The Mystical Power of Amuka
For a solid week rain had cascaded down from the heavens with scarcely a moment’s relief. It was easy to imagine how an unfortunate tourist might wonder why Israelis complained incessantly of seasonal drought. It was harder to imagine what Israeli drivers might be wondering as they slowed to gawk at two hooded figures sloshing one after the other along the roadside in the diluvial downpour.
The explanation was quite simple. After a year of shidduchim without a single likely prospect, I had accosted my Rosh Yeshiva in a moment of frustration and demanded a segulah guaranteed to hasten the process of finding a wife.
The Rosh Yeshiva replied without a second thought. “Go to Amuka,” he said. “Go as soon as possible.”
* * *
Amuka is the name given to the burial site of Yonason ben Uziel, the greatest student of Hillel HaZakein. Most famous for his translation-commentary of the Books of the Prophets, Yonason ben Uziel intended to translate the Books of Kesuvim, the holy writings, as well. He was stopped by divine decree, lest he reveal the secrets of the coming of Moshiach (Megillah 3a). Such was the intensity of his Torah study that the malachim gathered over his head to listen, creating a column of spiritual energy so intense that a bird passing overhead would be instantly incinerated (Sukkah 28a).
Although the source of the tradition is unclear, it is believed that Yonason ben Uziel never married. Some say this was by design: so devoted was he to his Talmudic studies that he disdained marriage, determined that nothing should interfere with his love for Torah. Only when he had grown very old did he realize the error he had committed by depriving himself of a wife, the soul mate without whom his own soul would forever remain imperfect before its Creator.
And so it had become the custom in the two thousand years since his death for young men and women frustrated by the tribulations of searching for a shidduch, to make the pilgrimage to the wooded valley nestled in the mountains of northern Israel and ask HaShem, in the merit of this tzaddik, to bring a speedy and successful end to their search. It is promised that anyone who davens for his bashert from this place will have his prayers answered within the year.
* * *
As Chanukah approached, my roommate Yechezkel and I prepared to travel to Amuka during our yeshiva’s two-day recess. We agreed to begin our expedition by immersing ourselves in the famous mikveh of the Ari Zal, to daven at the sunrise minyan of the Breslaver Chassidim, and to proceed from there into the mountains of Tzefas on foot, speaking only words of Torah all along the way.
And so it was that in the predawn darkness we descended unsteadily but unreservedly down the steps of worn and slippery Jerusalem stone awash in rainwater that came nearly to our knees. We trudged down the rocky path and turned into the cave that houses the icy cold, spring-fed pool carved into the bedrock of the mountain. As we entered, our hearts soared to find a single candle placed there by some tzaddik, no doubt, who had come already to immerse himself in the humble stone bath and left illumination for those who would follow.
Perhaps it was the rain-freshened mountain air, perhaps the spiritual echo of those spiritual giants who walked the earth here for so many generations or, most likely, some combination of the two that permeated the city Tzefas with a solemn joy that emanated from the stone streets, the arched stairways, and the words of our tefillos that morning as we davened with mounting exuberance.
Ducking under every available overhang, Yechezkel and I returned to our hostel, ate a quick breakfast, then set out once more against the rain, which seemed possessed of a conscious will to drive us back. Yet onward we marched toward the edge of town, as indifferent to the weather as to the incredulous stares of drivers from the windows of their passing cars.
A little more than half a mile along the highway, a rough asphalt road turned up into the hills and, as we began our assault against the steep incline that rose up before us, something remarkable happened. Suddenly but undramatically, the torrent became a downpour, then a shower, then a sprinkle, then scarcely more than a mist that danced around our heads.
The wellsprings of the firmament seemed to have finally exhausted themselves. In scarcely a minute’s time the storm simply dried up, as if, having rallied all the forces at his command but failing to turn us back, the Satan finally capitulated. Exchanging eerily auspicious glances, Yechezkel and I threw off the hoods of our ponchos. Only minutes later we shed them completely and, bundling them into our daypacks, we attacked the mountain with renewed vigor.
The sky remained overcast and our clothes stuck to our skin, but our buoyed spirits lifted our feet and carried us as if on the wings of eagles. While we walked we reviewed the sugya we had been learning in yeshiva, exchanged insights into the weekly parsha, debating fine points of haskofah and rebuking one another at the slightest deviation from topics of kedusha into matters of the mundane.
We hiked two or three miles before turning off down a rocky dirt road, where we began a descent even sharper than our previous climb. By now even the mist had vanished, and the air thickened with the scent of pine and sharpened with the fragrance of anticipation. The road wound its way down before eventually flattening out, and we pressed on eagerly, taking no notice of time or distance. A crudely painted sign offered ambiguous directions, and we wavered momentarily before scrambling down the path to the right.
Within minutes we broke through the wood into a wide, uneven wadi from whose rocky ground sprouted up a concrete ohel, about twenty feet across, with a low iron fence that enclosed an area set under thick pillars that supported a broad roof. A few cement steps led up onto a cement platform dominated by a tapestry-covered encasement that resembled a crypt and contained nothing. We had learned prior to coming that this whole elaborate edifice had been erected only a few years earlier, after many pilgrims ended their journey in frustration, unable to locate the humble marker that had identified the tzaddik’s grave for centuries.
The area beneath the roof was partitioned, with one side raised to create an ezras nashim, and only minutes after our arrival a dusty silver van drove up and emptied itself of half a dozen enthusiastic seminary girls. Yechezkel and I sighed as this sudden flock of visitors fluttered into both sides of the monument, and we stepped back out under the open sky to bide our time.
The driver’s side of the van snapped open, and out climbed a short, frenetic chassid. “Fifteen minutes, girls,” he shouted in clear but accented English. “Fifteen minutes and we go.” The girls seemed to pay him no mind.
He lit a cigarette and strolled over to where Yechezkel and I were waiting for the storm to pass. “Shalom aleichem,” he said.
“Aleichem shalom,” we responded together.
“How did you get here?” he asked, looking around.
“We walked,” Yechezkel answered.
“Gevaltig!” he cried. “If you walk, it is guaranteed to work. Girls, ten minutes.”
The girls had settled down to reciting Tehillim, as Yechezkel and I had begun to do on our arrival. I couldn’t help but look them over, imagining that I might be married to one of them in a year’s time. Then, as my gaze wandered, I noticed that Yechezkel himself had returned to his own prayerful meditation. Right, I thought; back to business.
Minutes later the girls were gone, but neither Yechezkel nor I felt any sense of hurry. Only when the sun began to dip into the afternoon sky did we concede that maybe it was time to return. Uncertain that we could make it back in time catch a minyan for mincha, we decided to daven then and there. Together, we began reciting Ashrei, then rose simultaneously; and just as we took three steps forward, the clouds broke open for the first time and sharp rays of sunlight set the wooded hills ablaze.
Does the segulah really work? I can only speak from my own experience. Yechezkel met his wife two weeks later. He was married two weeks before the yahrtzeit of Yonason ben Uziel, which falls on the 26th of Sivan.
And me? After hiking back to Tzefas, Yechezkel and I caught a bus to Yerushalayim that afternoon. I met my wife the next night. We were married the first week in Adar, less than two months after my visit to Amuka.
Published in this week’s HaModia.