Journey to serenity starts with accepting what we cannot change

  • Parshas Ki Tetze - Rabbi Yossi Goldman
Every rabbi has an airport story. In fact, some rabbis tell so many incredible stories of providential encounters on airplanes, that I wonder if it is physically possible for them to have travelled on as many airplanes as they have stories!
by RABBI YOSSY GOLDMAN | Oct 18, 2018

Why airplanes? Because this week we read Lech Lecha, when our father Abraham was instructed by G-d to leave his birthplace and journey to a foreign land that would, one day, be promised to his children.

Anyway, here is an airplane story of my own.

I was travelling from Johannesburg to Cape Town to join then President Nelson Mandela at a banquet honouring the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and to deliver a few lectures at various shuls. They say “getting there is half the fun”, but on this occasion, nothing could have been further from the truth.

First, there was a system malfunction on the aircraft, and with it a 30-minute delay. Then, there was a missing passenger who delayed take off for a further three hours until he was discovered in the airport pub somewhat uncertain about where exactly he was going. Eventually, we landed after 10pm, and I missed my lecture.

Why might you be interested in my story? Because it was fascinating to watch the reactions of passengers during the delay. Some people got very angry, screaming and shouting and giving the poor flight attendants a very hard time. Others simply sulked in silence.

I couldn’t help thinking what a lesson this was about divine providence, and who really runs the world. I had given myself ample time to get to my lecture. But clearly, G-d had other plans. The best laid plans of mice and men don’t necessarily get us to our destinations on time - even if we get to the airport early.

I was very upset. It was quite a disappointment to have missed my lecture. But my conscience was clear. It was simply not in my hands. If, for some mysterious reason G-d didn’t want me to give my lecture, then no amount of huffing and puffing on my part would make one bit of difference.

While pondering this philosophical perspective, I actually found myself becoming quite serene about the whole frustrating experience. Yes, we must do our share; we must give it our best shot. But beyond that, it’s G-d’s department.

If we can develop this attitude, we will all be better able to cope with life’s disappointments, even with any real tzorres we may sadly encounter. It’s all in His hands.

So even if nothing amazing occurred in my airplane story, I became far more aware that the universe is controlled by G-d, not myself.

When we understand this, we will have learned the art of acceptance. We can then lead calmer, more tranquil lives, without all the unnecessary anxiety we create in our own minds. It is a conviction which has helped me through many disappointments in my own life, from the small stuff to the more serious.

I think the famous Serenity Prayer is quite in keeping with Jewish tradition. “G-d, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”    


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