I read a piece by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book 'Celebrating Life' that really resonated with me. It's called 'God's Script.' I've written it up below.
It was one of those moments that make you feel part of something so much larger than yourself. It was the summer of 1999. I had been invited to open an international sports competition. The participants were Jewish, part of a global network of youth clubs called Maccabi. For the first time their European gathering was taking place in Scotland. There were well over 1,000 young people from 27 different countries. We began, not with the games themselves, but by celebrating the Sabbath together. It was thrilling to pray, make the blessings and sing the traditional songs in the company of so many- especially given all that has happened to European Jewry this century. For the first time we were joined by participants from East Europe, places like Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia and the Ukraine, where Jewish life was being rekindled after 70 years of suppression under communist rule. This was the Jewish phoenix, communities long dormant coming to life again.
We were in the old town of Stirling with its ancient castle, the place where 'bravehearts' William Wallace and Robert the Bruce fought their famous battles against the English. Along with most of the participants of the sports competition, Elaine and I were staying at the university, one of the loveliest campuses in Britain. I had been there once before, under different circumstances. As the Sabbath began, I told the story.
'Almost exactly 30 years ago, I had just finished university and was applying for my first job. There was a vacancy in the Philosophy Department of Stirling University, and I applied. It was my first job application. I was invited for interview and I came to this building where we are now. I didn't get the job. I was disappointed, but I went elsewhere and did other things.
'What would have happened if I'd been successful? I wouldn't have become a rabbi. I wouldn't have become Chief Rabbi. And I wouldn't be here now, because the university is on holiday. I would have missed one of the largest gatherings of Jews ever to have come together in Scotland and the privilege of being here with you now. What made it possible for me to be here in Stirling today? the fact that 30 years ago I came to Stirling and was turned down for a job. Until now, that rejection hurt. Now I understand that I was part of a different story. Once in a while God lets us see the script.' It was a moment of closure and disclosure.
There are times when the veil that covers the surface of events lifts,a nd we catch a glimpses of the larger pattern of which, unknowingly, we have been a part. Tradition calls this Divine providence, and I believe in it. Later events make sense of earlier ones. Bad things turn out to have been necessary steps in an important journey. It may take a long time before we see why and how. In some cases we may never understand, but we do so often enough to have the feeling that we are only co-authors of our story. Another hand is at work, and a larger narrative is taking shape. As Isaac Bashevis Singer put it, 'God is a writer and we are both the heroes and the readers.'
Is this fanciful thinking? It has happened too often for me to doubt. I once wanted to become a Fellow of my college in Cambridge. I had dreams of becoming a university professor. Both these things happened. The strange thing is that they happened years after I had given up academic life, while I was travelling in the opposite direction. I have discovered that God often chooses circuitous routes, but it helps to know that where we are, here, now is where we need to be.