Every family has them – “family stories.” They are handed down from father to son and are told and retold. They usually carry a striking lesson and influence multiple generations. My siblings and I grew up on the following story:
After the Holocaust, in 1945, my father of blessed memory found himself alone, destitute, sick, and weak. He had lost his wife and children to the crematoria, as well as his extended family. No one had escaped the slaughter. The tragedy was beyond imagination.
He himself, even though miraculously alive after having experienced the horrors of the death camps, suffered from typhus, weighed 75 pounds, and had to undergo surgery to heal some of his physical wounds (could the emotional ones ever heal?).
That is when he was informed that one of his 11 siblings had survived and was in Antwerp. In a letter that reached him in Romania, his only sister and her family begged him to join them in Belgium. Their reunion would bring solace and comfort to both, she said.
But even though my father was overjoyed, he didn’t feel physically capable of making the trip. In addition, he didn’t have any official documents, which made traveling even more complicated. Chaos still reigned in governmental circles and the journey would have to be a clandestine one.
Undecided on how to proceed, he decided to consult with the late Vishnitzer Rebbe, the famous R’ Chaim Meir Hager, zt”l. He elaborated on his quandary, describing his general state, and concluded by saying, “On paper, it really doesn’t make any sense to make this trip.” The Rebbe looked at him and replied, “It doesn’t make sense on paper? So break the pencil and go!”
My father listened to the rabbi’s wise advice, reunited with his only sister, and eventually remarried in Antwerp and started a new family and life.
Very often, when we make logical calculations, the prospects for success seem dismal, but we must remember that simultaneously with the natural, a supernatural computation is going on. Sometimes when things don’t make sense and the calculus on paper doesn’t add up, one should transcend the calculus and take a leap. Up there, an Outstretched Hand will support, guide, and protect.
In last week’s article I wrote: “Whenever someone undertakes a project lishmah, never mind the scope (very often bigger than one can handle), Hashem will crown it with success.” One reader asked me to elaborate on the meaning of that sentence. I believe the above story is a perfect illustration. If one experiences life as one big miracle and sees Hashem’s Protective Hand in every action, the “cheshbon” will be different.
How often do even insignificant things somehow work out due to momentary unexpected changes? Just recently, for example, my family accidentally purchased train tickets to the wrong destination only to eventually discover that, due to a last-minute cancellation, our trip itinerary had to change and – you guessed it – what originally seemed like tickets to the wrong destination were now exactly what we needed.
In Hashem’s world, logic doesn’t always prevail. Things very often work out differently than foreseen. That is true in every realm of life – in shidduchim, parnassa, childrearing, performing mitzvos, etc.
Sometimes people do everything wrong from a logical perspective and succeed while others do everything right “on paper” and fail. And sometimes one can expend much energy in one direction only to discover the solution appearing from a totally different direction.
That is exactly the wisdom contained in the words, “Break the pencil and go!” The Heavenly court seems to run a unique type of account. Priorities over there are different. Purity of heart, kavana, the ability to relinquish, taking other people’s feelings into consideration – these are the currencies that open the Heavenly Gates.