How often does it happen that when I am not receiving what I want, I begin to believe that I will never have it?
The Israelites in the desert received an extra portion of maan (food) before Shabbos. They had what they needed before they even felt the need for it. As they followed the word of God, everything was there for them.
How true is that for us? Is everything really there for us? Is it there even if we don’t see it?
Have you ever been concerned about something, to find out later that the answer is already there for you?
Annie (not the real name) and I kept in touch during a time period when our kids were growing up. Hers were younger than mine. On a recent Shabbos, Annie walked into the women’s section with a toddler in her arms and stood right next to where I sit in the first seat of the first row. It was clear that this was her grandchild. I am at the time in my life when it would be wonderful to have grandchildren but have not been so blessed. I don’t know if I ever will have that joy with the way things seem at this time.
As the Torah was being marched around the men’s section, I saw Annie carry the child closer to it. She was saying to the child, “Torah, Torah.” I foresaw I would never experience holding my grandchildren in my arms and teaching them the delight and wisdom of Torah. I felt sadness.
That feeling immediately brought me back to more than twenty years ago when I sat in my seat in shul and felt a similar sadness of even greater intensity.
It was during the first decade in which I was passionately learning Torah. My youngest son, Brett, was very ill. Doctors did not expect him to be with us much longer, certainly not long enough to become a Bar Mitzvah, as so many of the children in our congregation were doing.
I brought Brett to New Milford Jewish Center each Shabbos. He loved being there and wanted to come with me. But he would invariably get head pain during the services and would put his head on my lap and go to sleep, or as I found out later, pass out. The whole congregation saw. This was week after week, year after year. For me to watch so many other children becoming Bar Mitzvah, knowing my child will never have that kind of celebration, caused me to shed endless tears. The way I saw it then, becoming a Bar Mitzvah, for Brett, was out of the question. Even if his health did allow him to make it to that age, there is no way in my mind that he would ever be able to learn all that was necessary to lead the service and sing his Haftorah. I so much envied those people who were fortunate enough to have their child do that.
When Brett was 11 years old, he began to recover and was doing much better. But I still questioned whether he could learn enough to do it like everyone else. I realize now that it was not important that he do it as others did. But in the beginning of my Torah learning, I believed it had to be that way.
I got a tape of his Haftorah from the rabbi and played it for him each night as he was falling asleep. He didn't learn much from that. So, we began to tell him that he would not be allowed to do what he wanted to until he learned up to a certain verse. To our amazement, he learned the assigned verses very quickly. I would test him each time and he always knew it perfectly. Within a few months, at age 11, Brett had memorized his entire Haftorah - two years ahead of time. Soon after that, he learned the rest of the service.
That same year, Brett went to a Jewish Boy Scout camp. He told me that when the boys talked about learning their Haftorahs. Brett told them that he already knew his. Knowing Brett as they did, no one believed him, until he just quickly rattled the whole thing off as they all stared at him with their mouths hanging open.
Brett had a very close relationship with the cantor of our shul. The week before the Bar Mitzvah, he worked with Brett on the importance of layning the words and speaking slowly and clearly.
The big day arrived. Brett walked to shul with his Dad and got there as they started services. Brett led much of it and did well. Then it was time for him to layne his Haftorah. While Brett’s actual birthday is in August, the only date the shul had that was not filled with other Bar Mitzvas, was on Parshat Vayera.
It turned out that the story read on that week was the only Haftorah that is very similar to Brett's own story. Brett said to the congregation: "My haftorah is the story of a boy who goes into the field and gets terrible head pain. His father sends him to his mother. He puts his head on her lap and dies. The mother travels to find Elijah, the prophet. Elijah prays to God, and goes to the woman's house where the boy was lying dead in bed. Elijah puts his lips on his lips, his hands on his hands and breathes life into the boy. The boy came back to life. I know my own story and the miracle of that and I dedicate this Haftorah to God with great gratitude for what God has done for me."
All of the congregants who had seen Brett ill and in pain, putting his head on my lap every Shabbos, and looking almost dead, were there to see the miracle, the miracle of Brett. Their tears flowed and the crying of the people in the congregation was so loud that through my own tears, I began to shush people fearing that their loud crying might prevent them from hearing him recite what he had learned. One congregant told me that he cried more at Brett's Bar Mitzvah than at his own child's. Brett was confident, clear and loud. He was excellent.
I think that was the best morning of my life. Brett became a Bar Mitzvah, a dream that at one time, I wouldn't even let myself dream. Thank You G-d!
The doctors did their best. Yet, they had no solutions for Brett’s health condition. But really, the answer was there all that time. I know now that we had what we needed before we even felt the need for it, just as the Israelites did in the desert. It just wasn’t from the doctors and we didn’t know what God could and would do.
My portion was already there. But I did not see it. I look at things today that I think will not happen for me. Then, I remember the Lechem Mishna and the miracle of Brett.