a personal story

Friday, 21 September, 2018 - 11:04 am


This time I am going to tell you a personal story.

For several years I had the sweet dream of traveling to New York together with my whole family. Not to New York for the sake of New York, but, rather, to the Rebbe, to his beit midrash in Brooklyn and to his tziyun in the holy Ohel in Queens. In other words, to take my children to the Rebbe. All of them had gone separately with me, but the dream was to go as a family. Dreams are intended to be realized – that’s what I believe, anyway. And so, we saved up our pennies, and planned the trip so that it would coincide with our son Mendel’s first haircut as he turned three. Like good Swiss residents, we purchased the tickets six months in advance, and so we allowed our excitement to grow.

On the day of the flight we got up early; everything was packed, and we were about to leave the house. One last look at the documents – everyone had visas, Baruch Hashem, but another glance at the passports showed me that the passports of the two oldest children would become invalid the following day… in other words, they had no passports – and therefore couldn’t fly. It’s hard for me to describe to you the shock that hit us. It was something that had never happened to me before. I confess that I felt completely broken. Usually I don’t collapse so easily. I’ve coped with crises in my life, but for some reason this left me in pieces. The shattering of the dream hit me like a wave – it was as if I could hear pieces of glass breaking again and again.

“We’re not going!” I announced as the tears fell, and shut myself in my room, overcome with pain.

Five minutes later the door opened gently. Thirteen-year-old Mossi and eleven-year-old Moshe came in, tears still in their eyes, but their voices steady. They looked at me and said: “Abba, you taught us that everything happens by hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence). You say all the time that Hashem is running the world, not us. Now is the moment of truth. Go with the rest of the family; we’ll spend the week by friends, and with Hashem’s help we will go with you some other time.”

It struck home. Perhaps I should have felt ashamed for collapsing? Perhaps I should have berated myself for breaking down? Perhaps. But I just remember a powerful feeling of happiness that filled me completely. I looked at them: a moment ago they were little children in my eyes, but now they were so big… It’s called nachat.

Only when we were already on the plane, calm and collected, did Devora and I understand that without the “mistake” with the passports we wouldn’t have experienced our children in that way that morning.

Tomorrow we will read Shirat Haazinu in the schul. This song includes praise of Hashem for “finding” us in the desert and watching over us like the apple of His eye. But also that we grew fat and rebelled against his Torah and mitzvot. The Leviyim would sing this song in parts every Shabbat, in spite of the fact that later on in the song there is talk about Hashem hiding His face, and that “I will use up my arrows against them,” - not only the good part at the end, that tells of the Redemption: “Nations, sing the praises of His people for He will avenge the blood of His servants.” Why, then, is the entire poem considered to be a “song”? Why do we sing to Hashem also about the moments of His hiding his face from us and the accompanying arrows?

That answer is that we sing and thank Hashem for the entire journey, and the journey of a man’s life is like the journey of a nation, including moments of beauty, redemption and salvation, but also moments of face-hiding that are not easy. And whoever knows how to look, will be able to see beauty and happiness popping up, paradoxically enough, especially at the times of the difficulty and the face-hiding.


Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach!


Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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