There are times in life that things happen that are so incredible that there's nothing left to do but stand back in total wonder and awe.
This past Thanksgiving weekend my family and I were invited to join my parents and siblings in Hilton Head, South Carolina. As we were unable to fly into the Savannah/ Hilton Head airport (tickets, particularly of the free frequent flyer variety, were sold out) we resolved ourselves to first fly to Atlanta and then drive the additional four hours to our destination.
Realizing that I would probably have no idea how to get to the condominium where we would be staying, my father and I agreed that I'd call him upon arriving at the Savannah rest area. He would then meet us so we could follow him to our place of lodging. Simple enough, right? Not quite.
We'd come to the rest stop as a means of preventing problems. Upon pulling up, I realized that was not going to be the case.
My cell phone was dead. (Never happens to you, right?) No need to worry, I thought to myself. I'll just use the public payphone.
Wrong again. They were all out of order.
I wasn't sure what to do next, when I suddenly remembered taking along a charger but would there be an electric outlet available to juice my phone? As you guessed, the rest area's main building was closed and the bathrooms did not have any outlets. I knew I was hitting bottom when I started leering a little too hopefully at the Coke machine's power outlets. Then suddenly I heard a voice.
"Do you need to borrow a cell phone?" I was asked.
I turned around to find a bareheaded man with his hand outstretched. Immediately I expressed my gratitude. He replied, "Y'know with a few more people we can get a minyan [required quorum of 10 for prayer]."
My tongue was caught in my throat, but somehow I managed a casual query: "Oh, you're Jewish?"
We began to engage in the ancient Jewish tradition of "Jewish Geography" where two co-religionists, strangers til that moment, attempt to find some sort of connection between friends or family.
Much to my delight, I found out that Ed was from Charleston and was a congregant of one of my close friends, Rabbi Ari Sytner. Marvel, however, soon turned to intrigue. Upon telling him that I was from Seattle, he turned pale and then shared with me something incredible.
"We recently koshered our home and have begun to take our Judaism more seriously," he began. "Our greatest wish is that our son, who is in the military, can also share some of the beauty we have found in our heritage."
Ed and his wife discussed this with Rabbi Sytner. They were told by the rabbi that he had a friend in Seattle not far from the Fort Lewis base, where their son was going to be stationed.
He meant me!
"This was a few weeks ago," Ed continued, "and my son just got settled in this week and I wasn't sure if we should be in touch or not. But it seems that the good L-rd in Heaven sure resolved that one for us."
The feeling I experienced was one of awe and amazement at how many experiences that at first seemed so discombobulating in actuality turned out to be so Divinely orchestrated.
My "chance" meeting on the other side of the country also gave me insight into a fantastic Midrash.
The Torah portion of Vayigash has our forefather Jacob finally reuniting with his long lost son, Joseph, who was presumed dead. The emotion, no doubt, was likely as intense as emotion can be. In fact, as the Torah describes it, upon seeing his elderly father, Joseph immediately falls upon him and begins to bawl. But only Joseph.
Says the Midrash, Jacob was not crying. Instead, he was reciting the ancient Jewish prayer, Shema "The L-rd is Our G-d the L-rd is One".
Praying? you ask in disbelief. Now, of all times to pray!
The Sixteenth Century scholar and author, the Maharal of Prague, explains that Jacob was not merely reciting his prayers. For Jacob, uttering the Shema was the reaction that most succinctly expressed the awe that he was feeling: The almost unbelievable sensation that everything that occurred was through the hand of G-d. Famine, the loss of his son two seemingly unrelated tragedies but under the unseen hands of our Father in Heaven both happened in order to propel Joseph to his position as viceroy in which he was most suited, in order to prepare Egypt for the arrival of the tribes of Israel.
Incredible things happen frequently. There is no such thing as "coincidences." Sometimes these incidents are revealed immediately. At other times we never learn of our role in their facilitation. But we need to open our eyes. By doing so, not only will our prayers be more complete and meaningful but we'll realize that our daily lives and all of our experiences are connected to the eternal hand of our Maker.