April 17, 2024
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What to Do When Life Happens

Excerpting: “Did This Ever Happen to You? Stories, Observations, and Humor From a World-Class Rebbi and Speaker,” by Rabbi Fishel Schachter. ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications. Hardcover. 349 pages. 2023. ISBN-10: 1422632911.

(Courtesy of Artscroll/Mesorah) Rabbi Fishel Schachter knows what happens in our lives. The little annoyances and the big challenges. The happiness and the angst. He knows what happens to us—because it often happens to him as well! And when “life” happens—the vanishing parking space, the bored kids on vacation, the last minute pre-Shabbos misadventures—he knows what we should do. Learn a lesson of hashgacha pratis (divine intervention). Think of a story that enhances our emunah. Discover an insight that puts everything in a different, more positive light. Remember to thank Hashem for everything. And, of course, smile and find the joy in His plans for us.

In his new book, “Did This Ever Happen to You?” published by ArtScroll/Mesorah, Rabbi Schachter, a popular speaker, columnist and storyteller, combines practical advice in chinuch and middos development with anecdotes and stories that are always engaging and often laugh-out-loud funny. “Did This Ever Happen To You?” touches on topics ranging from seeing hashgacha pratis in our lives to mitzvos such as hachnosas orchim and giving tzedakah; from strengthening our bitachon to outlooks on tefillah.

No one tells a story quite like Rabbi Schachter, and in “Did This Happen To You?” he uses stories as an incredibly effective (and often funny!) means of guiding us through whatever challenges we are facing. So, open this book and be prepared to laugh and to learn…

The following is an excerpt from this absolutely entertaining and uplifting new book:

Expectations

A while ago, a friend of mine asked me to prepare a speech for him. Interestingly, he happens to be a successful, bold businessman, yet for some reason he melts with fear when it comes to public speaking. Just the thought of standing on a dais in front of a crowd gives him palpitations.

He was going to have to introduce his own son at his bar mitzvah and it gave him no peace of mind, so he asked me to write him a speech.

“What message do you want to bring out?” I asked him. “What would you like to achieve with this speech?”

“I would like to just survive this!”

“Oh, come on!” I said. “All you have to do is introduce your own son. You survived raising him, didn’t you?”

“That I could do—public speaking I can’t.”

“You need siyata dishmaya (with God’s help)for both.”

“Listen, I just want you to write out a script for me.”

“But your son’s bar mitzvah is a year from now! Are you going to spend a year rehearsing?”

“No, I will take time off for davening, learning and other absolutely necessary things. By the way, my wife says I should start with something humorous.”

“Just repeat this conversation.”

“Don’t be funny!”

I understood that my charge was to write a straightforward, uncomplicated, entertaining anecdote for the father of the bar mitzvah boy. Knowing that sometimes it’s complicated to make things uncomplicated, I decided to pen a light joke.

This is what I wrote:

“People were lined up to give a bar mitzvah bachur his presents. He got three sets of Mishnah Berurah, one set of mishnayos, and then someone gave him a brand-new umbrella.

‘Why did you give him an umbrella?’ asked a guest.

‘Because that is something I know he will open!’

Then, I would go on to say, ‘ … but our bar mitzvah boy opens his sefarim,’ and so on.”

Well, my friend liked it and probably practiced the speech for the whole year. When the big night arrived, he seemed so comfortable that he must have decided to adlib a little.

“I want to start,” he began, “by telling you all an amazingly funny joke!”

I, suddenly, had a sinking feeling in my stomach. First, it wasn’t such an amazingly funny joke. Secondly, when you raise the audience’s expectations of hearing a funny story, it automatically isn’t so amusing.

As if that weren’t bad enough, this is how he presented the story:

“There once was a boy who got an umbrella for a present, and he opened it!”

No one laughed. Even those who would have laughed just to be polite did not do so, because they didn’t realize that that was the joke.

Now, any even half-baked speaker knows that if a joke falls flat, you lick your wounds and move on. My poor friend couldn’t figure out why no one laughed and did “chazarah”—he repeated his words of wisdom.

“You don’t get it?” he asked the guests pathetically. “They gave the boy an umbrella so he could open it!” I tipped my hat over my face and shook my head in disbelief. At last, he had the sense to move on and introduce his son. The son’s pshetel (speech) proceeded without a hitch, and all went well from that point onward.

“Why didn’t people laugh at the joke?” he asked me when I went over to wish him a final mazel tov and say goodbye.

“Honestly?”

“Yes, tell me the truth.”

