click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

The Jigsaw Puzzle

The Jigsaw Puzzle

Living with a new sense of palpable fear, a resident of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City describes how she soothes her over-wrought nerves.


During these troubled times here in Israel, when every day pounds us with more tragedies -- murders, kidnappings, terrorist bombings, desecrations of our holy sites -- the only activity which soothes my over-wrought nerves is working on my daughter's 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

The puzzle is a print of a 19th century painting of two young women in flowing gowns arranging sunflowers by an open, sun-bathed window.

I hold a tiny piece in my hand and examine it: two brush strokes of shades of beige beside another color so indistinct there is no name for it. What could this piece possibly be? A part of a gown? The background wall? Perhaps the skin of her arm? I haven't a clue.

Then I notice that at the very tip there is a dark brown line. Perhaps it is the line of the windowsill. I move the piece along the windowsill, trying every notch, and suddenly it fits! A sense of satisfaction wells up in me, a joy at things finding their proper place, a mini-mystery solved.

Only now, seeing the piece as part of the rest of the picture, I realize that the beige brushstrokes are her nose. I never could have guessed.


The phone rings. It's my friend Hanna's husband, inviting us to a surprise party for Hanna's 50th birthday. Of course, we'd love to come, but they live in Efrat, a 25-minute drive from Jerusalem. Just an hour ago the "breaking news" on the Internet reported "heavy machine gun fire" on the road to Efrat. Do I have to choose between my family's lives and my friend's 50th birthday party? Hanna's husband senses my fear. "We'll understand if you don't come."

An hour later the army relieves me of the decision by closing the embattled road. I send Hanna an e-mail birthday card and breathe a sigh of relief.

It's not so easy when the children are involved. My 12-year-old daughter asks me if she can attend a classmate's Bat Mitzvah.

"Where is it?" I ask, unsuspectingly.

"Where they live, in Beit El."

"Beit El?" I recoil in horror. "To get to Beit El, you have to go through the Ayosh junction. Arab snipers shoot at the Ayosh junction every day. How can I let you go there?"

Her classmates, all from Israeli families, call my daughter a "scaredy cat," because I won't let her go. But they are a different breed of Jew. One classmate and her family spent Yom Kippur in the Gaza settlement of Nitzarim, which was literally under siege. The family traveled there and back in an army helicopter.

On Fridays nowadays, at the behest of the police, my daughter's school lets out a half-hour early so that all the children can get home safely before the Muslims finish their prayers on the Temple Mount, where the sermon has recently exhorted them to "slaughter the Jews."


Last Thursday, with police warning of an imminent terror attack (which in fact took place four hours later downtown), I came home from an errand to find an Arab youth digging in the lane at the entrance to our Old City house. He was fumbling with plumbing pipes, although I was unaware of any plumbing problems on our street.

"Who are you?" I demanded in Hebrew.

"I'm with the municipality," he answered, without stopping.

"The municipality?" I was suspicious. He was not wearing the blue uniform of municipal workers, and he looked too young to be entrusted with an official job. "Where are your identification papers from the municipality?"

"I left them in the truck."

Vehicles cannot enter the narrow lanes of the Old City. The truck must have been parked a good five minutes away, a convenient excuse for not producing his papers.

"I'm calling the police," I warned. In a panic, I ran into my apartment, yelled to my husband to watch the suspicious Arab at our entrance, and phoned the police, talking so fast and so breathlessly that I had to repeat myself three times before the police dispatcher understood what I was saying.

Five minutes later, Yitzhi, the chief of our local police station, and another officer arrived at the scene. By now another, older Arab man was working alongside the youth. Yitzhi spoke to them in Arabic, examined their identity cards, and told me they were bonafide subcontractors doing a job for the municipality. I let out a long sigh.

"Don't hesitate to call the police again anytime you see something suspicious," Yitzhi said to me. "And don't be afraid."

"Of course, I'm afraid," I shot back at him. "These days, everyone is afraid. How can we not be afraid?"

"Are you religious?" Yitzhi asked. I was about to answer flippantly, for my dress identified me as religious, but I sensed he was asking the question on a deeper level.

"Yes," I answered simply, sincerely, more to myself than to him.

He pointed heavenward in a silent gesture, the final, authoritative statement of the Israeli police department on how to deal with the terrorist threat.


Our children's fear is the most unsettling. Last Saturday night, my husband and I were on our way to Moshav Meor Modiin, a 40-minute drive from Jerusalem, to pay a condolence call to the family of 25-year-old Aish Kodesh Gilmore, who had been gunned down while on guard duty at a social service office. We had left our daughter, usually mature and confident, to baby sit. Almost at our destination, the cellphone rang. It was our daughter.

"What's wrong, honey?" I asked.

"I'm petrified," was her terse answer.

"What are you afraid of?"

"I'm scared of Arabs attacking our house."

What could I say to her? That her fears were unfounded? That our house had not been attacked by Arabs since the riots of 1929, when 17 Jews in the Old City had been hacked to death by marauding Arabs?

I knew what should be my line, "Don't worry. Everything will be just fine." But I couldn't say it. Because God has given us no such guarantee. All my child-rearing books had taught me not to make promises I couldn't keep, and I felt totally powerless to guarantee her safety.

For years I had had a grand plan that, if the Arabs, who constitute 80 percent of the population of the Old City, ever start to riot, I would send my children for safety to my friend Naomi's home. Naomi lives on a peaceful, rural moshav in the middle of the Jezreel Valley, far from the Green Line. But this past Rosh Hashana, when the Arabs were rioting in the Old City on the Temple Mount throwing stones on elderly Jews praying below at Western Wall, Israeli Arabs in Nazareth, ten minutes up the road from Naomi's moshav, also broke out in violent riots, as did their brothers near Haifa and Tel Aviv. My fantasy of a safe haven for my children had been dashed.

