Rav Arush and Rabbi Brody have my unending gratitude. Rav Brody helped prepare me to glide through what might have otherwise difficult experiences. There are two stories I’d like to tell. One is trivial, one is not. Believe me when I say that I think in many ways the trivial experience was the harder.
The trivial: I was in the US for the unveiling of my mother’s (of blessed memory) tombstone. My mother is buried in the Midwest US, and my family lives in the East. I live in Israel. We all travelled to my mother’s city for the unveiling.
My family is not Orthodox, but I am. I spent Shabbat with friends, and planned on meeting up with my siblings on Saturday night. G-d had other plans.
My friends (unexpectedly) did not have room for me in their home, so they arranged for me to sleep at neighbors, a 15-minute walk away. My hosts told me that they, too, were planning on being at the SAME HOTEL where my siblings would be. “How wonderful Hashem is,“ I said. It seemed like everything had been arranged in Heaven. But Saturday night when I returned from synagogue after Havdalah, my hosts were nowhere to be found!
Apparently, in a great hurry to be on time for the event they were attending, they had forgotten that I needed a ride. I didn’t panic. I packed up my stuff, turned on my cell phone, and looked for my phone list to call my brother. But my paper with my phone numbers was gone! I had lost it, it seems, somewhere between the airport and my friends’ house.
OK. So there I was. No phone list. No phone numbers! What to do? First I called the car service that had picked me up from the airport. Had the driver found my list? No. OK. I will not panic. I refuse to panic. “Hashem (G-d), You have put me in this situation and you will get me out. What to do? Please Hashem, help me.” I went to the desk in the kitchen and lo and behold, a shul directory! I’ll call my friends! Except that the directory was old. Neither my friends, nor my hosts (both new in the community), appeared. I couldn’t even call the car service to pick me up because I didn’t know where I was! So I called the Rabbi. Drat. No answer. Now what? “Hashem please please please. I want so much to have this time with my family and it’s getting later and later.” Then I remembered how extremely friendly and eager to help one of the congregants had been. I phoned HIM and explained my situation. Yay! He ALSO was due at the event at the hotel, but was in no hurry to get there. I gathered my things and went outside to wait. And wait. And wait. Where is he? More prayer, more fighting useless panic. I worked up my nerve and phoned him again. Deep apologies and he was on his way. I got to the hotel well after my family had gone to sleep. I hope they forgive me. I really did my best to get there. But it just wasn’t meant to be. Thank G-d I never really lost control, fought down my panic, and found a way to get where I needed to go. Had I not been in the middle of reading The Trail to Tranquility I’m sure I would have been hysterical.
The less trivial story happened at the end of the same trip to the US, and concerns my son, Chayim Zvi (n”y). At the time he was 8 and a half years old.
Finally on my way home after missing one flight, a kind gate agent (with Hashem really manipulating everything) found me a different way to travel. Finally getting on the El Al flight in Paris was almost as good as coming home. I sat with two young Israeli men, secular. We didn’t talk much. Towards the end of the trip, I got a little message from Hashem through these guys. One of the announcements that came over the loudspeaker ended with “Chag Samayach.” (Happy Holiday – because it was just less than 2 weeks before Passover.) The two young men started discussing if and where they attend Seder, the traditional Passover service and meal. Suddenly, one of them says, “I don’t care what you call it. Ado – nai, Haboreh (the creator), a higher power. Call it what you want, but there is a force in this world that runs things.” I was moved to hear him, but little did I know that it was meant to be a personal reminder.
I called my husband as I walked down to passport control. I told him about my trip, probably babbled a lot. I was exhausted. I was about the hang up when he said, “Wait a minute. I have to tell you something. Chayim Zvi was hit by a car.” Maybe he prefaced it with, “I have some bad news.”
Many thoughts ran through my mind, including, “Why am I not surprised? I’ve been waiting for this to happen.” But what I said was, “It’s from Hashem. It must be good. Everything Hashem does is good.”
