Nothing by Chance
Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )
In life, sometimes things happen that we like and sometimes things happen that we don't like. Is it all just up to chance? In this week's Torah portion, Joseph's brothers, who had sold him into slavery many years before, are shocked to find him as viceroy (a position like vice-president) in Egypt. They are afraid that he will now get even with them. But instead of being angry, Joseph reassures them: "It wasn't you who sent me here, but God," he explains. Joseph goes on to say that God caused a chain of events so that he (Joseph) would become a ruler in Egypt to save his family from the great famine that had come into the world. The Torah wants us to learn the lesson that was so clear to Joseph -- that everything happens according to God's plans and nothing is merely left to chance.
In our story two sisters learn that everything in life happens for a reason.
Charming rural towns and patches of green forest whizzed by as Becky and her sister Sue gazed out the window chatting excitedly.
They had been looking forward to their yearly bus trip to spend a long weekend with their grandparents in the country.
"Hey I don't remember this hotel from last year," remarked Becky.
"No, neither do I," answered her sister with a trace of panic in her voice. "As a matter of fact a lot of things on this trip look different. I hope we're on the right bus."
Sue marched up to the front of the bus to speak with the driver. A moment later she rushed back with a look of panic in her eyes. "Becky, bad news! They changed the bus route six months ago. The '342' doesn't go to Pikesville anymore. It goes straight to White Hill! This is terrible!"
But to her surprise, her sister only giggled. "Well, they say White Hill is very pretty this time of year," she cheerfully replied.
Sue plopped down onto the seat next to her sister. "I don't get it. Why aren't you freaking out? We're on the wrong bus. Don't you understand?"
"What's not to understand?" answered Becky, still calm. "If we're on this bus, it's for a good reason. Nothing happens for nothing, you know."
Sue eyed Becky with a confused look. "Huh?" was all she could manage to get out.
Becky pried open the bus window for a bit of air and went on, "When these kind of things happen, instead of panicking, I try to look at them as a sort of 'message from heaven.' There is a reason that this is the bus we were meant to take. So why get upset?"
Sue wasn't satisfied. "Do you mean to tell me you know why we took the wrong bus?" she asked.
"No," admitted Becky. "But God knows why and a lot of times when I keep my eyes open He shows me too."
Just then the bus driver announced through the loudspeaker: "Last stop -- White Hill Station. Thank you for 'leaving the driving to us.'"
The girls unloaded their heavy travel bags. They walked over to the departure board. "Well," said Sue. "More bad news. According to this schedule there isn't a bus to Pikesville for another 2 hours. We might as well go call Grampa and Grandma and tell them we'll be really late."
But when they got to the pay phone, it was covered by a sign that read "Out of order."
Sue moaned. Looking over to her sister, she said with a sarcastic tone. "Another 'message from heaven,' I suppose?"
Becky nodded. "Nothing happens for nothing," she said.
Stepping out of the bus terminal in the hopes of finding another pay phone, the girls noticed a plant nursery across the road. "Tropical Gardens," read the sign hung crookedly across the front. "Maybe they'll let us make a collect call," suggested Becky.
They walked into the plant store. Making their way though rows of rubber-tree plants and purple ivy, they reached the cashier. There he was just finishing up with an older gentleman buying an exotic-looking plant. "Can I help you girls?" asked the cashier.
They were about to speak up when the customer turned around to leave. As their eyes met, Sue gasped. "Grampa Sam?!"
Three voices chorused out at once: "What are you doing here?!"
The girls explained what had happened. Their grandfather laughed and said, "Well, as you know your grandma loves tropical plants. I wanted to surprise her for our anniversary next week, 38th I think, with a special African violet plant. This is the only place within 20 miles that sell such things, you know. So I drove out to pick one up. But I guess I'm going to come back with two even bigger surprises," he winked.
The three of them walked out of the nursery past the open-mouthed cashier.
As the girls were loading their bags into their grandfather's trunk, Sue turned to her sister and said, with shock still in her voice. "I don't believe it! If we hadn't taken the wrong bus ... If they pay phone hadn't been broken ... If Grandma didn't like African violets ... If ..."
But Becky interrupted her with a big smile. "If," she said, "we just keep our eyes open to heaven's messages, we'll be amazed what we see."
Q. How did Becky feel when she found out that she and her sister were on the wrong bus?
A. She felt secure that everything would be okay, and that it was really the bus that God wanted them to be on.
Q. How should we feel when we don't get what we want? Should we feel mad or sad?
A. Neither. It's better to try to remember that it really was for the best, even if we don't know why.
Q. What do we stand to gain by living with the idea that "nothing happens for nothing" and that everything that happens is for the best?
A. Like Becky in the story, we will be able to maintain a bright and relaxed outlook on life. We will face life with a smile even if things don't turn out as we wished. Living with the knowledge that all is for the best is one of the biggest keys to happiness that a person can acquire.
Q. Let's say that the sisters in the story didn't meet up with their grandfather in the store, and they had to make a long and difficult extra bus trip to get to their grandparent's house. Could we then still say that it turned out for the best that they took the wrong bus? Why or why not?
A. While it certainly is nice when we get to see how things turn out for the best, it doesn't' always happen. Yet we can still be confident knowing that it is so. God watches over each of us all of the time. Many times He helps us in ways we never find out about. For example, in the story, it could be that the bus that the girls wanted to take would have broken down or gotten into an accident. Or perhaps getting to their grandparents' home later than planned was really better for them, even if they never discovered why.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach us that, "Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the recognition of heaven." How do you understand the meaning of this statement?
A. Many things happen to us in our lives. Some we perceive as fortunate and some as unfortunate. But in a deeper sense everything that happens is for only one purpose -- to help us develop a more spiritual outlook and to realize that God is directly and lovingly involved in every aspect of our lives. The many things that we experience are given to us as tests and opportunities to apply this perspective.
Q. Does the knowledge that everything is in God's hands give us permission to be insensitive and unresponsive to others in need? May we justify ourselves by assuming that the difficulties they are experiencing must be for "the best"?
A. Although it may be true that the difficulties others experience are for their best, it is not for us to judge how and why. Instead, the Torah directs us to help others and try to make their lives as pleasant as possible. By doing so we actually "volunteer" ourselves to become one of God's instruments to bring more of the good into people's lives which they have coming to them. For example, just as it may be God's will that somebody loses his wallet, it is also His will that somebody else finds it and returns it to him. We should feel grateful if we have been given the privilege to be that "somebody else."