A Chance Encounter
Sitting on the steps of the Montgomery County courthouse appeared to be a homeless man. My husband is a lawyer, and as he passed by this man on his way into the building, the man called out, “Hey, Rabbi! Give me a blessing.”
How did this man know that my husband is Jewish? A hat covered his yarmulke. What were the markers besides sporting a beard – and a trimmed beard at that -?
You can bet that people who wear suits, carry briefcases, and move through courthouses with confidence and determination are attorneys. So what was with the Rabbi thing? And while it’s true that my husband just so happens to teach Torah, how did this stranger discern that?
Was this a smart entrepreneurial strategy on the part of the homeless man? After all, he certainly got my husband’s attention. On the other hand, could this man have been a messenger from God?
What Did He Mean By That?
After my husband had related this incident to me, he seemed to have second thoughts about the encounter – or at least it was still nagging at the corners of his mind. After all, my husband has traversed those courthouse steps thousands of times. Why was that man there that day, saying those words?
My husband is pulled between how he makes a living and how he makes life meaningful. Was he supposed to have engaged that man in conversation? Or do something in particular? Did he miss an opportunity? Or was the window still open?
“Don’t worry, honey,” I reassured him, “if this were an opportunity you missed but were meant to have, it would come around again.” It may not be that homeless guy or even any homeless guy. Lessons come in all shapes and sizes. Just be on the lookout to encounter the Divine when you least expect it.”
A Disempowering Tale
You have probably heard some version of this story: A guy was rushing for his meeting with a tzaddik. On the way, someone calls out to him to make a minyan, and the man says sorry, but he’s in a hurry. When he finally gets to the tzaddik, the tzaddik refuses to meet with him on the basis that the whole purpose of his life was to have been in that very minyan he passed by.
I hate those stories - where someone doesn’t realize the importance of a particular situation, makes a mistake, and is told that his life or mission, the entire reason for their incarnation, was to do that one thing. Yes – I understand that in our rush to “holiness,” or a mitzvah or something we think is essential, we should not pass up the smaller opportunity, or some act that we feel is inconsequential that in the eyes of heaven, was really the grand gesture. I get it. But really, how many times do we blow it? And then what? Game over? We have no more reason for taking up space on this planet?
Learn to Fail or Fail to Learn
I hope life is more complicated than that and that we can always learn from mistakes and failures, fix what we can, and choose to grow. Isn’t that what God would want? While we may fail any given test, surely, the Teacher doesn’t give up on educating the student and will continue to throw make-up quizzes our way. Otherwise, what are we doing here? What is the point?
When Opportunity Does, In Fact, Strike Twice
In Mikeitz, the epic blockbuster narratives center on Joseph’s dreams, his becoming the Viceroy of Egypt and the famous encounter between Joseph and his brothers.
The less obvious storyline is when the brothers return from Egypt without their brother, Shimon, who was held captive by Joseph (who had not yet revealed his identity) as collateral for the brothers to return to Egypt with their youngest brother, Benjamin.
Upon hearing that the Viceroy of Egypt was demanding Benjamin’s appearance, it seems that Jacob might refuse – even if that meant Shimon would remain a captive in Egypt. Here we go with the same family dynamic all over again. Once again, Jacob was making it very clear who the favored son was. Benjamin was his youngest, the brother of Joseph, and the only remaining son of his beloved wife, Rachel. Once again, Jacob preferred Rachel's' children over Leah's and favored the youngest children over the elder ones.
Same Story – Different Ending
Years ago, this family drama resulted in the brothers selling Joseph. This time, with similar emotions in play, Yehuda did not allow jealousy and sibling rivalry to drive a poor choice. Instead, Yehuda took the opportunity to create a new dynamic by taking sole and personal responsibility to ensure Benjamin’s safe return, even if he had to stand against the very might of Egypt itself. Inspirational author Rick Warren says, “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
Souls in Training
We all make mistakes, but the point is not to keep making the same ones. There is an axiom: “What you resist persists.” The lessons are out there and, hopefully, will keep showing up until we get the message. This is a good thing – to be able to own our stuff, see a new truth, and make a choice for a change.
An Empowering Tale
If you believe – as I do – that the failure to do a specific act does not negate the entire purpose of your exitance, then you should also realize that when you step up to the plate and hit that cosmic homerun, you are not home free either. What do you get when you pass a test? If you are expecting a parade in your honor or balloons falling from the sky, you will be disappointed. It’s unlikely you will even be acknowledged or thanked. Further, you may not even know you were being tested - much less aced it. So, what do you get when you pass a test? The ability, the potential, and a higher capacity to pass another one. And then another one. And that’s why you are here.
Transformation can happen instantly – a pivotal moment of clarity that moves us from doing the same thing and responding in the same way to a new perspective. When we seize the opportunity to turn our axis in a different direction, we move along a new trajectory in which we can write a new, positive ending to a tired old story.
Internalize and Actualize
Do you need to address any recurring patterns or challenges in your relationships? How can you take responsibility and create a new dynamic in those relationships? Reflect on the steps you can take to make positive changes.
Reflect on the idea that experiences and lessons will keep showing up until we learn from them. Are there any recurring themes or situations in your life that you feel you haven't fully learned from? How can you approach these experiences with a new perspective and take advantage of the opportunities for growth they present?
Imagine a future version of yourself who has successfully addressed the challenges and patterns in your relationships. Describe what that version of yourself looks like and how they navigate their relationships differently. What steps can you take now to move towards this vision of yourself?
A previous version of this article was originally published by Chabad.org. To read the original and posted comments, click on this link: What Goes Around Comes Around (Till You Make it Stop)