We know that there are no random happenings…. everything is orchestrated from above. From the minor to the most major, nothing escapes Hashem’s attention. Our sages teach us that a man does not stub his toe without Hashem being aware of it. Behind every incident there is a wake-up call. Every morning, we recite the brachah, “HaMeichinmitzadei gaver,” and thank G-d for “guiding our footsteps.”
While the ways of Hashem are hidden from us, and most of the time, we are not conscious of His guiding Hand or His intent, we are nevertheless sustained by faith and trust that everything that befalls us is “l’tovah” – for our benefit, even if that tovah – benefit, is beyond our understanding. In a small way, I saw this unfold this past Pesach.
As some of you may be aware, this year, I split my time between two venues so that I might celebrate Yom Tov with as many of my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as possible. So it was that in the beginning of Pesach, I was in Connecticut and for the last days, I was in California.
I was scheduled to take an early Sunday morning flight from JFK to LAX. We arrived at the Delta terminal 45 minutes before our departure, tired and bleary-eyed. We made our way to the ticket counter, only to be told by the woman behind the desk that we were late and could not get on the flight. Shocked and taken aback, we tried to protest, pointing out that we still had 45 minutes, that we were observant Jews and that evening ushered in the concluding days of Passover, when travel is forbidden.
“There is nothing that I can do for you,” she replied tersely. “Delta has new rules, and if you are taking luggage, you must check in one hour before the flight,” and with that, she dismissed us and called the next person on line.
What to do? What to do?
At an adjacent ticket counter, we spotted another woman with a kind, warm, smiling face, and we decided to try our luck with her. As we explained our predicament, she shook her head sympathetically, but reaffirmed Delta’s rule. “Nevertheless,” she said, “I’ll check it out with my supervisor.” And with that, she went over to the same woman who had just given us the dismal news.
We realized that indeed, if she was the supervisor, there was not much hope of getting on the flight. As expected, we saw her shake her head emphatically, indicating a big “No!”
Our smiling agent returned and confirmed our suspicion. “I’m sorry, I tried, but my supervisor said that the flight is closed.” But she added, “I’ll re-ticket you for the next flight out which will be at 11:00 a.m.”
My friend Barbara, who always travels with me, decided to give it one more try. “Do you know who this lady is?” she said, pointing to me. “She is an important international Jewish preacher and she simply must get on this early flight.”
“Oh,” the agent exclaimed excitedly, “I always wanted to meet a Jewish preacher. I have many questions. You know what I will do?” she went on, “I’ll take my lunch break now and walk you to the gate so that we can talk!”
“But,” I protested, trying again, “we have to get on this flight!”
“Oh,” she said, “don’t worry. You’ll arrive in plenty of time. You will be in L.A. by 2:30, but rules are rules and I can’t change them for anyone.” And with that, she walked us to another counter where she told the clerk to re-ticket us, and then she proceeded to accompany us to our gate.
“Tell me,” she asked, “what is the most important fruit that G-d gave to the Jewish people, which, if eaten regularly, is guaranteed to protect them from all difficulties? I’ve asked this question of so many Jews, and none of them could answer me. But if you are a Jewish preacher, surely you know the answer.”
“What a question!” I thought to myself… “What is the most important fruit that G-d gave us? … I had better come up with a good response, and even as I was arranging my thoughts, I made a mental note to tell Barbara not to do me any favors with grandiose introductions.” But my newfound friend was waiting for a response.
“Pomegranates.” I told her.
“Right! but can you tell me why?”
“Pomegranates” I explained, “have 613 seeds and they remind us of the 613 Commandments that G-d gave us. If we remain loyal to them, if we steadfastly cling to them, then no harm can befall us.”
“That is beautiful,” she said enthusiastically. “But there is one thing I don’t understand – I always thought that G-d gave Ten Commandments.”
“Absolutely,” I responded, “but think for a moment…. what does 613 add up to? Six and one are seven, plus three, equals 10! All of the 613 commandments have their seed in the 10.”
“That’s awesome!” she said excitedly.
“But wait,” I told her. “There is more. The Hebrew word for pomegranate is ‘rimon’ and that word has the same letters as ‘a flock of sheep,’ teaching us that through these commandments, we become G-d’s holy flock, and He becomes our Loving Shepherd. As King David so beautifully wrote in Psalm 23: ‘G-d is my shepherd, I shall not want….’”
No sooner did she hear these words than she proceeded to recite the Psalm. And when she came to the words, “Even if I have to walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me,” her eyes glistened with tears.
“Now let me ask you another question,” she continued. “Why did G-d choose the Levites to be the special tribe to minister to His people?”
“Actually,” I said, “G-d did not choose the Levites. It was the Levites who chose G-d. At the incident of the Golden Calf, Moses called out to the people: ‘Whoever is for G-d, come unto me!’ The tribe of Levi heeded that call and rushed forth to signal their readiness to serve. There is a profound lesson to be drawn from that incident,” I explained, “and that is that whenever life challenges us to choose between two divergent paths, we would do well to follow the example of the Levites and stand firm with G-d.”
She went on with some more questions, and as we bonded in friendship, I said to her, “Tell me truthfully, if your supervisor had truly wanted to, couldn’t she have gotten us on the earlier flight?”
“She really couldn’t have. Delta is very strict about these new rules,” she responded. “It takes them an hour to process the luggage and they do not want any delays in their flights.” And then she added a thought that left me nonplussed. “Isn’t it G-d who arranges our steps?” she asked. “For the longest time I’ve been praying to have the privilege of meeting a Jewish preacher from G-d’s holy flock, and the Good L-rd granted me this blessing today. You changed my life…. Am I not also one of G-d’s children? Don’t I count?”
“You’re right,” I answered. “Of course you count and everything does happen from G-d.”
When she left us and we readied ourselves to board our 11:00 a.m. flight, in my heart I was still reviewing the whole incident and wondering what I might glean from this experience. We arrived in L.A. at 2:30, in ample time to make it to our hotel for Yom Tov. In the taxi, I decided to make some Erev Yom Tov phone calls to New York, and it was on one of these calls that I learned that there had been an earthquake in L.A. and we had just missed it by minutes!
I thought about the entire incident – there was a lot to digest. I cannot tell you with certitude why it all occurred, but I do know that everything that befalls us is orchestrated by the One Above. In all situations, under all circumstances, we must never forget that we have a calling – to be Hashem’s witnesses and to be aware of His constant guiding Hand directing our steps on life’s long, arduous, and often bumpy road. No matter where that road takes us, we are never to forget the response of the Levites of old and stand firm with our G-d.