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The Rabbi and the Minister

May 8, 2009 | by Moshe Zionce

An expired driver's license results in a magical Shabbat experience.

Last year I was planning a trip to the U.S. by plane. The new law required a passport.

In preparation, my wife gathered our papers together. She went into my wallet and pulled out my license and giggled. "Is my picture that bad?" I asked.

"Um Moshe, I think your license has expired."

My heart skipped a beat as I inspected the license. It was true. Not only was it expired, but it was expired by three years and two weeks! How could this be?

No big deal, I thought. I called the licensing office. The lady said, "No problem sir, you can always renew a license. How expired is it?"

"It's about three year's worth," I responded.

The lady took a moment to confirm the dates. "I'm sorry sir, you're two weeks over. You will have to start from scratch."

"What do you mean from scratch?"

"You will be required to complete the mandatory Ontario graduated licensing system. That's the written permit test, the level one road test and the level two highway test. There is nothing I can do. It's the law."

The words "start from scratch" rang in my ears. I had flashbacks to my 16th birthday.

Then reality hit me. Carpools? Seeing clients? Getting to shul to teach? My life had suddenly spun out of control and I was stranded on the side of the road, helpless.

I called again. A different woman answered and I explained to her the situation, "But I received a new license just a few years ago?"

She checked my records. "Yes in fact, you were issued a new license four years ago, however that was merely a change of address. The license was not renewed at that time."

In desperation I asked, "Is there anyone I can speak to about this?"

"No, I'm sorry. It's the law."

That night I lay in my bed devastated. Our Rabbis teach us, "Even if the blade of the sword is at your throat, one must never give up hope." There must be a solution... Then it suddenly hit me.

I ran to my office. In moments, I found the Ontario Minister of Transportation's direct email! The Honorable Donna Cansfield.

I fired off an email, entitled "Desperate Driving Dilemma."

The Honorable Donna Cansfield, I have a problem I'm hoping you could help me with. I'm sure you have issues of much greater importance to concern yourself with, however this is of utmost importance to me... I received my license at age 18 and I have a perfect driving record. I am 34 years old...

I knew I had to lay it on thick.

Life at the best of times is overwhelming. We just had our sixth child a month ago. My wife needs my help. I work, teach and the thought of not having my full license for over a year is devastating. I was wondering if there is anything that could be done...

A voice on the other end said, "Hello, this is Donna Cansfield." I was shocked, it was really her!

First thing, in the morning I received a phone call. I scrambled to pick it up. A voice on the other end said, "Hello, this is Donna Cansfield." I was shocked, it was really her! I explained the situation and we had a laugh or two. The Minister was down to earth and very understanding. "We're still trying to get over the fact that you are 34 and have six kids...I'm going to connect you to someone that can resolve the issue. Please call me back if there are any problems."

I thanked her profusely and we hung up. Just like that, I went right to the top in 12 hours. Not only did she respond personally but she wanted to help! This was going to work!

The lady that I subsequently spoke to was again very helpful. She said she would look into the matter and get back to me. However, later that day she, too, explained to me that in fact it is the law and there is nothing anyone could do to help. Suddenly, I experienced cold flashes as I had visions of my wife in the driver's seat and me as her passenger.

After accepting defeat I knew there was only one thing left to do: to thank the Minister in an email.

Desperate Driving Dilemma 2.

I really appreciate all your efforts! I'm so impressed that you took the time to follow up and to actually give me a personal call for my relatively minuscule matter.

Unfortunately Mrs. B. said there is nothing that could be done.

I wanted to wish you much success in all your endeavors, happiness, health and may your deepest dreams and wishes be answered.

I've attached some pics of my six little monsters. (The kids were wearing yarmulkes; it was obvious we were Jewish.) If you would ever like to meet the family and have a cultural experience, it would be an honor to host you and your husband or friend for a traditional Friday night meal at my house. My wife's homemade bread is to die for. Call any time at all."

What possessed me to invite the Minister for a Shabbat meal I can't say. Friday night is magical and for the most secular person; it is always a hit. I guess I felt it was an important bridge to build. It was a spur of the moment decision and I hadn't even told my wife.

