On one occasion, after my wife and I had gone out for breakfast together (an occasion that doesn’t happen enough), we went to one of the local Jewish groceries. As we were entering, we saw the rebbe of one of our sons holding a few bags, about to exit. We began schmoozing (not about our son – no teacher appreciates improv parent-teacher conferences) and the rebbe shared with us the following personal story.
Some time ago, he was driving on the FDR Drive in Manhattan and was pulled over for speeding. After scanning his license, the cop came back to the car and told the rebbe that he was being arrested for driving with a suspended license because of an unpaid ticket. Without giving him a chance to defend himself, the cop handcuffed the rebbe and put him in the back of his cruiser. Thankfully, the rebbe’s wife was with him and, although quite concerned, she was able to follow the cruiser in their car to the police station.
When they arrived at the station, the rebbe took a receipt out of his wallet that proved that he had paid the ticket two years earlier. I asked the rebbe if he always keeps receipts, and he replied that he never does. For some inexplicable reason, the day he paid the ticket, he placed the receipt in his wallet and it stayed there.
The officer took the receipt and told him they would investigate. They took a mug shot of the rebbe and placed him in a jail cell.
The common refrain among those in jail is, “So, what are you in for?” His driving without a license seemed rather petty compared to what some of his fellow jail-mates were in for.
After two hours, the police told him that the receipt proved that he had indeed paid the ticket. However, there was a $30 surcharge that hadn’t been paid and that was why his license had been revoked. He was released and told that he should go to the DMV the following day and pay $260, and the matter would be dropped.
This particular rebbe is an excellent storyteller and speaker. But he admitted that this is one story he doesn’t share publicly.
I was amazed by the story. He himself couldn’t explain why he put that receipt in his wallet and why he never threw it out. But that little piece of paper saved him from far greater aggravation.
As I was marveling over the story, I realized that something similar occurred to me. Though thankfully, I’ve never been in jail, I did have an experience where something that seemed so insignificant ended up being crucial.
When I graduated from Fordham University with a master’s degree in social work, I began seeking employment. At that point, we had two children, and I would soon have to start paying back student loans. I was considering rabbanus but didn’t know how to go about it. As far as counseling was concerned, I wanted to work in the Orthodox Jewish community, but it’s not easy to break in and start building a reputation. I had no idea where to turn.
My wife and I met with Rabbi Moshe Possick, director of personnel resources for Torah Umesorah, who lived in my in-laws’ neighborhood. He was gracious with his time, and we discussed different options for rabbanus and the possibility of visiting out-of-town communities for Shabbos.
I was too nervous to start looking into such ideas without any support system and I began to feel more despondent. I left the meeting feeling very dejected. I quipped to my wife that I had no idea why we wasted his time and our time.
That summer, I worked in Camp Elyon, a local day camp. To date, that was the only summer since I was ten years old that I didn’t attend overnight camp. It was hard for me to adjust to day camp after so many years in sleepaway camp.
One summer night, I received a phone call from Rabbi Naftali Eisgrau asking me if I would be interested in becoming the social worker in Yeshiva Bais HaChinuch, a warm and vibrant yeshivah for students who struggle academically. Rabbi Eisgrau had recently become the menahel of the yeshivah. He heard that I was working in Camp Elyon, where he had worked a few summers prior, and had spoken to the camp director about me.
Bais HaChinuch seemed like a great fit for me, and after one meeting in Rabbi Eisgrau’s home, I accepted the position. I was the social worker in Bais HaChinuch for nine wonderful years.
It was only several years into my employment in Bais HaChinuch, when I was schmoozing with Rabbi Eisgrau, that I found out the rest of the story about how I was hired.
The summer after I graduated Fordham, Rabbi Eisgrau attended a Torah Umesorah employment event. While there, he was speaking with Rabbi Possick, and Rabbi Possick asked him what positions he needed to fill at Bais HaChinuch. Rabbi Eisgrau replied that what he needed was not in Rabbi Possick’s line of expertise. When Rabbi Possick retorted, “Why don’t you try me?” Rabbi Eisgrau replied, “I’m looking for a social worker for my yeshivah.” It was very shortly after I had met with him, and Rabbi Possick immediately replied, “I have someone for you.”
At first, Rabbi Eisgrau brushed him off because he thought Rabbi Possick was referring to a particular individual that Rabbi Eisgrau didn’t think would be a good fit for the yeshivah. But when Rabbi Possick said Rabbi Eisgrau should meet this person who is “young and excited,” Rabbi Eisgrau realized it wasn’t who he thought. That was when Rabbi Eisgrau called me, and I was hired.
My years at Bais HaChinuch served as my foundation and introduction into the world of chinuch. During those years, I gained a great deal of experience and forged many important connections. More significantly, I developed a wonderful friendship with Rabbi Eisgrau. Not everyone is privileged to call his (former) employer a dear friend and mentor.
It was amazing to me that a meeting I thought was pointless ended up being vital for my future.
We have no way of knowing why and how a quick decision we make will have significant implications later on. I’m sure my son’s rebbe would rather not have gotten handcuffed and jailed. But that was no less divinely ordained than the receipt he had in his wallet that served as his way out of jail.
The third chapter of Megillas Esther relates about Haman being elevated to a position of authority and orchestrating the heinous decree of genocide of the Jewish people. The chapter begins: “After these matters…” The Gemara asks what matters the Megillah is referring to, and explains that it was after the future salvation was set in place with Esther becoming queen. Regarding the Jewish people, Hashem ensures that the healing is present before the affliction takes effect.
What is the difference whether the remedy/salvation is arranged before the tragedy arises or afterwards, if in the end the salvation occurs?
Loving parents would never put their child through an ordeal without planning it thoroughly first. Parents ensure that they will have the best care possible for their child and will make sure everything is in place beforehand.
Hashem is our loving parent. Although things often don’t turn out how we would like or expect, we know there is a reason for all that occurs. We also are strengthened by the knowledge that the salvation we need has already been arranged before the difficult situation arose.
Our relationship with Hashem is always one of preconceived love.