Almost anyone who’s ever gone out on a date has some sort of “date story” about the nightmares they encountered when meeting someone for the purpose of spending their lives together. You’ll find dates who got arrested, ones who fell asleep, and everything in between. Perhaps my favorite date story is one that didn’t happen to me.
A friend who lived in Brooklyn had a cousin come in from “out of town,” which for the purposes of this article shall geographically refer to any locale with fewer than six pizza shops per capita and only four shuls to choose from on your block. She was to go out with a fellow from the Brooklyn area, so she traveled into New York to make it easier for him.
As they waited in her cousin’s second-floor apartment, the time arrived for her date to pick her up, but he didn’t show up. After a few minutes, they heard a car unceremoniously honk outside. Now, as it was Brooklyn, a car honking was not uncommon, but after a few more tootles, my friend went down to the car. The guy behind the wheel rolled down the window and called out to him, “Yeah, I’m here to pick up Suri. Is she ready?” Stunned, my friend walked upstairs and told her this was, indeed, her date for the evening.
Suri was floored by the man’s pure callousness and lack of respect for her. “If he can’t even get out of the car to come get me,” she said, “I’m not going.” Her cousin dutifully brought the message back down to the waiting young man. “Suri says she isn’t coming down.”
Perturbed, the young man smacked the steering wheel and said, “Oh, come on! They ALWAYS say that!”
While we may chuckle at this poor fellow’s oblivion to what he was doing wrong, we should realize that we’re not all that different. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” I noticed that in real life, we do just that.
When my girls were younger, I had an epiphany one day when one asked the other a question. Her sister answered with a generic reply, but the questioner, looking for precise information began to get annoyed. She raised her voice and asked THE EXACT SAME QUESTION!
I asked her, “Sweetie, if you didn’t like the answer she gave you, why did you ask the same question again? If you would clarify your question, and say, “Okay, but can you tell me…” perhaps you would get what you want. This way, she will just respond as she did before.”
I thought about this during Sefira, when I counted the same way I have counted for years, making my way to 49 nights, but not really feeling a difference. Shouldn’t something have happened? Shouldn’t I have seen some result after another year of counting? But that’s just it—it was “another year of counting.” My Shemona Esrai isn’t much different. Do I think about what I’m saying or just expect that saying the words is enough?
We often feel that if we go through the motions of something, a result will magically appear from some external force and we will receive a great benefit. What we often fail to realize is that we can’t change the world; we can only change our reactions to it. If we don’t get what we hoped for, then we need to change how we go about our attempts to get it, or at least our expectations of what we need to get.
One of the most useful products in the “home handyman’s toolkit” is WD-40. As they say, all you need is duct tape and WD-40. If something moves, duct tape it. If it won’t, use WD-40. Do you know why it’s called WD-40? Because it took the staff of Rocket Chemical Company 40 tries to get the Water Displacement formula worked out. Phillips 76 got its name because the drillers came up dry 75 times in 75 other places before striking oil and finding success.
What if they had kept making batches of WD-1? Or if Phillips tried drilling in the same hole time and time again, getting more and more upset that they hadn’t struck oil already? Do you think we’d have heard of these companies? Of course not.
There’s a lesson in that. If we meet with disappointment, we can and should recognize that it might not have been meant to be. At the same time, that’s not to say we shouldn’t try again in a different way. Disappointments may just be God’s way of saying, “You need to try something else.”
There’s a great quote that I’ve used as my signature on my e-mails that encapsulates this idea. “When things don’t go according to plan, change the plan.” Not to would just be insane.
Jonathan Gewirtz is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications around the world. He also operates JewishSpeechWriter.com, where you can order a custom-made speech for your next special occasion.
For more information, or to sign up for the Migdal Ohr, his weekly PDF Dvar Torah in English, e-mail info_JewishSpeechWriter.com and put Subscribe in the subject.
© 2013 by Jonathan Gewirtz. All rights reserved.
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz