At the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, we praise Hashem as “gomel chasadim tovim – grants good kindness.”
It seems like a strange vernacular. Is there kindness that isn’t good?
Mr. Yossi Grunwald, a friend of my father, told me a powerful personal story.
In the summer of 1999, he was working in a bank, and felt like it was time to move on. He began looking into other options for employment. He heard about a job opening at Cantor Fitzgerald, an American financial services firm, and applied for the position.
On a Thursday afternoon in late August, after the markets closed, he had a meeting with the Senior Vice President (SVP) in charge of commercial bond training.
The meeting was held on the top floor of the building in a stunning office that had a breathtaking view of the entire Manhattan skyline.
The meeting lasted for three hours and went very well. When it was over, the SVP warmly shook Yossi’s hand and proclaimed that he was excited to have met the company’s new vice president of bond trading and stocks. He then told Yossi that he should call their office the following morning and they would set him up with Human Resources to begin the hiring process.
Yossi related that as he entered the elevator and began descending, he felt like he was riding on a cloud. He was about to join a world-famous company with an enviable position and an office with a spectacular view. It felt too good to be true.
The following morning at 9 a.m., Yossi called the office of the SVP who had interviewed him. The secretary informed him that the SVP was in a meeting but would be sure to call him back afterwards. Later that afternoon, when he didn’t hear back, Yossi called again. He was again reassured that his call would be returned. But it wasn’t. He called again the following day – morning and afternoon – and again the following day, and the day after. Each time, there were excuses and reassurances, but nothing came of them. It was incredibly frustrating, but his calls were never returned. After 30 days, he exasperatedly gave up and moved on.
It was a deeply upsetting experience for Yossi. The aggravation of that letdown gnawed at him for a long time afterwards.
That all changed on September 11, 2001.
Cantor Fitzgerald’s corporate headquarters were on the 101st to 105th floors of One World Trade Center. When the first plane crashed into the first of the Twin Towers at 8:46 a.m., the Cantor Fitzgerald employees in the building were trapped in the floors above where the impact of the plane occurred.
None of their employees survived.
The Gemara (Moed Katan 18b) states that there was a man who prayed that a certain woman would agree to marry him. Rava told the man that his prayer was not proper. If she was meant for him, she would remain available for him. But if she wasn’t meant for him, “You will renounce the power of G-d (to answer your prayer).”
By definition, as mortals, we have limited understanding and foresight. Therefore, we can never know what is truly good for us. We may think that the key to our happiness and fulfillment is bound up in marrying a certain person, purchasing a specific home in a certain neighborhood, or landing a job that we envision as being our dream job. But we have no way of knowing if the very thing we imagine will be our greatest blessing will end up being our greatest curse and liability.
It’s painful when our plans and dreams fall through. It’s even more aggravating when we are mistreated and there is a lack of common decency in how we are dealt with. But as people of faith, we remember that there is a bigger plan that supersedes our own plans.
The Chanukah story does not conclude with everyone living “happily ever after.” Within a few years of the Chanukah miracle, four of the five sons of Matisyahu, the original Maccabees, were killed in battle. The fifth, Shimon, was poisoned to death some time later.
More tragically, there are no surviving descendants of the Maccabees.
Even on the calendar, a week after Chanukah, we fast on the tenth of Teves, in commemoration of three tragedies.
The message of Chanukah is to see light even in the midst of darkness. Even when it seems like we are surrounded by gloom and doom, the light of faith can illuminate and give fortitude.
One of the poignant messages of Chanukah is the power of faith. Chanukah reminds us that Hashem controls our lives, and nothing is beyond Him. We have no way of knowing what is best for us. But He does.
We daven that the kindness we merit indeed be in our best interest, and not end up backfiring or causing us pain and aggravation. We hope that the kindness we merit will always be a “good kindness” from which we can prosper and grow on all levels.
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