Two weeks later, after coming back from passing the first road test, there was an email waiting for me.

"I have been reviewing Minister Cansfield's calendar to find a Friday evening when she could drop in to meet your family and taste your wife's homemade bread... Minister Cansfield will not be able to stay for dinner but she would love to meet your family and sample some homemade bread. If this date doesn't work, we can always find other Friday nights. Thanks."

At this point I thought I should probably inform my wife.


I knew that if she walked through the door, she would not be leaving so fast.

The big day finally arrived. The Transportation Minister, the Honorable Donna Cansfield, would be a guest at our Shabbat table! I understood The Minister did not want to commit to stay for any length of time. But I knew that if she walked through the door, she would not be leaving so fast. The Friday night Shabbat meal is always magical.

I was committed not to change a thing; , kiddush, etc. In fact, by the standards of most observant people my singing before kiddush is unusually long. I have the custom to recite an extended version, "chassidic Bobov style." Even though it would take quite a while until we would finally eat, I felt it was important that my children see that nothing was altered. (Usually I explain to guests that this is the strategy, to keep them in suspense, so they will really enjoy the challah once it finally comes). We did make one minor modification. There would be no clear, bulletproof plastic cover over the tablecloth. (I prayed my children wouldn't spill this week).

The doorbell rang and my family gathered at the front door. She was alone, and I immediately felt her discomfort. She stood in a stranger's home, confronted by a strange religion as all eyes focused on her. She was poised and collected. The Minister commented on how beautiful all the children were dressed. She admitted that she had no idea what to expect and therefore mistakenly dressed down after work. I told her we were simply honored and delighted that she could make it.

We took our seats and went around the table with introductions. Obviously, the names were foreign to her. My wife and I aided the children by providing the English equivalent of their names, however she insisted on learning them in Hebrew. She was quite a natural. She even mastered our son, Chesky's name. We all felt comfortable in no time. We laughed and joked. My daughter, Gitty, wanted to know if we were all supposed to bow when the Minister arrived.

I presented Minister Cansfield with a translated bencher and showed her the page. My children sang with me, most beautifully. The Minister seemed both amazed and delighted at the sight before her. A smile rested on her face as she glanced from one child to the next.

I explained everything. Shalom aleichem – the welcoming of the angels, aishet chayil – the praises of the woman, the blessing of the children, and shared some inspirational anecdotes.

"We are going to wash our hands before partaking of the bread," I said. "Feel free to remain seated." She insisted on washing with the family. I made hamotzie (the blessing said over bread). I pointed out that my custom is to cut my wife a larger piece than my own, as a husband is obligated to honor his wife more than himself. My wife's challah, like always, was right on target. This was obvious from the Minister's reaction. I was certain now, that she wasn't leaving so fast.

The Minister said she came to meet the woman that has six kids and bakes her own bread.

We talked and laughed some more as I related my entire license episode. The Minister explained that the reason she really came was to meet the woman that has six kids and bakes her own bread.

My five-year-old son, Yossi, brought out his page of questions and answers on the weekly Torah portion in Yiddish, and we translated. Shuli, my eldest son gave a dvar Torah (Torah lesson) and explained.

The night seemed to fly by. After two hours, just before dessert was served, the Minister said, "I really should be going." We insisted on packing her up some homemade chocolate cake. She asked if we could spare a couple of extra pieces for her husband and son at home. By the end of the night, she knew the words "Shabbos" and "challah" and all the kids' names. Before she left, she hugged my wife and asked us to keep in touch.

The door closed and there were high fives for everyone. I don't think it could have gone any better. Thank God my children chose this night to be on their best behavior.

What an incredible country and what incredible representation we have. After a mere email and subsequent invitation from a stranger, the Minister came into a strange home and an even stranger religion without security or fear.

The following week, we received a letter from the Ministry of Transportation. It was not my license, but a lovely, handwritten letter, on the Minister's personal letterhead. Amongst other beautiful comments she wrote, "It is an amazing memory I will carry with me always. Who knew an expired license could result in such an event."

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