Dreaming of Moshiach

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Matchbook

Guest post by Sarah Chava (This story is true)

I will never forget that one Friday morning on a very dreary and cold December day when I received an emergency phone call at my office in downtown Los Angeles , telling me my daughter had taken ill and was being rushed to the hospital. Gathering my senses, I informed my boss of the situation, quickly grabbed a cab and with my heart racing not knowing what to expect, I ran into the emergency room trying to ascertain my daughter’s whereabouts. As everyone knows, getting any answers in a busy emergency room can be exasperating, and after what seemed like an eternity, one nurse pointed me in the direction of a room where I could see the main curtain was drawn. Slowly walking in, I called out my daughter’s name receiving a very weak response indicating that she was in the room. Walking in I was shocked at the gray pallor of her skin and the dark circles under her eyes, taking the place of the usually rosy cheeked young teenager. Doctors and nurses kept emerging in and out of the room but there was no idea of a diagnosis only the indication she would be admitted and extensive testing would be needed over the next few days to determine the cause of her condition. I called my husband to bring over some things I would need to stay over for Shabbos in my daughter’s room, reminding him to bring small challahs, a bottle of grape juice, a Siddur with a Tehillim and candles, as well as some food to tide me over until Motzei Shabbos. My husband arrived a few hours later with a duffel bag of the items I had requested. He was unable to stay for long as the day is short in December and he needed to return to the rest of the family to finalize the preparations for Shabbos at home.

When one is in the hospital, time moves along and one usually doesn’t pay much attention to it, however, I remember glancing down at my watch and noticed the time was 2:55 pm . Something told me to open the duffel bag and check the food and Shabbos items. There were small challahs, a bottle of grape juice, food wrapped in aluminum foil containers, regular candles, a siddur and tehillim. As I unpacked the bag along with some clothing, I realized - wait a minute, I have no candleholders as these were not tea lights and oh no, there were no matches. Running to my purse, I realized I had accidentally left my wallet at home that morning and after having paid for the cab I only had a few dollars left in the zipper compartment of my bag. Erev Shabbos, no credit cards and with very little money, I took leave of my daughter who was now stabilized in her room, and grabbed the elevator down to the hospital gift shop. Perhaps, they had matches and something I could use as a candleholder. Glancing down at my watch it was now 3:05 pm . A little over one hour left to candle lighting.

Let me reassess the situation for the reader. It’s late Friday afternoon, my daughter is hospitalized, I am in a downtown hospital in December that is not familiar with Orthodox Jews, I need matches and candleholders to light Shabbos candles and at this point I am beginning to panic.

Wandering around the gift shop I looked for something to hold my candles. At first, I couldn’t find anything that would work to hold candles. Then, as if directed by a malach, I spied 2 glass candleholders that were perfect. The only problem was they were inside a holiday gift set. I asked the saleslady if she could sell me the glass candleholders. She replied it was part of a set and would only sell the set. I asked her how much the set was and she answered twenty-eight dollars. Looking down at the crumpled bills in my hand I realized I had only eight dollars. Trying patiently to explain to her my predicament and the urgent need for those candleholders she remained adamant. I told her I would pay her as soon as the Sabbath was over on Saturday night and that my daughter was hospitalized. She said no. I tried to plead with her goodwill. The answer was still no. I asked her if she had any matches. She just laughed and said no. The time was now 3:25 pm . Returning upstairs I asked around for matches. I was told one nurse was a smoker and she might have a pack. As I looked for her I found out she had already left for the day. No matches. No candleholders. Checking in on my daughter and seeing she was asleep, I continued going up and down the halls asking every nurse and orderly for matches.

The head nurse approached me saying she had heard I was looking for candleholders and matches. When I replied in the positive to her comments and explained my situation, I was astounded at her negative reaction. She told me that under no circumstances would she allow me to light candles and I would have to forego my “religious observance” for another time, another place and that this was a hospital where fire was not allowed. My heart sunk and for just a moment I had a fleeting thought of defeat. Not knowing what to do or who to turn to, I went into a corner, closed my eyes and tearfully told the Almighty my situation. I wanted to light my Shabbos candles, and I needed a candleholder and matches. I told Hashem I was doing everything in my power under the circumstances and He needed to do His part to allow me to fulfill this very important mitzvah. I felt my heart lift and I became more determined than ever that I was not going to miss lighting Shabbos candles. The time was now 3:45 pm .

Grabbing the elevator for the second time, I ran back to the gift shop. This time a new woman was behind the counter. Tearfully explaining the situation, I begged her to sell me the glass candleholders from the set and would pay her right after my Sabbath. Turned out, she was the manager of the shop. She removed the glass candleholders from the set and took my eight dollars telling me she had another set in the back and told me that she was happy to help me in my observance and to light my Sabbath candles in peace. Running down the hall to the elevator I profusely thanked Hashem for the glass candleholders but I still had NO MATCHES.

Gathering all my strength, I quietly asked people if anyone smoked or had a lighter/matches in their purse, all the while staying far away from that head nurse who was not going to let me light. Out of the blue, an orderly stopped me in the hall saying he had heard I was looking for matches, directing me to the hospital’s designated smoking area. Surely somewhat would be out there or stop by shortly. Almost out of breath, I found the smoking area with one man who didn’t speak a word of English, not a word of Spanish, or any other facsimile of a language that I could work with. Using sign language, I tried to indicate a matchbook and striking a match. He just kept laughing and pointed to a bush on the other side. I looked at the bush figuring he didn’t understand me and again tried to indicate striking the matchbook with sign language. He continued laughing and again pointed to the bush. Totally exasperated I walked over to that bush and therein caught in the branches of the bush at the very bottom was a matchbook – just waiting for me to find it. Almost afraid to open it and find the matchbook empty, I took a look at my watch and noticed the time was now 4:09 pm with Shabbos imminently approaching. I opened the matchbook. There were two matches left. Thanking Hashem once again for this open miracle, I ran down the hall.

I had one more challenge. Where was I going to light my candles? Noticing new nurses at the desk (I hadn’t realized there was going to be a shift change just at that time) I took a chance. Explaining my predicament, the new head nurse walked me into the nurse’s lounge and took me over to a table. She calmly told me that if I gave her my word to light my candles in the nurse’s lounge and sit by those candles until they burned down – she would give me permission. She promised to keep checking in on my daughter and keep me apprised. I ran to the room, kissed my daughter, grabbed my candles, candleholder and matches. I placed the glass candleholders on the table, placed the candles in and took one very long deep breath. Glancing at my watch it was 4:26 pm – exactly candle lighting time that day in Los Angeles . Afraid to breathe, I took out the matchbook and lit the first match. It struck flawlessly and I was completely awed by the beautiful flame. I was able to bench licht on time leaving one perfectly unused match in the matchbook. Hashem had sent me a spare match – just in case the first didn’t light. I found myself crying with happiness and joy and thanking Hashem for the Shabbos miracle of allowing me the honor of lighting my Shabbos candles with His help.

I can only tell you my davening and tehillim that Shabbos took on a very special meaning. Boruch Hashem, my daughter’s health totally improved and she was released from the hospital after just a few days. Since that time each week, when I go to light my Shabbos candles, I always reflect as I strike the match and gaze at the flame, never forgetting the incredible miracle of the matchbook that took place for me, here in downtown Los Angeles, just a few years ago on that cold and dreary December day.




והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו