Sunday, August 17, 2008

Table Talk for Eikev - And Some "Last Minute" Aliyah Stories

As many of you already know, we did not sell our home before we moved to Israel. Sure, we tried to sell our home. And someone even made an offer on the home, and went through the process of having the house inspected. So when he called me to tell me that based on the inspection they decided that they didn't want to buy the house, I was, to say the least, upset. It really sent us right back to the drawing board. As the time for us to depart Michigan approached, I started making arrangements to have someone show the house to potential renters; someone else gracefully agreed to make sure that the rental went through - all in all, everyone in Oak Park was truly generous with their time and energy to try and help. Yet, it's somewhat disconcerting to leave town without having taken care of our single biggest expense - our home.
On Wednesday evening, I decided to try again on Craigstlist and see if someone might want to rent the house. It was a last-ditch effort, as Friday was July 4th, and we were scheduled to leave on Sunday, which we did. Thursday morning I got two calls about the house, and showed them both Thursday afternoon. Both actually filled out applications. When we called the family that we preferred to ask them if they still wanted the house and they answered in the affirmative, we asked them, "When would you like to take possession of the house." They said, "Would Monday be too soon?" Actually, it would not. While we were packing on Sunday they came and got the keys, and they took the house on Monday.
If that sounds like last minute, wait until you hear about our minivan: because we were making aliyah from Edison, where my inlaws live, we needed to keep our minivan until the last week. Then I figured that I would sell the car in New Jersey. After all, I had sold my other car on Craigslist in less than twenty-four hours. So how hard could it be to sell a Honda Odyssey minivan - a really great car. As it turns out, harder than I thought.
I looked on kbb.com (Kelly Blue Book) to estimate the value of the car, underpriced it a little, and posted the car for sale. No bites. Nothing. So I waited a bit. Towards the end of the week, I was getting a little nervous, so I took it to a local used car dealer who looked at the car and called me on Thursday afternoon to let me know that he could only offer half of what I thought I would get. Half. (That's a lot of money.) It turns out the car wasn't worth as much as kbb.com said it was, and he would also have to have work done to make the car new enough for him to sell off his lot. So, he advised me to try and sell it myself (with two days to go), where I'd do much better. So I posted to Craigslist again, with a much lower asking price. I got a couple of calls - and one email from someone who might be interested, but he wasn't sure.
One family came Friday, said that they loved the car, and would most definitely buy it on Sunday, but that their father had to come look at it and bring the money. Great. They call me Sunday morning (Shiva Asar B'tamuz), tell me that they're coming in the evening, and that they're really buying the car. Again, great.
They show up around 6pm, get in the car, take it for a spin to show the father, and get out of the car with long looks on their faces: "Sorry." What do you mean sorry? "It has stains that won't come out, so we don't want the car." What do you mean? Your wife and son saw the car last Friday, and didn't say a word? "Sorry." (To this day, I still don't know if he was trying to bairgain for a lower price or not.) So they walked away, the night before we're supposed to go to the airport and fly off to Israel. That's that.
But it wasn't. On a lark, I called the guy who had emailed me. Do you want the car? Perhaps. OK, I told him, but you have to come see the car tonight - or I can't sell it to you. Can you come? He could. You understand that it's a family car - it has some stains in it? He did.
He came, liked the car, and said that he would bring his mechanic the next morning. OK, we told him, but we need to have the car back by 9:30am so that we can load it up to get to the airport.
8:00am - my cellphone rings: "Reuben, my mechanic won't come to the house. He's kind of old, and wants to bring the car to his garage. Can you do it?" Sure, why not. After all, we're only moving 5,000 miles away today.
His mechanic looks at the car, tells him that it's fine, and we drive back to my inlaws. Now I'm out of time. We have to load up, no easy feat with nine of us going (including three inlaws coming with), and twelve bags that had to fit in a minivan and a small car. My buyer tells me: I need to go to the bank to get the money for the downpayment - he would give my father-in-law the rest later on in the day. Fine. Whatever. To be honest, I wasn't really sure whether he'd also decided to change his mind, and in the back of my head something told me that I wasn't going to see him again.
We stuffed ourlseves in the cars. We're about to leave. The kids are getting antsy. And finally, as I'm getting into the driver's seat, the buyer of the minivan pulls up, gets out of his car, and hands me the cash for the downpayment.
How's that for last minute? I really can't think of any way that it could get any closer.
Why do I tell you all this? First of all, because I think that they're really great stories. But also because I couldn't help but think of both of these "last-minute" stories when I read a great d'var Torah from the Ohr Hachayim on Eikev in a book called "Ma'ayan Hashavua."
Ohr Hachayim notes the strange language found at the beginning of the Parshah:
והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה -- "and it will be because you listen to these commandments" (Devarim 7:12). What is the meaning of the word והיה - "and it will be"? He explains that the word והיה always connotes joy, as it says in the Midrash, אין והיה אלא לשון שמחה -- "the word והיה always refers to a state of joy." What does this have to do with listening to the commandments? In his second answer he says, שאין שמחה לאיש אלא בסוף השמיעה -- "a person only experiences joy at the end of [his] hearing."
Sometimes, in the middle of a process, it can be difficult to see the joy during the middle. But then, oftentimes later on at the "end" - בסוף השמיעה -- it becomes easier to see the larger process from hindsight, to understand that God's hand had been behind life's events all along.