"The front door is double-locked," I said in a reassuring tone. "If you like, you can lock the courtyard gate, too."

"But they could come over the roofs, to the inner courtyard, where the doors don't lock."

She was quoting me. How could I have been so careless as to express my worst nightmare in front of her? Sitting there in the dark car holding my cellphone, I felt a shadow of a memory of Jewish mothers throughout the ages -- during the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Crusades -- feeling powerless to protect their children from those who yell, "Death to the Jews."

"Then sit and say some psalms." I instructed her. "God is the only One who can really protect us."

I had to end the conversation. We had arrived at our destination, the home of the 25-year-old widow and her baby daughter.


As I sit puzzling over another unrecognizable piece in our 1,000 piece jigsaw, it occurs to me that our traumatic situation is a section of God's multi-billion piece jigsaw puzzle called "Human History."

I look at any particular piece, such as the death of 28-year-old Ayellet HaShahar Levy from a terrorist bomb in downtown Jerusalem, and I cannot possibly understand what I'm looking at or how it fits into the larger picture. But as a believing Jew, I know that history is not haphazard. I know that God runs the world, runs the Land of Israel, runs this mini-war. And God's finished picture will not have paint splashed all over the canvas willy-nilly. No, God's finished picture of human history will be perfect, precise, and beautiful.

God's puzzle is a picture of exile and redemption. And every baffling piece fits into the puzzle ... perfectly.

How do we manage to put together a 1,000 piece puzzle? We look at the finished picture on the lid of the box, of course. Without it, the task would be virtually impossible. Although human history comes with no such lid, we do have a general picture of the finished product: the ultimate redemption of all mankind.

The Prophet Isaiah (11:9) describes the Messianic era: "The earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the seas."

Although the sages differ on many of the particulars of that time (such as whether the world will continue to function according to the laws of nature), all agree that the Age of Redemption will be characterized by universal God-consciousness. Everyone will realize that God, not chance, not economic factors (as Marx claimed), not the political powers-that-be (the false god that most of us worship), not military superiority, but GOD is the ultimate causal factor behind everything.

With this in mind, many of the puzzle pieces I am now looking at begin to reveal parts of the larger picture.

We in Israel keep expecting to be saved by our powerful army, or by the government. But the government is in disarray, and the army is restrained to the point it has become a de-clawed, de-fanged tiger, left only with its roar. Deep in my soul I am beginning to understand that perhaps the army's enforced impotence will lead us to realize that our salvation lies not in the army, but in God. The puzzle piece fits.

Sara Yoheved Rigler’s all-encompassing online marriage program, “Choose Connection: How to Revive and Rejuvenate Your Marriage” is available to readers at a special price. Click here for more info:

November 25, 2000

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 31

(31) Anonymous, February 7, 2016 9:22 AM

This article could have been written today!

This article could have been written today!
At the end of the day the only One we can trust in is Hashem Himself!

(30) jonathan kannan, December 8, 2000 12:00 AM

Open your eyes

It may sound like a war movie or a big dramma but this is reality, people is dying, and we are not doing anything to stop the war, Hashem is so tired of listening your laments and prayers, he is tired because we hadn't listened our hearts, every single lifeform is a part of this world and this world itself is calling us to stop the shedding, why do we fight others... let's find a solution... we have to learn to SHARE what we have and belive with others, if our goverment cant do it, then let's do it by ourselves, lets stop playing dumb praying at the walls, only for one day and start a kind of peace-walk thru our city, if we do want peace then let's find it by ourselves, and let the world hear your call, and try to dialogue with the arabs (but don't risk your lifes), remember the babel tower, god is testing us, if we work together we can build something so great that even God will be jealous of.
Never give up, and try to fit in the arabs slippers before judging them.
May we find peace soon.
I will fight even with my last breath of life.

(29) andrea lowenstein, December 3, 2000 12:00 AM

Accurate and truthful article

Ms Rigler's Article is well written and eloquent.
I hope to read more of her words regularly at this site

(28) cathy martheze, December 1, 2000 12:00 AM

I am deeply moved by this insight into an Israeli mother's life.

As a South African Jewish mother, one does not fully comprehend the absolute mental torture that the Israeli people and especially a mother must be going through at this very trying time in Israel. My family & I all pray for them. May Hashem bless them and keep them all safe. We in South Africa have some sort of knowledge of what it is like to live in the shadow of violence and say a prayer every time one of our family members go out that they are not struck down by some common criminal. Here they shoot without warning with the express intention of helping themselves to our cars or other possessions and have absolutely no respect for human lives whatsoever, but we nevertheless are still blessed that this is but a small sector of the population and not an entire nation out to cause us bodily harm. We pray for the people and the State of Israel. Are hearts and souls bleed with sorrow.

(27) Anonymous, November 30, 2000 12:00 AM

I just wanted to write and commend the author for writing and unbelievably moving article. We in America have no real concept of what is occuring. My husband and I got married 3 months ago and were planning on moving to Eretz Hakodesh very soon after. Rabbaim here tell us maybe to hold off, his Rosh Yeshiva and other Rabbaim in Ertz Hakodesh tell us to come and not to worry. We are not looking for someone to tell us what to do, but are praying to Hashem constantly for guidance and clarity. This article really focused me more on the "bigger picture." Regardless of what decision we make the fact of the matter is that Hashem runs the world and just as the chief of police pointed upwards to the Heavens so should we be sending our prayers upwards to the Heavens for the safety and redemption of Klal Yisroel! Hashem should bring peace to Eretz Hakodesh very very soon!

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment