You don’t have to be the parent of a special needs child to read this one. You don’t have to have had a parent who didn’t parent properly to connect to this one. You don’t have to have experienced illness or a major trauma to absorb this one. But read on anyhow to eavesdrop on my conversation with Rivky a few years ago.
I don’t recall the conversation. My active mental files are currently full of things to order for the shul, shiva calls to make, emails to send, and things to tell my husband when I have a chance. But I found a record of it recently, stashed inside the flap of an old address book.
It’s dated ereve Tisha b’av and begins like this: Rivky Friedman presented me with a problem. Our mutual friend Aviva K. called her. Aviva had attended a shiur in her bungalow colony where she was told it’s a chiyuv to want the Bais Hamikdosh to be rebuilt and that Moshiach should come as an emotion. “You’re the spiritual one,” she told Rivky. “Tell me how to do this.”
“She’s struggling with Tzipisa leyeshua on a real level and wants help. Please help me help her” asked Rivky.
I told her the story of Rav Elchonon Wasserman ztl in the Kovno ghetto. Refusing to remain in the United States after a fundraising trip, despite the impending Nazi danger, he had returned to his talmidim in Baranovitch, Poland. When World War II broke out, Rabbi Wasserman fled to Vilna and in 1941, while on a visit to Kovno, he was arrested with 14 other rabbonim.
A survivor of the massacre of the Kovno ghetto related what he had heard from Rav Elchonon when he was asked to explain why such horrors were befalling him as he faced imminent death at the hands of the Germans and their collaborators.
Once a man who knew nothing about agriculture came to a farmer and asked to be taught about farming. The farmer agreed as long as the man agreed to be patient. He took him to his field and asked him what he saw. “I see a beautiful piece of land, lush with grass and pleasing to the eye.” Then the visitor stood aghast while the farmer plowed under the grass and turned the beautiful green field in to a mass of shallow brown ditches. “Why did you ruin the field?!” he demanded. “Be patient, you shall see,” answered the farmer.
The farmer then showed the visitor a sack of fat wheat kernels t and said, “Tell me what you see.” The visitor described the nutritious, appetizing grain and then, once more, watched in shock as the farmer ruined something beautiful. This time, he walked up and down the furrows and dropped kernels into the open ground, where he went and covered them with clods of soil. Outraged by the farmer’s behavior the man remonstrated. “First you destroyed the field and then you ruined the grain!”
“Be patient, you will see!” was the answer.
Time passed and again the farmer took his guest out to the field where they saw endless rows of green stalks sprouting up from all the furrows, causing the visitor to smile broadly. “I apologize, now I understand what you were doing; you made the field more beautiful than ever. This is truly marvelous.”
“No,” said the farmer, “we are not done yet; you must still be patient.”
More time went by and the stalks were fully grown and the farmer came with a sickle and chopped the rows down and the visitor stood open-mouthed, seeing how the orderly field became an ugly scene of destruction. He then took the bundles of wheat to an area where he beat and crushed them until they became a mass of straw and loose kernels, then separated them from the chaff and created a mountain of grain. Always, he told the protesting visitor, “We are not done, you must be more patient.”
The farmer brought his wagon and piled it high with the beautiful, fresh grain, and transported it to a mill where it was transformed into formless, choking dust. Again the visitor complained that he had transformed all his work into dirt, and was again told to be patient.
The farmer put the dust into sacks and brought it home, mixing some of it with water while the visitor marveled at the foolishness of making “white mud.” The farmer fashioned the “mud” into the shape of a loaf, causing the visitor to smile at the well-formed creation. His smile did not last long, when he watched the farmer fire up his oven and put the loaf inside. “Now I know you are truly insane. After all that work, now you burn what you have created?!”
The farmer chuckled and said, “Have I not told you to be patient?”
Finally the farmer opened the oven and removed a freshly baked bread, crisp and brown, with an aroma that made the visitor’s mouth water. “Come,” said that farmer, and led his guest to the table where he cut the bread and offered his now pleased visitor a liberally buttered slice. “Now,” said the farmer, “now you finally understand!”
Rav Elchonon explained the mashal. Hashem is the farmer and we are the visitors who do not begin to understand His ways or the outcome of His plans. Only when the process is complete will the Jewish people understand why this whole process took place. When Moshiach has finally arrived, we will know why all this had to be. Until then we must be patient and have faith that everything — even when it seems destructive and is painful — is part of the process that will produce goodness and beauty.”
The words were uttered with great emotion before the rosh yeshiva’s own life and the life of his entire family cut short by the Lithuanian Nazi collaborators. In this world we won’t necessarily, or usually cannot, hope to understand why such things befall our nation. But we can be comforted in the fact that there is a bigger picture, one that we shall one day understand.
Tell our friend Aviva who has a daughter with several disabilities to ask Hashem to bring the geulah and to answer all the questions she’s been swallowing since her daughter’s birth fifteen years ago, said I. Remind her that she has a list of personal whys-why did she give birth to a child who couldn’t talk or walk? Why did this happen to her when she was over forty? Why are the various physical therapies not working? Tell her that Hashem will answer them when liberates us from galus.
I reminded Rivky too that she had her own list of whys. She was widowed after a brief marriage. Her only child was divorced, childless, and living far from family.
I reminded Rivky that I had my own pekl and that Hashem would explain every detail, every aspect of our pain, and every nuance of our personal challenges. And opening those folded lists of whys would open our hearts and tear ducts to the desire for geulah.