Calling to us

The Power of Stories series

Jewish Family Education with Candace R. Kwiatek, The Dayton Jewish Observer

The Summit. Just a thousand feet shy of Mt. Everest’s peak, Israel’s most accomplished mountain climber, Nadav Ben Yehuda, came across what appeared to be a dead body.

Recognizing it as the inexperienced and unprepared Turkish climber he’d met earlier, Nadav investigated and found the man barely alive. Despite the significant risk, Nadav’s decision was instantaneous.

He abandoned his pursuit of becoming the youngest Israeli to scale Mt. Everest and tackled the life-threatening task of lowering the unconscious Turk down the mountain.

Although during the descent Nadav was severely injured, both he and the Turk survived.

The Detour. Finding their regular route to the park closed off by a detour sign, the rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) and her driver were forced to turn onto a parallel street where they heard a woman screaming in Russian.

Through the windows, they saw her weeping at the curb while workers loaded furniture and household items onto a marshal’s truck. At the rebbetzin’s request, the driver stopped to investigate. Learning the woman was in arrears on her rent and being evicted, the rebbetzin asked the driver to privately find out from the marshal how much was owed and if a personal check would be acceptable.

The requisite payment in hand, the marshal instructed his workers to return everything into the house while the rebbetzin and her driver quickly left.

Many would argue that these encounters were merely the products of chance, random events with no deterministic cause occurring in the universe alongside the evolving states of nature.

Others would deem them fortunate accidents, the improbable results of the intersection between independent chains of events: two unrelated mountain climbers cross paths at a critical moment; a detour sign brings two women together over an eviction.

Fatalists would explain these events as predestined, guided by the forces of inexplicable, immutable, unavoidable fate.

Judaism, however, sees such events as expressions of Divine Providence (hashgacha pratit), the human dimension of God’s deliberate engagement with Creation.

In the words of the psalmist, “The Lord looks down from heaven; He sees all mankind. From His dwelling place He oversees (hishgiach) all the inhabitants of the earth — He who fashions the hearts of them all, Who discerns all their doings (Ps. 33:13-15).”

Divine Providence is God’s governance over human affairs and the destiny of humanity by mobilizing all things in the universe to fulfill His will.

An enduring record of both individual and national Divine Providence, the Bible clearly teaches that God does act in the world.

God singles out Abraham for the first covenant, rescues the altar-bound Isaac with a ram, and grants Jacob prosperity despite Laban’s trickery.

God guides Joseph through betrayal, slavery, imprisonment, and his rise to leadership. God arranges for David to be at the battlefront just in time to hear Goliath’s challenge.

God uses a beauty contest, the king’s insomnia, and Haman’s inflated ego to guide Mordechai and Esther into foiling Haman’s genocidal plans.

Beyond the general biblical view, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin explains, “there is no one unequivocal Jewish teaching on the nature of Divine Providence.”

Some share the view of the Baal Shem Tov, who taught that every event in the universe, every experience in a person’s life, and every aspect of these occurrences is specifically guided and determined by the Divine will of God.

Others see God as deeply involved in our world and our lives alongside a certain amount of randomness and chance in the universe.

A third perspective understands Divine Providence as God’s specific attention to the paths of each person, orchestrating events in a way to guide destiny.

At the same time, each position allows for the exercise of free will, a fundamental principle of Judaism, as expressed in the Talmud: “All is in the hands of God except the fear of God.”

The Campsite. Sori Block loved the strenuous hike up the scenic hill that loomed over her Australian campsite.

Soon after starting out one morning, however, she was startled by the appearance of an unfamiliar large dog that began jumping up and licking her, refusing to leave.

Alone and with no cell service, Sori was concerned at first, but then decided to continue up the hill while the dog pressed close to her side.

Becoming aware of her surroundings once more, she caught sight of a herd of galloping horses heading directly toward her. Running would be futile and there was no place to hide.

Suddenly the dog began to bark, running circles around Sori. Naturally fearful of dogs, the horses veered as they approached, missing Sori by a meter.

Although shaken, she eventually reached the top of the hill where the dog’s distraught owner was delighted to be reunited with her pet.

Learning that it had followed Sori from the bottom of the hill, the owner responded, “That’s impossible. He never goes down to the campsite.”

All too often we see the hand of Divine Providence in our lives only in hindsight. But what if we took a proactive approach?

What if we looked at the unexpected happenings in our lives, both good and bad, and stopped to ask ourselves not “Why has this happened?” but “How is God asking us to use this moment, these circumstances, to do something that He needs to be done?” As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, “Life is God’s call to us.”


Literature to share

Parenting with Sanity & Joy: 101 Simple Strategies by Susan Groner. This delightful little handbook is ideal for parents and grandparents alike. It’s filled with snippets of practical advice about parenting one’s own child as well as being a parent in the bigger world. Ideas include the novel and unexpected, such as “when saying ‘yes,’ do so with a big smile,” “using an invisible leash,” and “forbidden phrases.” Perfect for those looking for guidance without a lot of psychobabble.

Klezmer! by Kyra Teis. When Jewish immigrants brought their klezmer music from Eastern Europe and combined it with big band and American jazz sounds, a whole new genre burst onto the music scene. How can a book bring klezmer music and its story alive for young children? Through simple rhythmic words and lively illustrations that invite participation. Collage images of early 1900s playbills, New York City, and early klezmer musicians add to adult reading fun while creating the atmosphere of the early 1900s. A QR code at the back of the book leads to a short video of klezmer music as well.


To read the complete February 2022 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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