A friend met me at the airport. She told me that, had I made the flight I’d missed, I’d still be travelling! I arrived at 8 pm, but my original flight was delayed and hadn’t even taken off yet! I was awestruck by Hashem’s consummate control.
At the hospital, I was grateful to find not only my husband and my oldest daughter, but a very close and precious friend who just “happens” to be the staff nurse of the ward where Chayim Zvi was. He had a broken leg. His jaw was broken in two places. His nose was broken and his skull was cracked above his right eye, He had a few assorted abrasions and a single stitch under his chin. His right eye was swollen shut and his face was misshapen.
Ultimately, he had surgery to set the jaw and wire it shut, and had pins placed in his leg. He healed pretty quickly. There were many miracles and kindnesses that surround the car accident and hospital stay, but it’s not the car accident that makes this story amazing. What’s amazing about this story is what we discovered BECAUSE of the car accident.
Because Chayim Zvi landed on his face/head, they did a CAT scan to see if he had a concussion. Thank G-d, he didn’t. Instead, they saw a brain tumor.
We had no idea.
To say we were stunned, well, that goes without saying. Suddenly, we understood why Chayim Zvi had this car accident. It was a gift from The Creator to let us discover this tumor. But still, we were in shock.
The whole story is full of little “coincidences”. To us, it was the clear hand of Hashem guiding us, helping us, and making sure that the whole experience was not a drop more difficult than it HAD to be to achieve whatever it was that Hashem wanted. We were deeply moved to hear the neurosurgeon, one of the best pediatric neurosurgeons in the world, tell us, “I like the title ‘messenger’” when we explained that we believe that Chayim Zvi’s treatment and recovery were in Hashem’s hands. Starting from before the accident, we have seen Hashem in the experience in the smallest things as well as the big things. Our story is one of tremendous prayer, tremendous love and chesed from our family, friends and community, but mostly one of Hashem’s mastery of the world down to the smallest details.
So the question I asked myself while we were in the hospital after the neurosurgery was, “What are we doing here?” I learned from The Trail to Tranquility and The Garden of Emuna, that when one experiences challenge, one should not ask oneself “Why?” (in Hebrew Lamah) but rather “For what?” (in Hebrew Le Mah). So I asked myself that question. And I decided that I was there to tell our story. So we told it to EVERYONE. In the hospital, two people in particular were profoundly affected by our story. First of all, we spoke at length with the psychologist who works in the ward where we were. I told him about “Why” vs “What for” and he found this to be very helpful in speaking with other parents. Secondly, I spent a long time telling the story to one of the girls doing her national service (instead of army service some people do national service for a year or two post high school. Usually this option is chosen by religious girls). She worked primarily on the pediatric oncology ward and had a great deal of difficulty answering parents, and indeed herself, when asked, “how can you see all of these suffering children and still be religious?” The gift that Hashem gave Chayim Zvi with this car accident is a clear message to those that want to see it that there is a Grand Master running the show. Nothing is random. Everything has a purpose. This is tremendously comforting. We might not understand why, but the knowledge that there is a purpose to whatever we are experiencing, that it is part of a master plan, gives us the strength to accept and move forward.
Chayim Zvi’s recovery has been about as expected. We had to adjust our rhythm to his needs and abilities. But the obvious divine intervention has receded into the background – there for those sensitive to it, but easily overlooked in the day-to-day tasks that life gives us. He started fourth grade on the first day of the school year, with all his classmates. School has always been a challenge for him, and his experiences have not changed that challenge. He wants to be a ‘regular kid’ and that’s what he’s doing. But we are changed. We are closer to Hashem and we are trying to use our experience to maintain that closeness and expose others to Hashem’s awesome involvement in our lives. It is not always easy. We are human beings: frail, fraught with misunderstanding and ego-driven. It is our prayer that our Merciful Father in Heaven will continue to reach out to us even as we grope our way towards Him.