The track wound through a field of tall weeds until it reached a wire fence with a chain and padlock. Beyond the fence, on the other side of the street, I saw a row of houses and cars whizzing past in front of them. On my side, only that big padlock and more weeds. Cheerily, my Australian friend announced, “You have reached your destination.”
No amount of pleading induced him to change his mind. I was forced to call my sister, who lives in Lakewood, and then, when she couldn’t help me, to turn at last to the school itself and admit that I was lost. A very nice woman told me over the phone that my GPS, not up on the latest developmental activity in the area, had apparently led me into a future construction site. Luckily, I was not far from the school. I followed her directions out of the field, said good-bye to the weeds and thankfully rejoined civilization. A few minutes later I was pulling into the school’s parking lot, ready to address the patiently-waiting student body.
Actually, this was not the first time my GPS had led me astray. More than once, it would take me almost to my destination – only to fall short at the last minute. I’d find myself on some anonymous block, with no sign of the place I’d been aiming for, and listening to my mischievous electronic guide tell me that I’d reached my destination when it was obvious that I’d done no such thing.
Sometimes, in life, our longed-for destination seems to be perpetually out of reach. It could be something huge that we need to fill a hole in our lives, such as a shidduch or a child; it could be something medium-sized but also sorely lacking, like a job or a friend. It could even be one of the small but important things that would make our life easier and ease the burden a bit, like appliances that work and a car that doesn’t break down just when you need it most.
It could be a middah that we’re trying to perfect but which seems, despite our best intentions, to hover just out of our grasp. It could be the perfect idea for a Purim theme or a sheva brachos table. It could be the ideal plot for a Yated story… The point is, we all know what it’s like to want to get somewhere, but to feel that our goal is just beyond the reach of our yearning minds and arms.
We know how it feels to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no idea how to get to where we want to go. It’s like driving through a very dark tunnel which, however much we may strain our eyes, offers no comforting pinpoint of light shining at its end.
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Another Lakewood story: I spent a Shabbos there recently to celebrate sheva brachos for my niece and her husband. I was put up at the nearby home of gracious hosts, whom I’d met for the first time. As is my habit, I enjoyed looking at the family pictures and other artwork that graced their home. It’s fun to try to catch a glimpse of a family’s character through their photographs and pictures. Often, though, I’ve found refrigerator surfaces to be even more revealing.
The refrigerator in this case was covered with the usual magnets and memorabilia of devoted parents and grandparents. But there was one item that caught my eye – and held it.
It was a small piece of unlined paper with two simple sentences typed on it. To the best of my memory, the lines read as follows:
It will all be okay in the end.
If it’s not okay,
It’s not the end.
I stood in front of that fridge, digesting that message in silence. For some reason, it hit me with an unexpected force. Later, when I shared the words with my husband, he had a similar reaction. The words may sound simple, but they seemed to me to open a gateway straight into the highest levels of bitachon.
We’re more familiar with the first line: It will be okay in the end. This is something that mothers have said to soothe their distraught children since the beginning of time. It propounds a long-term perspective: belief in the existence of Hashem’s Master Plan. It assures us that, in the end, everything will be seen to have served its rightful purpose. At the end of the story, when the dust finally clears, all will be well.
It was the second part of the message that made me catch my breath.
If it’s not okay,
It’s not the end.
In one fell swoop, these words erase the despair that can so easily overtake us in the midst of our suffering. They sweep away our sense that the tunnel will wind on forever. They remind us that the very fact that we’re still in darkness means that the game’s not over yet.
It’s easy to make a mistake and think that this is all there is. That our troubles are here to stay; both on the individual level and for all of us together, as a klal. Darkness can be very convincing. To counter this natural reaction, Hashem, in His kindness, has given us prophecies to remind us of the light that awaits at the end of the long tunnel of our painful history.
Individually, however, we are not blessed with such foresight. All we have is the knowledge that there is a Master Plan, and that Hashem loves us enough to ultimately make our suffering work for and not against us.
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How often have I heard an older single say wistfully, “If only I knew I’d get married by a certain date, I’d be able to relax right now?” It’s certainty that we crave, to ameliorate our present pain with the promise that it will definitely depart in time.
Some people, upon starting a new book, immediately turn to the back to see how it turns out. We mortals can’t turn the Book of Life to the last page to read the end. All we have is Hashem’s promise that the end will come–and that it will be a sublime one. As we struggle through the big and little things that stand in the way of our happiness and fulfillment, it’s up to us to remember the simple words of the message on that refrigerator: If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
This message is not about hope, but certainty. In our personal lives, each of us will be redeemed, though not always in the ways that we’d envisioned.
In our national life, too, we will certainly find Redemption, on that glorious and long-awaited day when the mighty shofar blast will ring out to announce: “You have reached your destination.”