Here I am pursuing an initial theme for this newly-revamped column and then – on the very same day – two of the most unexpected events occurred, assuring me that I am writing about the right thing at the right time. Our theme is that whatever G-d does is for our best, even if we cannot recognize it. After this series began, no more than two hours apart from each other came the proverbial “one-coincidence-too-many.”
I will first address the latter event. I had completed my morning run on a track adjacent to the gym that I attend (Merkaz Cosell, named after the legendary Jewish sportscaster no baby boomer will ever forget, Howard Cosell) and was cleaning up when the gym’s manager parked himself at a locker next to mine. “Today is the tenth anniversary of our expansion,” he informed me, “and in honor of this milestone there will be many events, including lectures that will surely interest you.”
I confess: Lectures about physical health and how to properly exercise interest me. Every race I have participated in (Tel Aviv Marathon, Jerusalem Marathon, Nahariya Race, Marine Corps Marathon) was preceded by a battery of health-related lectures which I found to be informative and engaging.
As it was, I had to drive to a wedding out of town that night and the gym was on the way. I thought that I was going to be attending a lecture about metabolism, and due to either an error in the schedule or a misreading on my part, I instead heard a lecture from Maya Rosenfeld.
My exposure to Broadway (despite growing up less than an hour away) was at most less than a handful of plays. But in one fell swoop, Maya Rosenfeld rectified any theatrical deficiency I might have ever possessed. In a cross somewhere between the Stanislavski method and a Greek comedy, she mesmerized her audience with her own personal story and the trajectory it had thrust her on.
She was a millionaire living in Mexico with no fewer than seven servants who awoke in the morning to fulfill her whims. She had traveled to Israel for her son’s bar mitzvah and then, as she told it, was divorced and left without a nickel within one and a half hours. Admittedly, such a transition, involving a divorce out of nowhere, executed by an Israeli rabbinate beit din (renowned for their time-consuming deliberateness) all in 90 minutes, is pushing credibility, and yet, this woman was so convincingly theatrical, she could have sold me the Brooklyn Bridge and I would have given her a tip in addition to the purchase price.
The point of her distressing anecdote was that she had been hurtled from the zenith to the nadir in a flash and had every right to be angry with everyone, the world, and the L-rd. But, as she explained so dramatically, instead of looking out, she focused within. This, she so maturely concluded, is obviously happening for a purpose to which I am not privy, but my challenge is to make the most of and grow from my new situation. Maya emerged from her crisis, became a personal coach, and today runs a center to enable people who have suffered to grab hold of their lives.
Earlier in the day I had read a folktale (perhaps in a future column, I will write the Jewish version of this story, related in the name of Reb Nachman of Breslov) about a village which had an elderly sage whom the villagers trusted to provide them with answers to their questions and concerns. One day a farmer from the village ran to the wise old man and cried in a frantic tone, “Wise man, help me! My ox has died and I have no other animal to plow my field. Isn’t this the worst thing that could have possibly happened?”
The wise old man replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
The farmer hurried back to the village and reported to his neighbors that the wise old man had gone mad. Surely losing his ox was the worst thing that could have happened. Why couldn’t the wise man see that?
The very next day the farmer spotted a strong, young horse. Because he had no ox to rely on, he managed to catch the horse to replace his ox. The farmer was elated; plowing the field had never been easier.
He went back to the wise man to apologize. “You were right, wise man, losing my ox was not the worst thing that could have happened. It was a blessing in disguise. I never would have captured my new horse had the ox not died. You must agree that this is the best thing that could have happened!”
The wise man replied once again, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
“Not again,” thought the farmer. The wise man now must have really gone mad.
A few days later the farmer’s son was riding the horse and was thrown off and broke his leg. This meant that he would not be able to help with harvesting the crop.
“Oh no!” shrieked the incredulous farmer, “now we will surely starve to death.” The farmer trekked to the wise man and demanded, “How did you know that capturing my horse was not a good thing? My son has been injured by the horse and will not be able to help with the crop. This time you must agree that this is the worst thing that could have happened.”
The wise man was unmoved and replied matter-of-factly, “Maybe so, maybe not.” Enraged that the wise man could not live up to his moniker and could be so ignorant, the farmer stormed back to the village.
The next day troops arrived to take every able-bodied youth to the front lines to shore up the battlefront that was falling into enemy hands. The farmer’s son was the only young man in the entire village who was not conscripted. He would live while the others would die.
There is no need to relate the moral of this story, as it is an awareness we must internalize that G-d only wants the best for us – often obscured as, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
Rabbi Hanoch Teller is the award-winning producer of three films, a popular teacher in Jerusalem yeshivos and seminaries, and the author of 28 books, the latest entitled “Heroic Children,” chronicling the lives of nine child survivors of the Holocaust. Rabbi Teller is also a senior docent in Yad Vashem and is frequently invited to lecture to different communities throughout the world.
“Reb Elimelech and the Chassidic Legacy of Brotherhood” has just been released as a DVD. Written and produced by Rabbi Teller, the film covers the founding of the chassidic movement and ahavas Yisrael. It’s available in Jewish bookstores or at www.hanochteller.com.