Here's Chapter Four of "Heaven's Door" for your reading pleasure, a book that takes the reader on a true spiritual journey, leading him to the G-d of Israel, the sublime morality of the Torah, and true happiness in life.
Chapter Four - The Miracle Man
“Saba,” I was told, meant grandfather. The old man lived just outside of the city, at the edge of a forest, along a twisting hilly road. Here and there, small rural cabins were scattered along the scenic drive. The sage’s great great grandson, Moshe, turned off the main road and drove into a gravel driveway. He parked by a white wooden fence and got out of the car. My heart was pumping nervously as I followed him through the gate of the fence into a garden courtyard. A young man sat in a wheelchair near the door of the old, but neatly kept house. Standing beside him was an attendant, maybe his father. A dark complexioned woman, about forty years old, wearing a kerchief, sat on a bench, her head lowered, her hands squeezed tightly together. At first glance, she looked to be either overweight or pregnant, I couldn’t tell for sure. Behind her, a man paced impatiently back and forth, holding an oversized envelope in his hand, the size of an X-ray. He was also dark skinned, like an Arab, and I guessed that they were Sefardic Jews, like the book merchant, his son, and no doubt, the old, wise man himself.
The pretty, manicured garden was filled with flowers of every shape and variety. White jasmine petals scented the air. A few large fig trees provided shade. There was a wooden picnic table covered with prayer books and Psalms. Plastic chairs were plentiful, obviously for the people who came to meet with the old-timer.
Recognizing Baruch, the man with the X-ray started yelling in an angry, impatient tone, waving the envelope, obviously complaining about having to wait his turn on line. Embarrassed by the outburst, his wife lowered her head even further. Baruch smiled patiently, replied to the man in Hebrew, and motioned him to calm down. Frustrated, the man walked back toward his wife and sat down at the far end of the bench, as if he were angry at her as well.
“Everyone wants to see Saba immediately,” Baruch explained to me. “Sometimes people wait for hours. Before we limited the number of visitors, dozens of people would come by in a day. People even slept in tents overnight to be first on line in the morning. Saba would welcome them all, but the family doesn’t allow it anymore, to make sure he doesn’t overtax his strength.”
The door opened and Saba Yosef stepped out onto the porch, holding a cane. He was wearing a long oriental type of robe like a caftan. Its hood was pulled over his head, giving him the appearance of a “Star Wars” wizard, or a Moroccan holy man. Under the hood, a large black skullcap covered his head. He was thin, and his face was gaunt, the color of the earth. His beard was completely white, but there were still dark streaks in his moustache. His eyes were wide open, but his gaze was like a blind man’s, looking forward, but not focusing on anything in particular, as if he didn’t need his eyes to see.
“Lech lech,” he called out in Hebrew, motioning with his hand, as if to shoo someone from the house.
A man, who would have been considered old by normal standards, appeared uncertainly in the doorway, hesitant about leaving the cottage. His hand reached out for the cane, but Saba Yosef held it away.
“Atah lo tzarik et zeh,” he assured him in Hebrew.
The man looked at him with pleading eyes and let out a begging appeal, once again reaching his hand out for the cane, as if he were afraid to walk without it.
The sage smiled with a twinkling grin that lit up his face. His face seemed to crinkle with pleasure. Again, he made a shooing motion with his hand, sending the visitor on his way.
“Saba wants the man to walk on his own,” his great grandson explained. “He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore.”
The elderly man gazed at the two short stairs leading down from the porch, as if he were poised on the peak of some high mountain. Fearfully, he took a frightened step forward.
“He could fall,” I said, instinctively moving forward to help. But Baruch grabbed my arm.
“Don’t worry, Saba knows what he is doing. He has a whole collection of canes that he has taken away from people who were certain they couldn’t walk without them.”
Following the sage’s commands, the old man moved forward and walked down the steps of the porch, his arms outstretched as if he were about to fall. But he made it. At a command from Saba Yosef, the man straightened his back, lifted his head, and walked forward without bending over. Still uncertain, he glanced appealingly back toward the cottage, but Saba Yosef waved him on like a cop directing traffic. By the time the former cripple reached the gate of the garden, he was walking naturally on his own.
“I need my cane more than I need my wife,” he said to Baruch in Hebrew.
“Don’t worry. You will be fine,” Baruch assured him.
With an almost unnoticeable flick of a finger, Saba Yosef signaled to his great grandson to bring the young man in the wheelchair into the house. I watched as the elderly man walked out of the yard with a smile, his back straight, his head erect, as if he were seeing the world for the first time. With Baruch’s help, the attendant lifted the invalid onto the porch and wheeled him into the house.
Immediately, the Sefardi husband jumped up and started to complain about having to wait. He yelled at me as if I were to blame. Before I could tell him that I didn’t understand Hebrew, he spit out his whole life story. Finally realizing that I couldn’t help him, he began walking around the yard like a tiger in a cage. When his wife stood up to calm him, he yelled at her, as if she were at fault as well. Her belly was so swollen, she looked ten months pregnant, not nine. When her husband raised a threatening hand to strike her, she sat back down on the bench, looking like the most miserable woman on earth.
Feeling the heaviness of the journey and jet lag, I sat down in one of the chairs in the garden. It could be that for a minute or two, I dozed off in the afternoon heat. A short time later, the door opened and the father appeared sitting in the wheelchair. His invalid son stood behind him, holding its handles – the exact opposite of how they had entered the house. A big smile covered both of their faces.
“Baruch Hashem, Baruch Hashem,” the father kept repeating. He even translated it into English for my benefit, “Thank God, thank God.”
He stood up and watched in satisfaction as his son walked, a bit uncertainly, and with a noticeable limp, down the porch steps. In the doorway, Saba Yosef barked out an order and made a circling motion with his hand. Eager to comply, the young man walked around the yard, his gait getting smoother and more certain with each circle he made. Finally, his father folded up the wheelchair, and, waving to the cheerful sage, father and son walked away happily together.
Saying something to his great grandson, the old man once again disappeared inside the cottage. Baruch motioned toward the impatient husband and his pregnant, brow-beaten wife.
“You too,” he said to me. “Come in.”
I was a bit overwhelmed with what I had seen. Mikvah or no mikvah, it was hard to believe. Perhaps it was the cynical American in me, or the mathematician in me, that was skeptical with the miraculous healings. I was a man of equations and proofs who could understand formulas that could be set tidily down on a piece of graph paper. Supernatural events were not a part of my weltanschauung. I had seen faith healers on TV, but never put much credence in them, taking them to be a form of Sunday morning entertainment, warming people up for the afternoon football game. But there was something very different about Saba Yosef and the things that I had seen in his garden, something very genuine and sincere, without any of the hoopla and fanfare of smooth-talking preachers and spellbound TV audiences, who shouted and clapped as money-hungry producers held up large cards instructing them to applaud.
Perhaps reading my mind, Saba Yosef called me inside with the nervous Sefardi couple to see another miracle unfold before my eyes.
The front room of the house was like the small study hall of a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with oversized volumes and tomes whose bindings were torn and worn away with use. There were several long tables and chairs, either for visitors, or students, or family affairs. Saba Yosef sat behind a large desk, which was draped with a colorful, bedspread-like cloth, the kind I had seen in the Arab market. The desk was piled with books and bottles containing scented oil. Around him on the walls were portraits of famous rabbis of yore, including Maimonides, whose picture I recognized from Tiberias. Other large picture frames were filled with Hebrew letters and prayers in the shape of a menorah. Another mystical-looking poster was some sort of Kabbalistic diagram with all kinds of circles, opened hands, and an eye peering out from its center. There were vases filled with fresh flowers and aromatic myrtle stems. A fan moved lazily back and forth on a wall, as if tired from the heat. On the other side of a glass door behind the old sage was a newly-built extension to the room. It looked like a miniature, oriental synagogue with prayer benches, an old wooden altar, ornate chandeliers, and Persian carpets leading the way to a handcrafted ark where Torah scrolls were kept.
Saba Yosef sat in deep concentration, holding a book, quietly reciting Psalms. His face was set in a serious expression, almost grave in intensity, far different from the cheerful countenance that he had displayed on the porch. He seemed to be meditating, sitting there in his large comfortable desk chair, yet thousands of light-years away.
The couple sat in chairs on the other side of the desk, waiting for him to finish. Finally, the husband could no longer keep still. I was sitting a short distance away at a table with Baruch, who whispered a running translation of what was about to take place.
“They want to operate on my wife! On Thursday!” the man shouted out, jumping up from his chair.
His wife looked embarrassed by his outburst. Saba Yosef continued to pray without glancing up.
“I have the X-ray!” the husband continued, holding up the large envelope. “They want to operate. What should we do?”
