How do you handle situations that disrupt your schedule? How do you deal with obstacles on your path? What about sudden illness or other emergencies that force you to put your life on hold? When plans do not go your way, what then?

Many of us become disoriented when our lives take an unexpected turn. We know where we are going, and anything that veers from that course is met with resistance and even rejection. We are supposed to be in control and we know best.

But what if we saw life in a different light? What if we weren’t necessarily in charge all the time? What if there is more going on in our lives and in the world than we are aware of? By cultivating an appreciation for the role of Divine Providence in our lives, we can discover the hidden meaning and opportunity within any situation we find ourselves in.

No Such Thing as “Stuck”

In 1979, Mrs. Miriam Swerdlov attended a Chabad-sponsored convention for women and girls in Detroit. After the inspiring event, while waiting to board the plane for home, Miriam and about 20 other women learned that the flight was canceled due to a snowstorm.

The group rushed to a payphone and called the Chabad headquarters in New York to ask the Rebbe what to do. The leader of the group, Mrs. Miriam Popack, spoke with the Rebbe’s secretary and told him that they were stuck in Detroit. “He put us on hold, and a minute later came back on the line: ‘The Rebbe doesn’t understand the word “stuck,”’ he said.” Mrs. Popack proceeded to explain what the word stuck meant, to which the secretary replied, “The Rebbe knows what stuck means. The Rebbe says that a Jew is never stuck.”

Caught off guard by the Rebbe’s response, the women immediately got the message and rose to the occasion. They spread throughout the airport and began handing out Shabbat candles to the Jewish women they met. As a result: “There are women and families today all over the United States lighting Shabbat candles because we got ‘stuck’ in Detroit.”1

As far as the Rebbe was concerned, there is no such thing as being stuck. Wherever you are, it’s where you are supposed to be. The art of living purposefully is to figure out why you are supposed to be there, and to accomplish that mission.

No Such Thing as a Detour

Each day, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, the Rebbe’s wife, would go out with a driver for fresh air at a park in Long Island. One day, as they neared the park, they found their regular route closed off due to road work and were forced to take an alternate route. As they drove along trying to find their way, they passed a woman on the side of the road crying and protesting. When they stopped at the traffic light, the Rebbetzin turned to the driver and said: “I heard a woman crying. Can you go back and see what that was about?”

They turned around and drove back to the beginning of the street, where they saw a woman standing on the curb weeping, while workers were carrying furniture from a house and loading them onto the truck of the county marshal. The Rebbetzin asked the driver to find out what was happening. The marshal explained that the woman had not paid her rent for many months and was now being evicted from her home.

The Rebbetzin then inquired how much the woman owed, and if the marshal would accept a personal check. The sum that the family owed was approximately $6,700. The marshal said that he had no problem accepting a personal check, as long as he confirmed with the bank that the check was covered. He also said that if he received the payment, his men would carry everything back into the house. Then, to the driver’s surprise, “She took out her checkbook, wrote out a check for the full amount, and asked me to give it to the marshal.” The Rebbetzin then urged the driver to quickly drive away before the woman realized what had transpired.

Amazed by what he had seen, the Rebbetzin’s driver could not contain himself and asked the Rebbetzin what had prompted her to give such a large sum to a total stranger.

“Once, when I was a young girl, my father2 took me for a walk in the park. He sat me down on a bench and began telling me about Divine Providence.3 ‘Every time’—said Father—‘something causes us to deviate from our normal routine, there is a Divinely ordained reason for this; every time we see something unusual, there is a purpose in why we’ve been shown this sight.’

“Today,” continued the Rebbetzin, “when I saw the detour sign instructing us to deviate from our regular route, I remembered my father’s words and immediately thought to myself: every day we drive by this street; suddenly the street’s closed off, and we’re sent to a different street. What is the purpose of this? How is this connected to me? Then I heard the sound of a woman crying and screaming. I realized that we had been sent along this route for a purpose.”4

The above story demonstrates the Chasidic perspective that there is no place devoid of G‑d.

Every phase of our journey, even our detours, is meant to bring us exactly where we need to be, if we would but remain present. This is the essence of Divine Providence, which effectively sanctifies each moment by granting it ultimate significance.

Every step is a destination of its own. This perspective is especially helpful when we find ourselves lost or knocked off course. It is then that we are most tempted to overlook our immediate surroundings, as our mind can be elsewhere.

The following teaching of the Rebbe, based on the Torah’s description of the journeys of the Jewish People through the desert, highlights this process-oriented, providential aspect of the Rebbe’s Positivity Bias.

All Part of the Journey

Toward the end of the Book of Numbers, the Torah lists the 42 different journeys the Jewish People undertook along their path from Egypt to the Promised Land.

During a Chasidic gathering, the Rebbe once posed the following question:

Chapter 33 of the Book of Numbers opens with the words, These are the journeys of the Children of Israel.

However, it then proceeds to recount not the journeys themselves, but the 42 encampments at which they stopped during their sojourn in the Sinai Desert!

This is because these encampments were not seen as ends unto themselves but as way-stations and stepping-stones in the larger journey of the Jewish People to attain their goal of entering the Promised Land. Therefore, the stops themselves are referred to as journeys, because they were part of what brought about the ultimate objective.

