My talk was called “Divine Whispers.” I would be sharing an array of stories, weaving them together to create a message of how even in the “ordinary” events of our lives, we can find a “divine whisper”-a lesson specially scripted for us. The talk was the highlight of a lovely afternoon and evening program arranged by Chabad emissary Chana Alta Mangel in Blue Ash, Ohio. The food, decor, workshops and program, like Chana Alta herself, were fabulous, offering a perfect balance of beautiful physical and spiritual nourishment.
As the crowd enters the spacious main synagogue, I am sitting at one of the color coordinated round tables. “Esther” walks in and asks to sit next to me. As she’ll tell me by the end of the evening, she had no idea that I was the speaker or the writer whom she eagerly reads, but just thought that I might want someone to chat with.
And chat we did…
Esther’s eyes shine with pride as she tells me that her daughter, a thirty-two year old beautiful woman, lives in California. She is highly successful, independent and living a fulfilled life.
“The problem began,” at this point Esther’s voice is lowered into almost a whisper, “when this wonderful daughter met a man whom she planned to marry-and he wasn’t Jewish.
“Chana, I was so torn,” Esther’s eyes mist over. “On the one hand she is my daughter, whom I love unconditionally. I couldn’t break our relationship. How could I just become estranged from her, and at such a time in her life?
“Of course, my daughter couldn’t fathom why I was against this relationship, one that she saw as ensuring her future happiness. But on the other hand, I just knew…Chana, I knew it intuitively that this was something that I absolutely could not go through.
“How could I attend this wedding? How could I be a part of it?
“And yet…how could I not?”
Even now, as Esther recounts her story, the tension that was tearing at her is apparent.
“My husband, on the other hand…” Esther continues, “He is a self-professed atheist. He’s an intellectual and he claims he doesn’t believe in any religion.”
At this point, Esther diverts to confide to me, almost in parenthesis, “Chana, any time I attend a class on Judaism, I really have to listen. The moment I get home, my husband questions everything that I learned. And how he questions! But let me tell you, though he’s an atheist, he says the Shema Yisrael prayer with me every night. And on Chanukah, when I lit the candles, I saw tears in his eyes. What an atheist, huh?” She winks.
Esther now brings her husband into her continuing narrative, “So, of course when my daughter was about to marry this non-Jewish man, my husband didn’t protest. It was only me. It was such a terribly lonely and confusing time for me.” Esther pauses to regain her equilibrium, fighting her strong emotions.
“One part of me even thought of taking my life. I didn’t feel I had a choice,” she says defensively. “I couldn’t attend the wedding and I also couldn’t not attend. So, at the time, it seemed like the only option.” She pauses as she recalls those terrible feelings.
“The wedding was several weeks off. I was becoming more and more desperate by the day.
“And then it was Yom Kippur night. I was sitting in the synagogue and more and more people were arriving for the Kol Nidrei services. I don’t know what gave me the courage, but I marched right up to our rabbi and I ordered, ‘Rabbi, I know you have a lot of things on your head right now. But listen to me. My daughter plans to marry a non-Jew in a few weeks and you’ve just got to pray for her tonight during the services.’
“And I too prayed with all my heart.
“I returned home after services, still shaken from my emotional experience. Shortly after, my daughter calls. She immediately tells me, ‘Mom, about my upcoming wedding…Well, the plans have been pushed off…indefinitely.’
“Her words were music to my ears.
“My daughter is still looking to find her soul mate. But now she is dating Jewish men.” Esther smiles as she concludes her tale.
And then, as an afterthought, Esther looks at me expectantly. “Chana, tell me, what do you think? Was that a divine whisper on that Kol Nidrei night?”
Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers-Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at email@example.com.