Man tracht un Gott lacht.
We have all heard this Yiddish expression which means “We make plans and G-d laughs.” We human beings make our plans as if we are in control. But G-d is the ultimate Planner and His plans always supersede ours.
In this week’s Torah portion of VaYera, Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old. A similar event took place in this week’s Haftorah (2 Kings 4:1-37).
The prophet tells of an elderly childless woman who gave birth to a son miraculously.The prophet Elisha wanted to thank this elderly couple for providing him with hospitality. He blessed them so that they should have a son. One day, that son died unexpectedly.
The woman said: “Did I ask for a son from my master? Did I not tell you ‘Do not mislead me?’” According to Pirke de Rabbi Elazar, she was saying, “I would rather have an empty vessel than one that was filled and then spilled out.”
In other words, she expressed to Elisha: “Why did you do this to us? We never asked you for a child. All these years, we were content to live the rest of our life without children.
Why would you help us to have a son, only to break our hearts when he was taken away?”
I can imagine Elisha’s reply: “My dear friends, we make our plans for the future, but tomorrow is an unknown. Nevertheless, we have to try — within our limitations — to create the best future we possibly can. And the rest, we leave to Hashem”.
It is part of human nature to work as if everything depended on our efforts. At the same time, we have faith that things will turn out the way G-d wants them to be. We live with this dichotomy: that we work to make our world better, but we there are things only G-d can control.
I see this often in my work with elderly and frail people. How do they react to events over which they have little or no control? They build a life and a family with the understanding that, ultimately, Hashem controls the world. With strong emunah (faith), we know that Hashem decides what will happen, and that it is for the best.
On a larger level, we work to build a just and compassionate community. We want everyone to be supported and feel valued. We work hard and also ask Hashem to bless our efforts. May Hashem help us always to be successful in all of our endeavors.
Shabbat shalom. PJC
Rabbi Eli Seidman is the former director of pastoral care at the Jewish Association on Aging. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Clergy Association.