My husband has a non-profit that takes professors to Israel. In the summer of 2020, in the wake of the first round of COVID, all trips were cancelled. This year, we managed to sneak in one trip in July and then…you know it, cancelled for the rest of the summer. New lockdowns in September quashed hope for a trip in autumn.

Next summer, we told ourselves, is the charm! In the meantime, now that there are vaccinations (and boosters), let’s do a retreat in the States to maintain the cohesion of the group, to keep the community interested and connected.

“Great!” everyone responded, eager to finally get out. So we planned a January retreat in Florida. And then Omicron hit. That well-worn Yiddish expression, “Man plans and God laughs” comes to mind, but I’m not sure anyone is laughing under the circumstances.

I think a deeper principle can be evoked. One of the fundamental tenets of Jewish understanding is that we make the effort and the outcome is in the Almighty’s hands.

We’re responsible to make the effort, but the outcome is in the Almighty’s hands.

This is always true but we don’t always see it. If we do well in school, and type up a good resume and are our charming best at the interview, when we get the desired job we may ascribe it to our own preparation and virtues. And if we don’t get the job, then we have some nasty things to say about the interviewer and a long explanation about why we didn’t really want to work there anyway. But in both cases, we are missing the point. The effort is ours, the outcome is God’s. It’s our responsibility to put in the effort, but it’s totally up to Him whether or not we get that job. No matter how much effort we make, the outcome is out of our control.

If we are farmers or vintners we may put a lot of effort into planting, watering, pruning, whatever else you need to do with crops or grapes, but whether the sun will shine at the right time or not, whether the cold will come too early or too late, whether there will be too much rain or too little is clearly in the Almighty’s hands. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, our best efforts won’t save the wine. It’s a little clearer in this situation.

And it has become all too obvious during this challenging pandemic that we can make all the effort we want, the outcome is completely out of our control. Flights are cancelled, schools are closed and opened and closed again. Trips are planned and cancelled and re-planned. Israel opens and shuts and opens with quarantine and so it goes…

Every time it seems like the world is opening up, a new variant seems to come along and turns our world upside down, forces us to revise our plans or scrap them altogether. We are way past Option B.

It’s extremely frustrating. It’s hard to be as productive as we’d like. It’s hard to plan the next day let alone into the future. Sickness and quarantine seem to be lurking around every door. We are grieving.

But it is an opportunity to reflect and to recognize that everything is truly in the Almighty’s hands. Perhaps we’ve been harboring illusions of control, perhaps we’ve been lulled into thinking that the outcome is up to us. Along comes COVID to strip that bare.

We can – and should – plan, but let’s remember that whether or not they will come to fruition is not in our hands, and work on accepting the outcome, whatever it is.