The old rabbi closed the book of Psalms. A look of stern judgment was engraved on his face. Seeing his holy expression, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that life was a very serious matter, and not some meaningless game.
“Of course they want to operate,” Saba Yosef said. “Your wife has a very big tumor in her belly. That’s why it’s swollen.”
That came as a surprise to me. I was certain she was pregnant, but it was really a cancer inside.
“I have the X-ray,” the man kept repeating. “They say we have no choice.”
“What do you expect?” the sage asked him. “You force yourself on your wife like an animal when she doesn’t want to have relations.”
Immediately, the husband stopped in his tracks. He shut his mouth. Suddenly, he was as docile as a puppy.
Though Saba Yosef didn’t gaze at the husband directly, his aura of displeasure could have turned bones to ash. I could feel the gravity of the matter from where I was sitting. It was as if the old man was the spokesman for some Heavenly Tribunal, privy to their deliberations and rulings.
“Of course your wife is sick,” he continued. “It’s because of your behavior. Aren’t you ashamed?”
The husband didn’t let out a peep.
“Do you feel sorry for having acted that way?” the ancient voice inquired.
This time, the man nodded his head.
“Oh boy,” I thought to myself. Was I ever in trouble! If Saba Yosef could see into people’s bedroom, I had a lot of explaining to do.
“A husband has to respect his wife,” Saba Yosef said to the man. “He has to love her like he loves himself, and respect her even more.”
The man remained silent, fixing his gaze on the floor.
“Do you promise that you’ll stop behaving like a beast in the bedroom and demanding to have your way?” the holy man asked the husband.
After a moment of weighted thought, he nodded his head yes.
Without looking at the woman, the old man made a small movement with his hand. “Stand up,” he said.
Silently, she obeyed, her belly swelling like a watermelon under her dress.
“The tumor in your stomach is the anger you feel toward your husband,” he told her. “But you have to remember that he didn’t behave that way on purpose. He is a good person, only he didn’t learn. Can you forgive him if he changes his ways?”
The woman readily nodded yes.
“Give your belly a hit,” the old man instructed.
The woman hesitated, then raised her hand and gave her swollen stomach a tap.
“Harder,” the rabbi commanded.
Once again, the trembling woman gave her belly a hit, this time a little bit harder.
“Harder!” he ordered.
This time, the woman gave her stomach a solid whack. Like when a pin is stuck in a beach ball, all of the air seeped out and the swelling deflated. I watched with astonished eyes as the tumor in her oversized belly vanished completely. In seconds her stomach was flat. Whether out of fright or joyous shock, the woman started to cry. Once again, the husband became animated.
“I have the X-ray,” he repeated, as if not grasping the miracle that had just occurred. “The surgery is on Thursday.”
“You can throw the X-ray away,” the old man said. “The problem is gone.”
“But we have a doctor’s appointment. What should I tell the doctor?”
“Tell him whatever you want to,” the old man said with a chuckle. “He’ll see for himself that the tumor is gone. Let him take another X-ray if he doesn’t believe it.”
Now when he addressed the wife, he was smiling. “Why are you crying?” he asked her. “You should be happy. Thank God that He’s done a miracle for you.”
The poor woman couldn’t stop sobbing. Like I said, I was amazed. “Abracadabra” and the tumor went away. One second it was there, and the next it was gone. I saw it with my very own eyes, in person, without any slight of hands, or editing on TV.
When the couple departed, the old rabbi nodded at me, recognizing my presence for the very first time, and walked out of the room.
“My great grandfather is going to rest for an hour,” Baruch explained. “Actually he retires to say special prayers. He hardly sleeps. Maybe an hour at night, that’s all. He doesn’t have regular physical needs like we do. He can get along with just crackers and tea. When he eats a meal with us, he does it for our sake, to make us feel comfortable, as if he is like everyone else. But he is on another wave length entirely. I don’t understand it myself. In the meantime, he wants you to rest. He told me that you must be tired from your journey. There’s a lounge chair in the shade of the backyard where you can take a nap. I’ll show you.”
He led me out to the garden of the wooded back yard. There was a small shack that Baruch said housed a mikvah, and a sand box and swings for the great, great, great grandchildren. With all of the excitement I felt, I didn’t believe I could sleep, but seconds after reclining in the padded lounge, I conked out like a corpse, sensing I was going to need all the energy I could muster to keep up with this incredible old man.
"Heaven's Door" is can be ordered online for a wonderful Hanukah gift.