Shmuel Yosef (“Shai”) Agnon was both a Nobel laureate in literature as a writer of modern Hebrew fiction, as well as an observant Jew. A story, attributed to him, begins with him eating in the Hebrew University library — according to the story, this was permitted back in his day, at least to those of his stature. And then he said the Grace after Meals, Birkas HaMazon, sufficiently loudly that the young librarian was able to hear him.
After he had finished, the librarian approached him. She, too, had had some level of traditional Jewish background, and knew the words of the “Bentching” — and recognized an unfamiliar addition. Near the end of the third blessing, in the phrase “that we not be embarrassed or humiliated, forever,” he had added “v’lo nikashel,” “and we will not stumble,” after “humiliated.”
This is said according to the custom of several Chassidic groups, and also in the Sephardic (Eastern) form of this blessing, but the librarian was totally unfamiliar with it. When Mr. Agnon said that this was his custom, and insisted that it was his family tradition, they debated the issue for some time. She proceeded to get out several “bentchers” (booklets with Grace, Sabbath songs, etc.), of which the HU library had many, and showed him that none of them had this passage, proving her assertion that there was no such version.
Several days later, Shai Agnon was able to find a bentcher that indeed contained his version of the passage. He bookmarked the page, circled “v’lo nikashel” in bright red marker, and sent it off to the librarian courtesy of the HU library.
About a year later, he received an invitation to a Jewish wedding. He recognized neither name on the invitation, but in accordance with Israeli custom, he went anyways. He approached the groom, and saw that he didn’t recognize him by face either. He inquired, and the groom responded that Mr. Agnon had been invited by the bride.
So Mr. Agnon approached the bride — and recognized her as the librarian with whom he had debated the bentching! And she proceeded to explain why their one interaction had warranted an invitation to her wedding, conducted in accordance with Jewish tradition.
This young woman explained that she had been dating a non-Jewish man. Things had gotten serious, and at roughly the same time as her debate with Mr. Agnon, he had proposed. She told her non-Jewish beau that she needed several days to consider her decision.
Finally, one morning, she woke up and concluded that she loved him, and should marry him. They were going to meet for lunch, and she was going to accept his proposal at that time. But first, the mail arrived at the library, including a small package from Shai Agnon. She opened the package, opened the bentcher to the bookmarked page, and there it was, circled in bright red marker:
V’lo Nikashel — and we will not stumble, and she understood not to forsake Judaism.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org