Dancing In The Dark
How many times have you heard the Yiddish expression, Mentch tracht un Gut lacht, “Man plans and Gd laughs?”We plan and plan and plan to make things go smoothly in our lives and so often life just gets in the way of our plans. But the Jewish approach to life when it doesn’t go according to plan is to say, Gam zu l’tova, “This is also for the best!”
A perfect example of this was the amazing wedding last Sunday night of my stepson Darren Tobin and his bride Lana. Darren and Lana got engaged in March 2010. For 14 long months they and their families planed and planed for the perfect day. As it turned out, the day was perfect, but not in the way that everyone had planned.
It started out all right. Although there were storms in Toledo, Ohio, all week, they were not as violent as in most of the Midwest. Sunday morning was bright and shiny and all the day’s preparations went flawlessly. As the time for the ceremony approached the Ketubah was signed and the wedding party lined up to march into the sanctuary.
Rabbi Sam Weinstein—Lana’s rabbi of the reform Temple Shomer Emunah where the wedding took place—and I began to take our 1st steps into the sanctuary to begin the ceremony and all of a sudden we heard a very loud bang and all the lights went out. The good news was that it was only 5:30pm and we had a few hours left of daylight from the few windows in the sanctuary. The bad news was that the skies were so dark it didn’t much matter. We would have to perform the ceremony just with the moving light from the videographer and the few candles placed for decorations.
What I didn’t know till later was that a policeman had just then come and asked that everyone evacuate to the basement bunker till the threat of Tornado activity passes. After pleas from the wedding planner not to interrupt the ceremony, he checked with headquarters and they told him that the current threat was still 30 miles away and might miss the area, so he waited and by the time the ceremony was over the threat had subsided. I don’t know how Rabbi Weinstein and I were able to read our Rabbi’s manuals, but somehow we got through the ceremony.
We were all elated and excited as we exited the sanctuary, but then the impact of no electricity really hit us. The whole building was so dark and getting darker as the sun was setting. What would be with the food? A major problem was that the amazing rock band hired for the evening could not play their instruments without power and there would be no music.
Let me ask you, what would you say if this happened to you, or to your child? Could you respond with the Jewish approach to misfortune and say, Gam zu l’tova, “This is also for the best?”
Let me interrupt this story with the famous story of Rabbi Akiva who for everything that happened would say Gam zu l’tova, “This is also for the best.” The Talmud tells us that once he went to a city and needed a place to sleep. He rode on his donkey and had with him a rooster to wake him in the morning and a lamp for study. He went from place to place and he asked for lodging but he was refused. They kicked him out of town and he ended up sleeping in the woods. Nevertheless he said, Gam zu l’tova, “This is also for the best.” He lit his lamp to study, and a big wind came and blew it out. Undaunted, he said, “This is also for the best.” He went to sleep and when he awoke he found that his rooster and his donkey had run off. Gone were all his possessions in the saddle of the donkey, but he said, Gam zu l’tova, “This is also for the best.”
At this point we want to say to him, “Idiot! You can complain a little. After all you’ve lost everything.” So he went back into town and lo and behold he found that everyone in the town had been killed by a bunch of marauders. He then said, “Now I understand. Had I been given lodging I would have been there and would have been killed. Had my lamp been on, they would have seen the light nearby and would have found me and killed me. Had my rooster and donkey not run off, they would have made noise and I would have been found. Gam zu l’tova, ‘This is also for the best!’”
So I ask you again, what would you say if what happened at this wedding happened to you, or to your child? Could you respond with the Jewish approach to misfortune and say, Gam zu l’tova, “This is also for the best,” especially after all the planning and effort and expense that went into making the evening perfect?
Well let me tell you some more about what could have been a night of horrors but somehow turned into a very magical evening. Let me begin by taking you back to the very early planning stage. Understand that the groom—Darren—had grown up in a very traditional kosher family that always belonged to Orthodox synagogues. In fact, Darren’s great-grandfather was a rabbi and famous Cantor of an Orthodox congregation in South Africa. In contrast, the bride—Lana—had grown up in a very Reform family. Lana’s family understandably wanted their daughter to be married in their Reform Temple.
