This article originally appeared in the Jewish Free Press, Calgary

Tales from the House of Jacob*

I am not normally a credulous or naive individual, and I usually react with a healthy dose of skepticism when I am confronted with alleged reports of supernatural occurrences. Nevertheless there have been times when I found myself experiencing events that were so extraordinary that they set even a doubter like myself to wondering.

Several such experiences have befallen me over the years, especially in the course of my activities as gabbai at Calgary's Orthodox synagogue, House of Jacob-Mikveh Israel. Here I shall describe two such episodes precisely as I recall them. You are free to draw your own conclusions and interpret them as you choose.


Tale #1: A Dream from Mother

We have a congregant at our synagogue who is, to put it diplomatically, not very meticulous about attending the regular Sabbath morning services, although he is very dutiful about observing the yahrzeits of his parents.

Several years ago I noticed this congregant seated in the synagogue. As I greeted him, I commented to him that I presumed he had a yahrzeit that week. He replied matter-of-factly that although today was not a yahrzeit, he did have a special reason for coming to shul today.

It seems that he had a dream on the previous night in which his late mother had appeared to him and instructed him to attend synagogue and recite Kaddish on her behalf.

Now, the shul kept a calendar in the office on which the Rabbi recorded the dates of all the congregants' yahrzeits. I happened to go in later to check the calendar and noticed that there was indeed a listing of a yahrzeit for this congregant in question, penned in our Rabbi's handwriting.

When I approached the gentleman with this information, he assured me that there must be some mistake, since he definitely did not have any yahrzeit scheduled for several months.

I have never established who was right and who was mistaken in this episode: Had the congregant forgotten the correct date of his mother's yahrzeit (in which case the dream might have been a reminder issuing from the subconscious levels of his memory); or had an inexplicable error somehow crept into the synagogue calendar?


Tale #2: Back at Sinai

The revelation of the Decalogue at Mount Sinai is recited twice in the course of the annual Sabbath Torah-reading cycle: first in the book of Exodus, and later as part of Moses' final exhortations to the people in the section Va'et-hannan in Deuteronomy Chapter 5. The latter account does not have the full dramatic build-up of the former, but it does also describe the momentous scene of how God spoke the words "in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice."

The passage about the Sinai theophany makes up the fourth `aliyah of the morning's Torah reading.

When the turn for reading of Va'et-hannan came up two summers ago the sun rose to dominate one of those wonderfully clear Calgary skies, and continued to shine through the beginning of the service.

However even as the third reader was approaching the reading platform, the sky above was starting to darken forbiddingly. In a few moments it had taken on become a dark grey and claps of thunder resounded in the background.

Just before the commencement of the fourth `aliyah I made a lighthearted observation to the congregation about how appropriate the natural sound effects were to the contents of our Torah reading. As if in reply, there came a sudden flash of lightning. The darkness, the thunder and the lightning remained with us through to the conclusion of the `aliyyah, and then gradually set to dissipating.

By the conclusion of the Torah service, the sky had been restored to its original blue and not a cloud remained. There remained no visible indication of the remarkable commotion that had dominated the heavens just a few minutes earlier. Furthermore, throughout the entire display of pyrotechnics not a single drop of rain had fallen.


I repeat: both the above stories were presented here precisely as I recollect them. I shall leave it to my wise readers to speculate on their significance.


This article and many others are now included in the book

Why Didn's I Learn This in Hebrew School?Why Didn't I Learn This in Hebrew School

by Jason Aronson Publishers

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My email address is: eliezer.segal@ucalgary.ca

[1] First publication: Jewish Free Press, September 6 1995, p. 14.