Sitting on the steps of the Montgomery County courthouse appeared to be a homeless man. My husband is a lawyer, and as he passed by this man on his way into the building, the man called out, “Hey, rabbi! Give me a blessing.”

How did he know my husband isHow did he know my husband is Jewish? Jewish? A hat covered his yarmulke. Besides sporting a neatly trimmed beard, what were the markers?

You can bet that people who wear suits, carry briefcases and move through courthouses with confidence and determination are attorneys. So what was with the rabbi thing? And while it’s true that my husband just so happens to teach Torah, how did this stranger discern that?

Was this a smart entrepreneurial strategy on the part of the homeless man? After all, he certainly got my husband’s attention. On the other hand, could this man have been a messenger from G‑d?

After my husband related this incident to me, he seemed to have second thoughts about the encounter—or at least it was still nagging at the corners of his mind. After all, my husband has traversed those courthouse steps thousands of times. Why was that man there that day, saying those words?

My husband is pulled between how he makes a living and how he makes life meaningful. Was he supposed to have engaged that man in conversation? Or do something in particular? Did he miss an opportunity? Or was the window still open?

“Don’t worry!” I reassured him. “If this were an opportunity you missed but are meant to have, it will come around again.”

It may not be that homeless guy or even any homeless guy. Lessons come in all shapes and sizes. Just be on the lookout to encounter the Divine when you least expect it.

A Disempowering Tale

You have probably heard some version of this story: A guy was rushing for his meeting with a tzaddik. On the way, someone calls out to him to help make a minyan, and the man says sorry, he’s in a hurry. But when he finally gets to the tzaddik, the tzaddik informs him that the whole purpose of his life was to have been in that very minyan he passed by.

I dread those stories ... when someone doesn’t realize the import of a particular situation, makes a mistake, and is told that his or her mission or purpose for said incarnation was to do that one thing. Yes, I understand that in our rush to something that we think is essential, we should not pass up the smaller opportunity or some act that we feel is inconsequential, and that in the eyes of heaven was really the grand gesture. I get it. But really, how many times do we blow it? And then what?

I hope life is more complicated than that, and that we can always learn from mistakes and failures, fix what we can and choose to grow. Isn’t that what G‑d wants? While we may fail any given test, surely, the Teacher doesn’t give up on educating the student and will continue to throw make-up quizzes our way.

When Opportunity Does, in Fact, Strike Twice

In Mikeitz, the epic blockbuster narratives center on Joseph’s dreams, his becoming the Viceroy of Egypt, and the famous encounter between Joseph and his brothers.

The less obvious storyline is what happens when the brothers return from Egypt without their brother, Shimon, who was held captive by Joseph (who had not yet revealed his identity) as collateral for the brothers to return to Egypt with their youngest brother, Benjamin.

Upon hearing that the Viceroy of Egypt was demanding Benjamin’s appearance, it seems as if Jacob might refuse, even if that meant Shimon would remain a captive in Egypt. Here we go with the same family dynamic all over again. Once again, Jacob was making it very clear who was the favored son. Benjamin was his youngest, the brother of Joseph, and the only remaining son of his beloved wife, Rachel.

Years ago, this family drama resulted in the brothers selling Joseph. This time around, with similar emotions in play, Yehuda did not allow jealousy and sibling rivalry to drive a poor choice. Instead, Yehuda took the opportunity to create a new dynamic by stepping up to take sole and personal responsibility to ensure Benjamin’s safe return, even if he had to stand against the very might of Egypt itself.

Souls in Training

We all make mistakes, but the point is not to keep making the same ones. There is an axiom: “What you resist persists.” The lessons are out there and will hopefully keep showing up until we get the message. This is a good thing—to be able to own our stuff, see a new truth and make a choice for a change.

If you believe, as I do, that the failure to do a specific act does not negate the entire purpose of your existence, then you should also realize that when you do step up to the plate and hit that cosmic homerun, you are not home free either.

What do you get when you pass a test? IfWhat do you get when you pass a test? you are expecting a parade in your honor or balloons falling from the sky, you will be sorely disappointed. It’s unlikely that you will even be acknowledged or thanked. Furthermore, you may not even know you were being tested (much less aced it).

So what do you get when you pass a test? The ability, the potential, and a higher capacity to pass another one. And then another one. And that is, I would argue, the reason why you are here.

Transformation can happen in an instant. It’s a pivotal moment of clarity that moves us from doing the same thing and responding in the same way to a new perspective. When we seize the opportunity to turn our axis in a different direction, we move along a new trajectory. When we respond to the same triggers with a new response, we can transform the past, and write a positive ending to a tired old story.