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Life Changing Events


Yitro (Exodus 18-20 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Sometimes a life-shaking event serves to wake people up, and bring them to their senses. In this week's Torah portion, when God made the awesome miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea and let the Jewish people walk straight through to freedom, it was an event that shook the world. Everyone clearly saw the power of God, and recognized that He was personally guiding the Jews to their special destiny.

Yitro was especially moved by this world-shaking event. Although he had previously been a famous and well-respected idolatrous priest, he came to see clearly that only God was the true God. He left his misguided ways behind, and came to join the Jewish people. Yitro used the event as a wake-up call to rethink his mistaken values and change his life for the better. So too, if we are confronted by life-shaking events, we can use them as opportunities to clarify our values for personal growth.


In our story, a life-shaking event helps two sisters discover what really counts.


"I told you to close that window, and I mean it!" snarled Laura Spencer.

It was a cold, snowy winter's day, but the chill outside was no match for the icy atmosphere inside the car, where Laura and her sister Judy were in the midst of their usual, nasty bickering and fighting about everything and anything.

Their parents tried whatever they could to make peace between them, but nothing helped. The latest battle was over whether or not to open the window a crack to let in fresh air into the car.

Judy stood her ground, and Laura lurched over to try to close it by force. Suddenly the car hit a patch of ice and started skidding wildly, throwing both sisters off balance. The girls' mother gasped from the driver's seat, and Laura let out a scream as the car continued to spin out of control, heading toward an oncoming car in the other lane!

During that moment, which felt like an eternity, Laura found herself praying to God to save them all. She realized how dumb and meaningless all her fights with Judy had been. She realized how much she really loved and cared for her. Her one wish that moment was that they should all be alright so she could live to tell her sister how much she loves her.

The car continued to spin, barely missing the oncoming cars, and slammed with a thud into the snow bank on the other side of the road. Their mother, who had been shaken up but unharmed, unstrapped herself and immediately climbed over to the back seat to find out if the kids were okay. The sight that met her eyes, brought her to tears - tears of joy.

The two girls were hugging each other tightly, laughing and crying at the same time.

"Oh, Judy, thank God you're okay! I'm so sorry for everything!" Laura cried.

"I feel the same exact way!" exclaimed Judy. "While the car was spinning around in circles, I came to see how important you really are to me, and from now on I'm going to act in a way that shows it too!"

Mr. and Mrs. Spencer joined in, giving them both a big hug. They all realized that although the car had gotten damaged in the accident, something far more precious had been repaired.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did the sisters feel about each other before their car got into a skid?
A. They would fight a lot, and felt angry toward one another.

Q. How did they feel after the accident?
A. They realized that they really loved and cared about each other, and that all their fighting was dumb.

Ages 6-9

Q. Why do you think the car accident made the girls change their feelings about one another?
A. When the car started spinning out of control, the girls were confronted with a life-and-death situation that forced them to dig down into themselves and realize their deeper priorities and values in life. At times like these, many of the more superficial feelings and attitudes that we have become stripped away and we realize what is really important to us, and what isn't.

Q. Do you think that the sisters are going to really live the rest of their lives with their new awareness, and not fight anymore?
A. It won't be so easy. Right now they are able to see so clearly how foolish it is to cover up their love for each other by arguing over petty things. But as time passes, and the memory of the life-shaking event fades, it will be easy to fall back into old, and less aware patterns of behavior. They can succeed, however if, from time to time, they try to remember the feelings they had at the time, and try to live for the true values that were so clear to them while it was happening.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. One of our sages said that a person should decide what it is that he would be willing to die for, and then live for these things. How do you understand this statement?
A. A surefire indicator as to whether something is essential to us or not is whether we would be willing to sacrifice our very life for it. When put to this ultimate test, many things that previously seemed so important quickly go down in value. The spiritual goal of a person is to come ever closer to devoting his time and his energy to the truly meaningful things and values that are essential to his being. Those things we would be willing to die for certainly fit into this category. Someone who is able to truly devote himself to that which is really most important to him is fulfilling the purpose of his life.

Q. What are some things that you would be willing to give your life for?

Q. Why do you think that God would place a person into a life-shaking situation?
A. Every one of us has come into the world to live a meaningful life based on genuine values. Yet the distractions of everyday life can often confuse our priorities, and draw us off course. God then does us the favor of confronting us with intense, life-shaking events that wake us up, and snap us out of some of the illusions that we had fallen into. This leads us to reconsider our priorities, and begin again living for what really matters.


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