Every once in a while, a person wanders into your life that has the ability to make you completely reevaluate your priorities. Sometimes it’s a person that you end up being life-long friends with, but often times it’s a complete stranger. No matter who it is, it will always catch you by surprise.
During class a few days ago, a man literally stumbled into my life. He walked through the door of the Beis Medrash at Mayanot with a very specific job to do… we have quite a few musicians among us and our piano was incredibly out of tune. And this man was here to fix it. But there was something incredibly odd about this man and his circumstantial timing…
Before I explain, it’s important to know that at the time of this story, a class was in process that was discussing a concept called “Nissayon.” While there is no direct translation from Hebrew, the closest we can get to an English equivalent is a challenge or a test from Hashem. The shoresh, or grammatical root, of the word is “Nes”, which means a flag-post or sign. What purposes does a nes serve? There are two main functions: 1) something that can be raised up high and 2) something for other people to see. The sages teach us that a nissayon serves the same two purposes.
Every time we are challenged by G-d, no matter how difficult or overwhelming it might be, it is actually considered a chessed, or kindness, from Him. This doesn’t really make sense at first look. How could us getting very sick (G-d forbid) qualify as a kindness? We’re taught that these tests are placed in front of us so that we pray to Hashem, an act that actually raises our souls to higher levels of G-dliness. When we recover or overcome these challenges, we are spiritually stronger than we were before, a gift from G-d.
Additionally, a nisssayon serves as something for other people to see. It’s unfortunate, but many times it takes something awful happening to the people around us for us to realize how precious life is… Your best friend’s father passes away at an early age (G-d forbid) and you treasure your parents so much more. Your coworker gets divorced and you treasure your spouse so much more. A family member spends a significant amount of time sick (G-d forbid) and we finally start getting check-ups at the doctor regularly. These are horribly trying challenges for those suffering through the pain, but for everyone else the nissayon serves as a sign from Hashem, a nudge in the right direction.
It was during this conversation that the piano tuner opened the door and walked into the room… and he proceeded to walk straight into the air-conditioning unit sticking out of the wall at shin-level. He continued to stumble into the room before Chaim, our grounds-keeper, walked into the room to guide him. After a few seconds of being dumbfounded, we all realized at the exact same moment that this man was completely blind. We watched in complete awe as this walking “nes” entered our lives at the exact moment that we were learning the meanings, reasons, and results of a nissayon.
As he slowly moved his hands along the side of the piano, feeling for the bolt that would unlock the lid and let him access the strings of our piano, a feeling of complete awe entered the room. Sight is a function that we consider so autonomous that we completely take it for granted, but this living sign from G-d made us all rethink the wonders of our daily lives. But this wonder at our own lives only lasted a few minutes, because before long the piano tuner was plucking at the strings and making minute adjustments, feeling his way between the different notes and remembering what tools were placed where in his bag. And then our view of this nissayon as a sign to ourselves transformed right before our ears into a display of an aliyah, a rising up of the soul. This man had not only overcome the pain of this immense challenge, but he had used it as a springboard to succeeding in life. He had used his sense of hearing, his compensation for his loss of sight, as a means of making a living. Not only was he living and surviving, but he was thriving, evidently as one of the best instrumental technicians in central Israel.
The lesson we learned from this ordinary man facing this immense nissayon is one that will stay with me forever. It made this foreign concept that we were learning into a relevant concept; it brought the words of the Torah and our sages to life literally before our eyes. If that isn’t a sign from Hashem, I don’t know what is…