Today was a great reminder.
Here in New York as well as in most of the Northeast of the United States hurricane Sandy, in all of its fury, canceled our schools, closed our bridges, tunnels and transportation systems, shut down the stock market and disrupted our lives in countless ways we never would’ve thought possible.
Ask millions of us yesterday what we were going to do today and staying home would’ve been the most unthinkable answer. After all we had so many plans that simply couldn’t be changed. And yet we suddenly learned the truth of the adage that man proposes and God disposes.
There’s a remarkable passage in the Talmud that gives us a unique insight into the laws of nature. Science has convinced us that the laws of nature are immutable, constant and highly predictable. We can know with certainty exactly when the sun will rise and when it will set in every portion of the globe, not only for today and tomorrow but for years to come. God wanted us to be able to regulate our lives and endowed us with the intellect to make the necessary computations for most of the laws that govern our reality.
But there are three things that God chose to keep hidden from us. These were meant to remain the great mysteries of mankind.
"Rabbi Yochanan taught, there are three keys in the hands of God that are not entrusted to an agent. They are: the key to rain, the key to conception, and the key to revival of the dead.”
God intended for the world to retain some reminders of the limits to our own power.
Why is it that we can split the atom and land on the moon but still have the weather forecaster get it wrong with almost the same frequency as the result of a toss of the coin? Because God intended for the world to retain some reminders of the limits to our own power.
Three times a day in our prayers we praise God by acknowledging that it is He who “is responsible for life,” “resuscitates the dead” and “makes the wind to blow and the rain to descend.” Much as we try to control these events, our efforts are overshadowed by the Divine will that invariably makes the final decision.
It is a truth we need to remember when we hope for a child and turn to fertility doctors. Their knowledge is vital – but it is far from determinative. It is God who decided to keep everlasting control over the key to conception.
It is a fact that physicians are entrusted with the mission to heal. But whether their efforts will succeed and the patient will live or die is a second key retained by the Almighty.
And remarkably enough, rain – the gift from the heavens that is necessary for human survival but can turn deadly when granted in excessive measure – is the third key that God chose to maintain for constant personal supervision rather than to turn into a predictable law of nature.
As we unexpectedly sit at home during hurricane Sandy, perhaps we ought to reflect upon the Divine message of a storm that has the power to make us change plans that we thought were unalterable.
Where Are You Going?
There is a classic Jewish tale about an old rabbi in Russia, who would visit a synagogue near the town square every morning. Not a day passed that he skipped this routine. An anti-Semitic policeman who hated the sight of the rabbi desperately sought to find a reason to justify imprisoning him.
One morning, as the rabbi approached the town square, the policeman walked up to him and asked, “Sir, may I know where you are going?”
The rabbi replied, “I don’t know.”
The policeman seized on this and said, “Old man, you are lying to me. I know you are going to that synagogue over there. I have seen you every day. I’m going to arrest you for lying to a member of the police force.”
The policeman took the rabbi to the nearest police station and put him in one of the cells. As he was locking the door, the policeman proudly remarked, “Now you foolish man you will realize never again to lie to me.”
The rabbi replied, “My son, I have no idea why you claim I lied to you. I told you I didn’t know where I was going. Indeed I did not – I thought I was going to synagogue but, as you can see, it turned out I was going to jail.”
It is more than a story; it is a parable of our lives. We think we know where we are headed but in truth we can never be certain. And every so often we need to be reminded: God runs the world. God decides whether our appointment calendar will be kept. God has the power to suddenly transform our lives.
And perhaps, in the aftermath of perceiving how disruptive unexpected storms can be, we will also be moved to appreciate in much greater measure how grateful we must be to God when nature returns to its regular laws that normally guarantee us so much blessing.