The power of t’shuvah is great. Sometimes, all it needs is a little nudge from the right source.
The story is told of a Yerushalmi Torah scholar from Meah Shearim, who was studying a certain topic and realized that he needed a rare sefer that was not commonly found in most yeshivos and shuls. He knew that in the large central library in Jerusalem, there was an extensive collection of rare s’farim and decided to go there in the hopes of locating the sefer. As this was to be an all-day outing for him, he packed himself a lunch – an egg sandwich – and headed off to the library.
In the early afternoon, while in the central library, his stomach informed him that it was time for lunch, and so he washed and ate his sandwich. Afterwards, he donned his hat and recited bentching in a loud voice and with great fervor. This raised a few eyebrows, but this was how he prayed, and it didn’t faze him a bit. When he finished bentching, however, the librarian, a non-religious young woman, came over to him and pointed out that he had made a mistake in his recitation. In shocked silence, he listened as she explained that in the third brachah of the Birkas HaMazon, the text reads, “That we may not be shamed nor humiliated.” However, as he bentched quite loudly for all to hear, she distinctly heard him say: “We may not be shamed nor shall we stumble,” which is not found in any siddur.
The young Yerushalmi, who was used to saying this version from when he was a child, wrapped his pei’os around his ears and got to work searching through every prayer book he could find in the library. None of them had his version. He was shocked and dismayed, but he would not give in to this non-religious woman so easily. He promised the librarian that he would find his version in a siddur somewhere, and when he does, he will send her a copy of the page. Then, he beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat from the library – but he didn’t go home! He went from place to place, searching.
It took many days of searching in many different synagogues, but he finally found an old sefer where, in the Haggadah shel Pesach, it had his version. Triumphantly, he copied the page and highlighted the relevant words, adding red arrows around the words so that she wouldn’t miss it. Then, he mailed it to the library, but since he didn’t know the woman’s name, he requested that the library give it over to the librarian who was working in this certain room on this particular day and time. After he accomplished his mission, he forgot about the whole episode, and put it out of his mind.
Quite some time later, the young man received a wedding invitation, but to his puzzlement he realized that he didn’t know the groom nor the bride. His curiosity got the better of him, and on the day of the wedding, he stopped in at the hall, where he looked around and confirmed that he didn’t know anyone there. He assumed it was a mistake and was on his way out.
At that very moment, he heard someone scream, “Wait!” and he turned around to see none other than the bride herself running toward him. “Don’t you recognize me?” said the bride to the baffled Yerushalmi, who responded in the negative.
“I am the librarian who had the discussion with you about bentching,” she said with great feeling. “You should know, that it is only in your merit and the letter that you sent me that I repented and am marrying an observant Jew who learns Torah.” She then went on to describe the amazing chain of events that brought about such an upheaval in her life.
“At the time you came to the library, I was dating an Arab man. We were thinking of marriage, but despite the fact that I wasn’t religious, I was still very wary about marrying out of my Jewish faith. He finally sent me a letter with an ultimatum. If I did not give him a final response by a certain day and hour, then there would be nothing more to talk about.
“When that day came, I was going insane with my dilemma, not knowing what to do. I arrived at the library in a daze and entered my room and saw your letter on the table. I opened it up and saw two words surrounded by red arrows highlighted in red – ‘we shall not stumble.’ I almost fainted! At that very moment, all my doubts were resolved. I knew that it was forbidden for me to marry him, to stumble so sharply. I notified the Arab and I promptly severed our relationship!” The bride’s face glowed with an inner shine. “Not too long afterward, I repented completely and here I am – marrying a repentant Jew!”