My Deal with God

Dear Josep,

So it’s Thursday evening and I haven’t posted in a week. Life has been hectic and there are kids with fevers and tummyaches all over the place and I’ve hardly had a moment to myself for the past couple of weeks. (And for the record, it was my Hebrew birthday on Wednesday. I spent the day washing dishes, proofreading, and dealing with a sick 3-year-old. Whee.) And I was *this* close to Whatsapping you to demand that you ask me a random question because I had no idea what to write about!

But before resorting to such drastic (and probably futile) measures, I decided to try digging around “in the archives” and see if I can find anything interesting that I haven’t posted yet. So I was randomly scanning old e-mails, reading through our conversations about this and that, when I noticed that I referred once to something that happened to me, and wrote that I would tell you about it someday, but I don’t think I ever got around to it.

So, here it is, nine years later!

When I was around seventeen, I began to take driving lessons. Now, in Israel, the process of getting a driver’s license is a ridiculously difficult and extravagantly expensive affair, which involves taking a minimum of 28 lessons in an instructor’s car, a multiple-choice theory test, and a practical test. A vast majority of people fail the first time around, because it’s very strict; you can fail for small, harmless mistakes, and for not following arbitrary rules that no actual driver in his right mind follows anyway. And if the tester so much as touches the brake pedal or the wheel while you’re driving, you have failed for sure.

Now, you met me about two years after this, and it’s probably not hard for you to imagine that learning to drive a car was extremely stressful for me. I am a very cautious person, and suddenly taking control of a massive hunk of metal flying down the highway at 90 kmph was not my idea of a good time. So let’s just say, it took me a very long time to get confident with it. My instructor (God bless his patient heart) never yelled at me, but he did have a tendency to pull me over and give me a hard time: “But… Daniella… why? Why? What do you have against that pedestrian? She doesn’t deserve to die…”

Anyway. After significantly more than 28 lessons, my instructor felt that I was ready to take the test, and so it began. The first test I failed because I crossed a very long crosswalk while a pedestrian had already stepped onto the street. (I never would have hit her, because she was a good two-three meters away, but it was reason enough to fail me.) The second test I failed because I got stuck behind a truck on a narrow two-lane street and I pulled up too close behind it, so in the process of trying to pass it, I almost knocked the side mirror off my car and the tester slammed the brakes.

Third test. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat waiting for the tester to get in the car. And I look up at the Heavens and I say, “Look. I know making deals with You is dumb and it’s not really part of how You work. But listen. If You help me pass this time, I will write a ridiculously long, rambling message about how great You are and post it on my class’s Internet forum.” I glanced at the back seat, where another student was waiting, and I added, “Hey, and let him pass it, too.” It was his third test as well.

Kind like in Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel." Only without Jesus.
Kinda like Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Only without Jesus.

Test starts. Everything’s going fine. I’m switching lanes like a pro, all is running smoothly. And then I stop at a red light… and forget to switch to first gear. So when the light turns green, the car stalls.

Now, I knew perfectly well what to do in this situation. But the tester didn’t give me a chance. Before I could move, he had slammed the brakes and the clutch, turned the key, shifted to first, and restarted the car.

I continued the test knowing with absolute certainty that I would fail. I was really upset, but I continued to pray that at least my comrade would pass, and he did quite well. They don’t give you the results on the spot; your instructor calls you later that day to tell you if you passed or failed. But I knew I didn’t need his phone call. There was no way I could have passed.

But… I decided to write my rambling message of praise anyway.

Because God is still awesome, even if He drives me insane and says “no” when I ask for things.

So I wrote it and posted it on the forum. And then I opened up my personal blog and started to spew my dismay… and as I sat there typing, the phone rang.

It was my driving instructor.

“Nu?” he said.

“I know, I know…” I said.

“Daniella, you passed.”

“…What?”

“You passed.”

What?! But… but… I… there’s no way… are you sure?!”

“Would I lie to you?! It’s written right here in front of me.”

“But… how can that be?!”

“What, are you complaining?! Should I tell them to reverse their decision?!”

But it was true. I guess, by some miracle, the tester reasoned that he had acted quickly so that we wouldn’t hold up traffic, and didn’t give me a chance to correct the situation, and figured that if he had given me a chance, I would have handled it. This sort of fair-mindedness is basically unheard of in this industry. (And for the record–my comrade passed, too.)

In Judaism we have a concept called lifnim mishurat hadin. It translates literally as “inside the line of justice,” and what it means is to act “beyond the letter of the law”; to act with extra mercy and kindness even when it is not required of us to do so. When Christians talk about God bestowing unmerited blessing on the world, they call it “grace,” and that’s probably the closest I’m going to get to a parallel term. So what I felt happened here, was that I kind of made a deal with God, and when He didn’t “fill His end” (which admittedly, He never agreed to, but shhh), I accepted what happened with grace; I decided to fill my end anyway, lifnim mishurat hadin.

And I felt that when I acted this way with God… He returned the favor.

He knew I was angry and disappointed, and that nonetheless, I chose to do something positive, to take a step towards Him and express my love for Him instead of turning away. So even though by every law of nature I really should not have passed that test… somehow, He made a little miracle for me, and granted my wish.

This was not the only time in my life I have felt that God presented me with a great challenge or disappointment, and that once I rose to the occasion and embraced the challenge with love and faith in Him, the challenge disappeared like a mirage. I wrote about an even more powerful experience like this for the JewishMom.com blog for a “Chanukah miracle” story contest a few years ago. (I think I actually told you that story when it happened. We were in touch during that period; you kindly consulted an expert you knew to try and help us out before the situation was resolved.)

It’s not my birthday anymore, so my special “blessing powers” have “expired” (don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here and scroll to the bottom) but they seem to work pretty well nonetheless 😛 so here goes: may you always find it within yourself to act with extra kindness and grace towards others and towards God; and may He always return the favor.

Much love,

Daniella

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