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When The Rabbi’s Story Seemed To Go Remarkably Wrong

An interesting thing happened to me earlier this week. I was on the phone with a friend (let’s call him Dave) who was sharing with me that a number of difficult things had occurred to him that week. I heard stress and even pain in his voice, and I wanted to do something to ease that stress. I told him the following story that I heard a few weeks ago.

The story takes place around 50 years ago in the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, Israel. A young man came to Rav Shach, the dean of the yeshiva, and said, “Rebbi, I really need some help and encouragement. I am an orphan and my life is very difficult. Where can I find the strength to go on?” Rav Shach looked at the young man with knowing eyes and replied, “I too was an orphan and I can very much empathize with your pain. I would like to share a personal story of how at times the painful things that we orphans go through can, in fact, be a blessing. When I was pursuing marriage I did not have any advocates and I was therefore in a difficult situation. The custom in my yeshiva in Europe was that when a young scholar would get married, his in-laws to be would provide the new couple with an apartment so that the young scholar could continue his studies without the financial strain and stress of paying rent each month. I knew little about customs and even less about negotiations, and I ended up getting engaged without any discussion of an apartment. My friends were shocked, and some went so far as to push me to call off the engagement. Nonetheless, I decided to get married, and we found a way to pay the rent each month. About five years later World War II broke out, and we began to hear stories of what was happening to the Jews as the Nazi war machine made its way through Europe. Those of us who did not own any real estate packed whatever we could and began making our way towards the Russian border. However, my friends and colleagues who did own real estate and businesses waited a little longer to see how things would go. Unfortunately, the German blitzkrieg came incredibly quickly and all those who stayed back ultimately perished in the Holocaust. The apartment that my in-laws never gave us ultimately saved my life.”


After telling Dave this story I concluded, “I don’t know for sure that there is a silver lining that you or I will ever appreciate in this lifetime from the difficulties that you’re going through now, but I do know that in the big picture the Almighty is watching over us and everything that happens is for the best.”

After I finished the story and what I had hoped would be uplifting words of encouragement, I felt that Dave seemed to be more quiet than usual. After a short silence Dave replied, “ Rabbi, all this time we were talking I was driving, and I just reached my destination. I’m in front of the title company where I am going to sign on the purchase of a new home.”


I felt so bad! I could not have picked a worse story to tell someone at the very moment that they were going through all the stress of purchasing a new home. Fortunately, Dave is a mentch and a good friend and we ended the phone call on a more positive note. Later, I called one of my rabbis and told him my “Rabbi fail” story. I was expecting a chuckle, words of empathy, or both, but my rabbi’s response caught me off guard. He said, “there is no doubt that Dave called you at this exact time and that exact story jumped into your mind because the Almighty needed him to hear that very story. Why? I have no idea, but I do know that our job is to do our best to uplift everyone around us and the rest is G-d’s hands.”



What an amazing outlook! I know that most of my successes (and I assume yours as well) have a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time. Location and timing are not the only factors; our contribution of hard work, intense self development, persistence, and commitment are as important—but we still need things that are out of our control to align to allow our hard work to pay off. We call these things that are out of our control “G-d’s business”. My rabbi was reminding me that when we do our best and things do not align the way that we hoped, when it seems to us that we have failed—it is also “G-d’s business.” The irony of it all? The fact that the lesson of the very story that I told Dave should cheer me up and help me understand that if I do the best I can, the Almighty will work out the rest.

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