Europe is not a good place to have a car accident. But it does happen.
My wife, Annette and I were driving through Switzerland to get to France. Annette had a "premonition" that made her anxious about Switzerland but we took that route anyway. Annette drove.
At one point while we were driving, we entered a 5-way intersection. The way was clear so we proceeded. And then I saw a car heading directly for me from the side. I actually made eye contact with the driver, who continued towards me until he slammed into us.
Since we were hit on the side, we were thrown sideways. Annette's feet were bruised and I slammed my head on the door pillar. The police were there in about 45 seconds, directing traffic, towing our car to the side and making sure we were alright.
It seems that the Swiss want drivers to admit guilt or innocence at the accident scene. The one officer who spoke English told me that the accident was our fault because there was a white line on the pavement which indicated we were to stop. If we didn't admit on the spot that it was our fault we would have to go before a judge. Based on a police report which would state that we were at fault, the judge would find us guilty, so we might as well admit our guilt here and now, the officer "counseled" us. As we didn't feel we had much of a choice, we said we were guilty so we could go on our way.
The police drove us to the car repair shop, got ice for our bruises and waited until the garage could locate a replacement car. When they told us that the new car would have to come from Geneve (we were in Lusane), we realized we had some time on our hands. The police then volunteered to take us to the downtown area so we could continue our touring. We returned later by taxi, picked up our replacement car and were on our way. All of this took a mere 3 hours. Now that's efficient!
Upon our return to Connecticut, I realized that my sense of direction was gone. I could no longer find my way home from the bagel shop or the grocery store. If I went out on my own, I had to use my car phone and get directions. It often took 20 minutes to travel 2 miles because I went 15 miles out of the way trying to get there. A CAT scan and exam revealed no permanent damage, but my doctor said it was probably a concussion and my sense of direction would probably come back. Someday.
A few months later, we were asked to host Rabbi Laibl Wolf of Australia who would be a guest lecturer at the Chabad Center in Greenwich. I got lost taking him to his lecture, but eventually we got there. The next morning, we went for a walk at the PepsiCo headquarters. After a brisk hour walk, I realized that I could not find my car. I was utterly lost again. Rabbi Wolf led me, totally embarrassed, back to the car.
At home, Rabbi Wolf said he thought he could help with my memory problem. I was intrigued. How? Rabbi Wolf then began to explain to me, based on a talk of the Rebbe, that putting on tefilin would help.
My immediate reaction was that I had been fooled by Rabbi Wolf's entire presentation the previous evening. After having listened to his lecture, I had thought he was an enlightened educator, "despite" the fact that he was an Orthodox Jew. And here he was, telling me in essence, "Don't think about it. Don't understand it. Don't ask questions. Just do the mitzva."
Well, he was a guest. And as I'd always been taught to treat guests politely, I agreed to put on tefilin. It was as simple as 1, 2, 3. Just put it on, say the Shema and the subseqent v'ahavta paragraph, and take it off. That's all. Three minutes later he left and I went to work.
But my brain still felt like mush and I got lost again. Maybe it takes time to help, I consoled myself hopefully. The next morning I put on tefilin again, 1, 2, 3. I could barely find my way to work. After work I got totally lost again and could barely get back home.
This can't be what the Rebbe meant, I told myself. I decided to try and do some research. I looked in the Talmud. In the section called Brachot it says that saying the Shema properly includes saying the three paragraphs immediate following the Shema as well. Why? Because there are 248 words in the Shema and the subsequent 3 paragraphs and these 248 words correspond to the body's 248 limbs and organs. To make sure that all of one's limbs and organs stay healthy one needs to recite all 248 words.
I decided that the next day I would add the 2 paragraphs I hadn't been saying. Now, this may sound hokey, but my memory came right back! I haven't gotten lost since then, and what's more, I can even visualize directions in my head, which I was never able to do very well before.
Though I haven't been able to find out for sure, I figure that the word from those 248 words that keeps your brain healthy must be in the 2nd or 3rd paragraph after Shema. So everyday, before I exercise, I put on tefilin and say those 248 words. I don't know why, but it works.
Steve Batkin, an insurance salesman and engineer, lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with his wife and children.