The same is true of our journey through life. Pauses, interruptions, and setbacks are an inadvertent part of a person’s sojourn on earth. But when everything a person does is toward the goal of attaining the “Holy Land”—the sanctification of the material world—these, too, become journeys of their own. Ultimately, these unplanned stops are shown to have been the true motors of progression, each a catalyst propelling us further toward the realization of our mission and purpose in life.5

Even when we are stationary, we can still be moving toward our goal. Steps and stops are part of a larger process that transcends and includes them both. From this perspective, even when we are moving away, we can be coming closer.

Thus far we have explored some of the Rebbe’s redemptive responses to delays and detours on the path. The following two stories demonstrate how even during times of crisis and tragedy, there is a deeper purpose and potential for positive impact waiting to be actualized.

What’s Your Mission?

The son of a Chasid who was hospitalized just before the High Holidays visited the Rebbe before Yom Kippur to receive a piece of honey cake, as per Jewish custom. Smiling, the Rebbe handed him a piece of cake and said, “Give this to your father, and may G‑d bless him with a sweet and healthy year.” The Rebbe continued earnestly, “Tell your father that when he finishes the mission for which he was sent to the hospital, G‑d will set him free from there.”

Inspired by the Rebbe’s message relayed by his son, the man proceeded to initiate conversations with his doctors and fellow patients regarding their spiritual well-being. The day after Yom Kippur, the Rebbe sent his personal secretary to visit the man in the hospital. His first question was: “The Rebbe wants to know, have you completed your mission here yet?”

Years later, after the father had passed, the family heard from one of his doctors who said that he had been deeply touched by him, and that his spiritual life had deepened and been redirected as a result of their conversations during his time in the hospital.6

We can imagine the Chasid initially thinking that what brought him to the hospital was a medical condition, and that the people around him were merely fellow patients, doctors, and nurses. Upon receiving the Rebbe’s message, he began to see others not as patients and doctors but as individuals brought together by destiny and Providence, co-travelers on a journey, waiting to be elevated through a spiritual interaction. The medical condition was simply the pretext for the real mission waiting to be accomplished—an illuminating encounter between souls.

Every Moment is Part of Your Purpose

In the mid-1970s, during the early years of R. Yisroel and Vivi Deren’s shlichut in Stamford, Connecticut, one of their children became ill and was in the hospital for an extended period. With other children to care for, including a baby, one parent had to always be at the hospital while the other remained at home. It was a trying time for everyone, and getting anything done beyond taking care of the family was very difficult.

At a certain point, Rabbi Deren called the Rebbe’s secretary to issue the regular report of his activities. He humbly reported that because of his son’s condition, he had spent almost all of his time at the hospital, to the neglect of his numerous other projects.

The line went quiet. A short while later, the secretary returned and said: “The Rebbe says that certainly the Eibershter (G‑d) didn’t make such a thing happen so that you should suffer or be anguished because of it. Surely you have a shlichut to do there; go find it and do it.”

Rabbi Deren got the message and began reaching out to Jews throughout the hospital—wrapping tefillin, giving inspiration, and providing comfort for those in need. In that one conversation, his view of his situation was transformed and he truly understood that “‘every moment is a part of your shlichut; your Divine purpose,’ which is something that the Rebbe had said on more than one occasion.”7

It’s Always Right Now

Our final story speaks to those times in life when we find ourselves in between assignments or in transition, neither here nor there.

R. Avrohom Glick, a young rabbinic student from Melbourne, married a teacher from Worcester, Massachusetts, and on the Rebbe’s instructions joined his wife there, assuming the role of organizing youth activities in the community. After a few years, a position opened up in Australia and he was invited to relocate to Melbourne by the Chabad emissary there. He asked for and received the Rebbe’s approval and blessings.

However, once he began preparing for the move to Australia, he began to feel as if he were just treading water in Worcester. He had already wound up his activities there, but as he had not yet moved to Australia, he felt neither fully here nor there. He had yet to depart, but his mind was elsewhere.

During a personal audience, he confided his state of mind to the Rebbe, who responded,

In the Torah we find that during the forty years the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, they would sometimes set up the Tabernacle—the Tent of Meeting—just for one day and then take it apart, which was obviously a very difficult job. However, for that day, it was considered permanent—they were in that place as though they were going to be there permanently. This was pertinent to many laws.

Therefore, when a Jew finds himself in a place—even for only one day—he must treat it as though he were there permanently, and not as if he is there with a packed suitcase, ready to go.8

On another occasion, a young man wrote to the Rebbe that he planned on making a short trip to a certain city. The Rebbe replied:

…The Tabernacle was a formidable structure, consisting of hundreds of foundation sockets, wall sections, pillars, tapestries, and furnishings; a work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Tabernacle at each camp, and dismantled and transported it when the Divine command would come to move on… Yet even at their shortest encampment, the entire Sanctuary was set up—down to its every last component and fixture—to serve as the “meeting point” with the Almighty, if only for a single day.

When you arrive at your destination, you should also utilize every free moment to reach out to our fellow Jews and to bring to them the wellsprings of Torah, regardless of the length of time that you plan to stay.9

We should always make the most out of exactly where we are, no matter how fleeting that moment may be. As the following chapter illustrates, throughout the Rebbe’s life he embodied the advice he would give to others and manifested the principle of Positivity even in the most harrowing of situations.