Problem: Darren couldn’t conceive of having non-kosher food at his wedding and Temple Shomer Emunah is not kosher! I must tell you that Lana’s parents, Dr. Henry and Cheryl Silverman, couldn’t be more gracious as they agreed to use a kosher caterer even though that raised the costs. Problem: There are no kosher caterers in Toledo, Ohio that could handle such a wedding! So Cheryl and I flew to Toledo last July and went with Lana’s mother to Detroit where we found a kosher caterer—and now after the wedding I can say that the food was outstanding.
Why do I tell you all this about the caterer? Because with the power out, the Temple’s kitchen couldn’t function properly. But because we had a glatt kosher caterer from Detroit that couldn’t use the kitchen anyway, it had a portable kitchen in its truck. And so just because we had a kosher caterer we had wonderful hot food at the wedding!
The Temple staff—probably having experienced this kind of crisis before—immediately as the power went out, put out as many candles as they could find and sent someone out to buy some more. Was it coincidence that while beautiful candelabras were planned for the tables at dinner, more candles were bought for the tables the week before because it was feared that the air-conditioning might blow out some of those candles. Well, the effect, the ambiance of all these candles against the darkness was just magical.
When the bride and groom were announced for the 1st time as Mr. & Mrs. Darren Tobin, it seemed a bit of an empty announcement because there was no band to play. Then all of a sudden, people began to sing Siman Tov umazal tov. The singing was infectious and most everyone joined in. Then, almost on cue, we all got up and started to dance and dance and lift the bride and groom up on chairs. There was no band, but the singing came straight from everyone’s heart that was so filled with joy, love and happiness for the young couple. I’m not sure if this band had planned to play any Jewish music at all, but even if it could manage a Hava Nagilah, it couldn’t match the energy in that freilach tans, in that holy Jewish wedding dance.
And then about a half hour later, a generator that someone went out to get when we lost power was connected to power the band and the air-conditioning. The band was truly marvelous and everyone danced through that magical evening.
Let me end with telling you a little about the bride and groom by reading to you some of the words I said to them under the chupa.
As a rabbi, I’ve officiated at hundreds of weddings; but as a father—even a step-father—it’s different, very different!...
Darren, I have known you for a few years now. I speak for myself and your mother Cheryl, but I’m sure I echo the sentiments of everyone here today when I say that I can’t tell you enough how truly proud I am of the young man you have become. You are bright, but with a wisdom and integrity beyond your years. You are perhaps the most sensitive young man I have ever known. There is a sweetness, a cheynkeit, about you that draws everyone towards you. You are a natural leader with a heart as pure as gold. You have a Yiddishe neshama, a Jewish soul—reflecting that of your grandmother Vivienne whose soul, I’m sure is with us now—that becomes animated with everything Jewish and yearns to grow closer and closer to Gd. There is no doubt that your impact upon this world will be significant.
Lana, your Jewish name is Bracha, “blessing,” and ask your parents—Hank and Cheryl—ask your family, ask anyone and they will say that you have been such a Bracha, such a blessing. With your profound sense of chesed, unqualified love for your fellow human being, you bring richness and depth to every life you touch. You’re the one that makes everyone feel comfortable and accepted. You have the unique capacity to make everyone you encounter feel special and needed and cared about. You are marrying into a traditional Jewish family and you have embraced the light of Torah and allowed it to fill every fiber of your being. You have an amazing spiritual potential. There is no doubt that you will be a beacon of light in a world that is often too dark.
At the end of the wedding, after most everyone left, I went outside to put something in my car and I saw Lana and Darren outside dancing with sparklers in their hands as their friends sang to them. They danced with joy despite the misty drizzle from above. Harold Goodman, Darren’s grandfather passed by, opened the door to the limo as the singing stopped, and as they got in he said to them what proved to be the theme of the whole evening, “Now you’ve learned how to dance in the rain.”
It’s so profound. Life throws a lot of rain at us. And just as the rain helps everything grow, so too the rain life throws at us facilitates our growth. This week’s Torah portion introduces us the blessing that the Kohanim, the priests blessed the Children of Israel with. My blessing to you Darren and Lana is that when rain showers come—and they eventually will—that you always figure out how to dance in the rain—or as we did at this memorable wedding—how to dance in the dark. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis