It is unsettling to be locked out of your home. My nine-year-old daughter recently locked us out of our home twice in one evening. Not having been raised in Jewish observance, I did not know about Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) – the personal involvement that God had in my life. In this discovery, I found the very key to my life.
“Mommy, come outside and watch me play basketball,” my daughter said. After making a number of baskets, she went onto the porch and shut the back door. Unfortunately, she locked us out.
We were to leave soon to visit my mother, in rehab at a nursing home after a hospital stay. Here I was, in the “sandwich generation,” driving back and forth to my children’s schools and to the nursing home. I felt bad for my parents, and remiss that I had not had more time to watch my daughter play outside. I longed for the simple pleasures of motherhood.
We needed to pick up my 15-year-old son. My father, too, was visiting my mother at the nursing home while my husband was bringing dinner. Intending to go inside for my car keys, I discovered that we were locked out.
We had a spare key at the neighbor’s home where my son was staying, only a few blocks’ walk. We would soon get back in.
On our walk to pick up the key, we ran into a woman who lived on our street. I borrowed her cell phone to call my son to bring the spare key home. The family with our key drove my son home and, with key in hand, he quickly opened our front door. The problem was solved – or so I thought.
With spare key in hand, my son went back to his friend’s house. Meanwhile, my daughter ran through the just-opened front door and closed it behind her, and then came out the back door, also closing it behind her. I did not notice that my daughter had locked us out again.
The neighbor joined us in our backyard. We talked while I watched my daughter resume shooting baskets. The neighbor was not observant, and shared with us that her sister had recently become Orthodox. My neighbor thought that observant women spent most of their time cooking for Shabbos and holidays. It had only been a short time since Rosh Hashanah, Sukkos and Simchas Torah. Still feeling overwhelmed I sought the right words.
I agreed that observance was hard work, but it had brought so much purpose to my life. I spoke about the exquisite beauty and inner strength of the Jewish woman, and her unique ability to come close to God. I cited King Solomon’s portrayal of an eishes chayil, a Jewish woman of valor. As we said goodbye, I invited her family for a Shabbos meal.
As I approached my home, I was greeted with the familiar sight of a locked door. Now needing to hurry, we walked to another neighbor’s home to use their phone to call my son. We needed him to, yet again, bring that spare key.
I did not want to be upset with my daughter. In search of a way to understand these seemingly chance events, I began to sense that something bigger was happening. I thought about Hashgacha Pratis. I tried to include G-d within these strange happenings, and was embraced with a sense of calm.
My daughter, in her little voice, wisely offered, “Mommy, do you realize that this is Hashgacha Pratis?”
Smiling, I asked, “What does Hashgacha Pratis mean to you?”
“Hashem guides the steps of every person. Nothing happens by chance,” she answered.
Among the greatest gifts I have received in coming to Torah observance is learning the fundamental belief in Hashgacha Pratis, that every event in the world is specifically guided and determined by Divine will. “From His dwelling place He supervises all inhabitants of earth” (Tehillim 33:14).Hashgacha means to “oversee,” and Pratis means “individual” – that is, “individual supervision.”
I used to think that God observes us from the distant heavens far above. I did not know that He is intimately involved in every aspect of my life. This discovery awakened me to an entirely new world filled with deeper meaning and purpose.
I began to study Torah eight years ago, to better teach my children about their Jewish heritage. I had not intended to change my life. Yet the words of Torah resonated deeply within my soul, with each word opening the door to my mind and heart – to seeing the Hand of God. The more I searched for God, the more I believed that everything was from Him, and the more my world became filled with His Presence.
At our neighbor’s home, my daughter and I entered a warm family scene with their three children. Their little girl was happily sitting on her father’s lap, and I noticed that he did not look well. His wife told me that he had had cancer 14 years ago, and that it recently returned. He was completing his last round of chemotherapy, and they hoped that the scan would show that the cancer was gone. I asked for his Hebrew name so I could pray for him.
My son arrived with the house key, and I held onto it tightly. After thanking our neighbors, I immediately went home to get my car keys so I could finally go see my mom. We could still make it for dinner. I never thought that I would be so grateful just to be able to open the door.
As we entered my mother’s room in the nursing home, an unsettling feeling swept over me. It was difficult to see her connected to a machine perpetually pumping oxygen.
“I call my oxygen my best friend; it’s my key to life,” she said. I marveled at my mother’s strength and positive outlook – that she had found her key. She shared that one does not cherish life’s precious essentials until they are lacking. I thought about what a gift it was just to be able to breathe freely. I wanted my mother to be given back this precious gift.
My 83-year-old father was sitting, as he did so often, by my mother’s bedside. My parents have been married for nearly 57 years. I found comfort in his steadfast devotion to her. My father’s expression had changed since my mother got sick. He was one with his wife, and her pain became his. I prayed to Hashem to remove this pain from them.
I am learning that suffering, too, is part of His plan, and each challenge that God sends us brings Divine messages that help us fulfill our mission in this world – and to experience the ultimate good in attaching ourselves to Him.
I am too tiny to be able to understand the ways of Heaven. With my belief in Hashgacha Pratis, I struggle with accepting that my mother is suffering. I yearn to be able to find the spare key that will unlock my parents’ pain and make it go away.
I thought about that day’s occurrences, when my daughter and I were twice confronted with a locked door to our home. With each experience – the conversation with the neighbor about the inner beauty of Jewish women, and the father who needed prayers for recovery – Hashem had opened up the door for us to learn valuable lessons.
I reflected on my daughter’s words,that Hashemguides the steps of each person and that nothing happens by chance. Within these treasured words, I found the key that opened my eyes to seeing Hashem’s Hand. I am so grateful that my children know that they live in a world of Hashgacha Pratis.
May I find the key to unlock the courage and emunah to always trust that within suffering, there is Hashgacha Pratis, and that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is lovingly taking me by the hand and accompanying me through this experience – step by step.
I pray to hold on tightly to this key.
This column was written three years ago in the merit of the refuah sheleimah of Shayna bas Madelyn, my mother. May it also bring a continued refuah to Avraham ben Miriam, our neighbor and friend.
Marsha Smagley resides in Highland Park, IL with her husband and two children. She has devoted the last 11 years to studying Torah, becoming observant, and guiding her family in Torah life.