“They didn’t realize it was a joke.”

“People laugh when something surprises them. By informing them beforehand that you were going to say something funny, you eliminated the element of surprise. When you expect something to be very humorous, it is a tall order to get you to laugh.”

“The way to get people to at least giggle is to catch them with an unexpected punchline. Opening the umbrella was supposed to be the last line, not the opening one.”

It occurred to me afterward that this is an important lesson in general. What makes us smile is experiencing something pleasant that we may not have anticipated. Imagine this scenario: Suppose, right after lunch, Mr. Rosenberg gets a call from his bank. “Mr. Rosenberg,” begins an apologetic bank officer, “there has been a serious bank error. The bank owes you an extra 50,000 plus interest.”

Still reeling from the phone call, he gets a call from his boss. “Mr. Rosenberg,” the boss says, “I would like to offer you a raise, a promotion and a two-week vacation to ensure you will be rested for your new position.”

On his way home, Mr. Rosenberg’s son’s rebbe calls to say he doesn’t think the boy needs a tutor anymore. This is followed by his landlord calling to discuss a reduction in his rent. Finally, his phone rings once more.

“Mr. Rosenberg?”

“Speaking.”

“Did you put in a ticket for Split the Pot at last night’s Chinese auction?”

“Yes.”

“Congratulations! You won $25,000.”

Now, we can expect our friend to step over his threshold in a fairly good mood that evening. It was a day of unexpected delight.

A different scenario plays out for his neighbor with the same name, whom he meets as he dances happily into his house. The neighbor does not look happy, to say the least. The neighbor got a

call right before lunch from the bank to inform him that they are prematurely calling in his loan.

“But how can you do that?”

“Mr. Rosenberg,” said the bank officer, “please check the microscopic print of the third footnote on page three, paragraph four, of your loan application. You will see that the bank reserved that

right. I am sorry, Mr. Rosenberg; it was a pleasure doing business with you.”

Poor Mr. Rosenberg didn’t have much of an appetite for lunch, and then his boss summoned him. The boss gave him a long, hard, penetrating stare, and slammed his pen down on the desk as if to accompany what he was about to say with a drum roll.

“Mr. Rosenberg,” he began, “I am going to need you here an hour earlier each day and you will have to stay an hour later. We would have liked to compensate you for this, but considering your poor performance and the many complaints against you, you should just be happy we are holding on to you. For now!”

With trembling hands, Mr. Rosenberg starts his drive home. His phone rings. “Mr. Rosenberg?” He was tempted to deny it. “This is your son’s menahel. I am sorry to inform you that your son is suspended until further notice. It’s the third window he broke this week! Please come in to see me as soon as you can, so we can work this out.”

He decided to leave his phone in the car, only to hear his house phone ringing as he walked in.

“Did you put in a ticket for Split the Pot at last night’s Chinese auction?”

“Yes, I did.” Finally, some good news! “Did I win?”

“No, but your check bounced, and there is a $25 bank fee.”

Now, if he were truly a tzaddik and well-versed in Shaar HaBitachon of Chovos HaLevavos, he would be dancing together with his neighbor. But that is a very tall order. If he is like most people, chances are that he is sitting at the table with his head down. In a best-case scenario, he is praying for a better day tomorrow. At worst, he is thoroughly depressed.

What about all the other days in their lives—or ours? Days that have both ups and downs. Days that have both promising news and disappointments. Most of the days in our lives will fall in between the two extremes. So, what happens to us at the end of the day? Are we content and do we smile amiably at those around us? Or, are we discontented and revert to don’t-bother-me-now mode?

It really depends on our expectations. If we laugh when there is an unexpected twist to a story, we are happy when things work out better than anticipated. But here’s the point: What do we anticipate? The more we assume only good is coming to us, the less likely we are to be happy on that day. When things work out well, there is no surprise. When things don’t pan out the way we think we are entitled to, we are distraught.

The more children are led to believe is coming to them, the less likely they are to be happy. I always stop my kids when they say, “I need a soda,” “I need a bicycle.” You need it? Really? Or you would like to have a soda, or a bicycle? The more we “need,” the harder it is to laugh. The less we expect, the greater the surprise.

I heard from a son-in-law of Rav Avigdor Miller that he once told his daughter, “Do you know I thank Hashem that you found such a wonderful shidduch?”

“But Tatte, I’ve been married for more than 20 years.”

“Yes, and I have thanked Hashem every single day all these years.”

The less we take for granted, the easier it is to smile and to cause others to do the same.

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