Help When We Need It Most by Sarah Lehrfield
After visiting my parents in Atlanta this summer, we were heading to the airport on our way back to Denver via Southwest. My nerves are always on edge as I gather my family together and stuff all of our belongings, children and memories of an incredible trip into my parents’ van and head to the airport. The traffic made me even more nervous and I was ready to be through security and on the plane.
As traffic let up and we began cruising along the highway, the music in the car suddenly stopped playing. As my Dad fiddled with the stations, we quickly realized that the entire car radio/CD player was broken. OK, no big deal. Entertaining our children would have to begin now, not in the airport. But then strange things began happening. Lights on the dashboard began blinking and the temperature gauge went up and down. My dad was driving 65 mph but the speedometer was at 0. The car was freaking out and so was I.
I kept looking at my father, whose forever calm demeanor displayed no fear or concern, and waited for him to pull over. When I could stand it no longer, I mentioned that we should maybe pull over and shut the car off. He was adamant that we should not, and he continued to drive to the airport with a car that seemed to be slowly shutting down entirely. I prayed that we should get there safely, or even get there at all. As we neared the airport, the car continued acting strangely, and I could see the muscle in my dad’s jaw jumping. I mentally prepared to miss my flight and have to deal with cranky children, missing work, new flights – basically, plan B. Still my dad kept driving.
We pulled up to the airport and haltingly made our way to one of the last outdoor check-in counters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport – Southwest Airlines. Just as we approached the Southwest doors, the car sputtered, shut down and died. Right in front of the Southwest counters. Right where we needed to go.
To say I was in shock is an understatement. I was inspired. I was in awe. I had happened upon
G-d, and my lips burst forth in a song of gratitude and acknowledgement. Not only was G-d’s existence reaffirmed to me that day, but He was telling me that He loved me.
Hashgacha Pratit (or HP, which we all talk about on our JWRP trips) is personal Divine Providence. It is the understanding that G-d is running the world and involved in our everyday lives. The more we look for it and the more we grow our G-d-conscious relationship, the more we are able to open our eyes to see these surprise encounters with the Almighty.
In this week's Torah portion, Parshat Vayeitzei, Jacob is alone at night, fleeing from the temper of his brother Esau. The Torah says, “He encountered the place and spent the night there because the sun had set…” Jacob happens upon a place to lie down as darkness falls, and as he sleeps, he has a vision. In this epiphany, the angels of G-d are ascending and descending a ladder to the heavens. G-d, standing above the ladder, assures Jacob, “Behold I am with you; and I will guard you wherever you go.”
On the basis of this passage, the sages conclude that Jacob instituted the evening prayer. The word vayifga (he encountered or happened upon) can also be understood as “he prayed or entreated.” Abraham instituted Shacharit, the morning prayer; Isaac, Mincha, the afternoon prayer; and Jacob, Maariv, the prayer at night.
There is a discussion in the Talmud about the evening prayer. Rabbi Yehoshua takes the view that unlike Shacharit and Mincha, the evening prayer is not obligatory (though it has become so through the acceptance of many generations of Jews). It was intended to be voluntary. Why? What was different about Jacob’s connection with G-d than Abraham's and Isaac's before him?
Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kinkgdom, shares a life-altering explanation. Jacob is fleeing from his brother who wants to kill him. He is distracted. His thoughts are focused on survival. It is dark and he is afraid. He does not know his future. He is trying to make his way to a place he has not yet been. He is in unchartered territory. His troubled mind and thoughts are interrupted by this vision of G-d, a revelation that promises safety and security. Jacob literally happens upon G-d. He is not prepared for it; it is completely unexpected. A meeting initiated by G-d Himself.
In the darkest of times, at our lowest points, or at times when we are so distracted trying to just survive life, the presence of G-d can show up in our lives. G-d may reveal Himself to us when we are least expecting it but when we need Him most. Just to show us He is there and looking out for each of us. Just as none of us knows when G-d will appear to us in our lives, Jacob’s prayer could not be made on the basis of consistency and regularity.
Oftentimes, experiences like these change us. They move us. When we are in the darkest of nights. When we are alone and afraid and feeling particularly vulnerable. And then it happens: we literally walk into the presence of G-d. We encounter G-d. And when we do, we suddenly don’t feel so alone anymore. The experience of relief, clarity and security brings us to an acknowledgment of G-d that comes from the heart and erupts from our lips.
I just returned from an amazing JWRP trip with 23 other women from Denver. There is one clear message we are all holding onto that is sustaining our feelings of inspiration from those impactful days together. It is the awareness that G-d is there to catch us when we fall, to strengthen us when we have lost hope, and to show Himself in unexpected little ways to let us know He loves us.
Sarah Lehrfield is a JWRP City Leader and the daughter of a City Leader. She is passionate about running, reading classics, being a listening ear for others and bringing the wisdom and relevancy of Judaism to all Jews. She teaches classes and runs women's programming for the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI). She lives in the 'burbs of Denver, Colorado with her husband, 3 kids and plenty of snow gear.