From Fire to Light

Guest blog: Morah Yehudis Fishman, Boulder


Most of the time we go through our lives like Mr. Magoo- unbeknownst to us, being saved from dozens of near catastrophes on a daily basis. But once in a while, we encounter what even Mr. Magoo would call a clear miracle. On December 24, 1976, around midnight, I saw red, but it wasn’t coming from the chimney. I was living then with my former husband on the second floor of a two story house in Massachusetts. On the first floor lived a family with a tree lit up to the hilt and staying on all night. Around midnight I heard a cry. “Fire, fire, my house is on fire.” At first I thought I was dreaming but as the voice got louder, I roused myself and still half a sleep, tried to look for the fire source. Instead, billows of black smoke came from all the doorways. I woke my former husband and, together with my little black poodle mix, made our way down the side stairs.


Seconds after we got into the street- me wearing nothing but a nightgown robe and slippers, the entire house exploded. You see, besides the tree getting a short in the wiring, a mini-bike filled with gasoline had been placed next to the tree as a present for the family’s youngest child, a 12 year old boy. Tragically, the boy never made it out because his bedroom was right behind the mini-bike. The parents of the boy escaped. They had two teenage daughters who did not come home till later.


As I stood outside on a frozen December street watching my home, its contents including my precious books go up in flames (I did not yet know of the young boy’s death) I had a moment of euphoria when I had an experiential awareness that, as long as I still lived, my most valuable possessions continue to flourish inside of me. Though I continued for quite a while to flinch even at the color red, the above realization never left me.


Then there were even some Torah blips supporting the significance of that day. Some have a custom to study individual sections of each week’s Torah portion, and the week of the fire happened to be the story of Moses at the burning bush. The wording in the Torah is: “He saw and behold a bush was burning. The fire was burning but the bush was not consumed.” Indeed- the house was burning, but the bush, in which G-d appeared, my being, was not consumed. Furthermore, -as my penchant for gematria (numerical word equivalents) got stirred up by David- I realized that the word, ‘b’labat,’ (in) the heart of (the flame)adds up to 432, which is the numerical equivalent, as David pointed out, of today’s date in Hebrew calendar, the twenty first of the month of Tevet (kaf aleph + Tevet= 432.


In addition, Chabad Hassidim have a custom to study a daily teaching from the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, which contains a directive for each day. The one that appears on the 21st day of Tevet is as follows: Once the Rebbe met someone carrying pails filled with water, and he said: “If one encounters water it is a sign of blessing.” Certainly for me on that day- though the firemen were about seven minutes late- water was a sign of blessing.


You may think I’m grasping for straws with all these connections, but I feel they are always present, waiting in the wings of a more subtle reality to be plucked into the time-space continuum of our lives. It is at such moments that we experience an opening in the curtain and get at least a peek behind the scenes. When we do so we can more fully express to the Creator our reliance and gratitude toward Him illustrated by the two meanings of the Hebrew word for thanksgiving-Ho’da’ah. “Hodu LaShem Ki Tov, Ki L’olam Chasdo,” which translates: “Give thanks to G-d for He is good, for His kindness is (simultaneously) eternal, forever and in this world.”


Guest blog: Morah Yehudis Fishman, Boulder



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