night before I was scheduled to travel past the place of the miracle, I went to daven Ma'ariv in a small kollel in my neighborhood. As I waited for the tefilloh to begin, I noticed a sefer on the table called Chesed LeAvrohom. The sefer covered Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim and was written by the grandfather of the Chida. Although I thought I had seen every major sefer on Orach Chaim when writing Mizmor Lesodoh, I had not seen this one.
I opened it to the section that spoke about the brochoh one recites at the place of a miracle, and was amazed by what I read. The Chesed LeAvrohom writes that if someone has a doubt whether or not he should make this brochoh, he should go to the place of the miracle with a Shulchan Oruch and read the halochoh from the Shulchan Oruch that includes the brochoh, using Hashem's Name. If one is obligated to make the brochoh, he will fulfill his requirement in this way. If he is not obligated, it will not be a blessing in vain because he is merely reading the Shulchan Oruch! Although generally, we do not mention the Divine Name while learning, in this case it is permitted in order to resolve the doubt. Hashem sent me the solution to my difficulty!
Three years ago, a few days before 18 Sivan, I mentioned to a friend that I would be making a seudas hodayah on that day and explained why. He told me that there was an allusion to what had happened to me in Sefer Tehillim. King David wrote, "How precious is Your kindness, Hashem! The sons of man take refuge in the shadow of Your wings" (36:8). The Hebrew word for "take refuge" is spelled yud, ches, samech, yud, vov, nun -- 18 Sivan -- a clear indication that "chai" Sivan is a special day of Divine protection.
May Hashem be mevorech all of the Jewish people on Chai Sivan, and make it a special day of protection for all of the Jewish people.