Looking on the bright side, I’m fortunate to have made through nearly half a century of life without breaking a bone. I’m fortunate to be in good enough physical condition to hold my own on the racquetball court, even if don’t usually win. I’m fortunate that it wasn’t my left ankle, so I can drive myself to work every day. I’m fortunate that it was a clean break, uncomplicated by torn ligaments or splintered bone. And I’m fortunate that, aside from the initial stab of pain that seared through my body like a white-hot skewer following the distinct crack of rending marrow, I experienced relatively little discomfort and seem to be on my way, bli ayin hara, to a quick recovery.
Nevertheless, for all that I have to be thankful, I still come home exhausted every day and have trouble meeting my responsibilities with adequate energy and attention, even when I’m stationary and pain-free. As it turns out, the amount of concentration required to think about every single step is profoundly debilitating. I can’t follow my routine on autopilot. Every movement demands intense planning and caution so that, after the most insignificant foray from here to there, my mind rebels against further taxation.
Needless to say, the loss of any capacity serves to restore our appreciation for those things we take for granted. In this case, my broken ankle has prompted me to give more thought to a bracha we recite every morning.
Boruch atah Hashem, Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, HaMeichin mitzadei gover – Blessed are You Hashem, Our G-d, King of the universe, who prepares the steps of man.
Rav Shimon Schwab explains that all the preceding blessings we recite at the outset of each day serve to reflect upon the past – our spiritual identity and the resources with which the Almighty has endowed us to fulfill our potential. With the blessing HaMeichin mitzadei gover, however, we turn our attention to the future.
Hashem creates every human being with free will, so that we can earn our eternal reward by resisting temptation and doing good. But Hashem has not left us to grope in the darkness of moral confusion. Rather, He has illuminated our way with the mitzvos of His Torah, requiring us only to follow the derech ha’emes – the path of truth that He has laid out before us. By providing us with a clear path, Hashem has prepared our steps; all we have to do is follow the path and not stray to either side.
But familiarity and habit are powerful opiates, and we easily slip into the narcotic rhythm of routine. To concentrate on every step, to weigh and calculate every action, exhausts us to the point that we would rather trust the unreliable patterns of yesterday than reevaluate our actions from day to day and moment to moment.
And so Hashem has no choice, so to speak, but to trip us up from time to time, to place obstacles in our way and sometimes let us fall, thereby forcing us to mind the path that lies ahead.
“If one comes to purify himself,” teach the sages, “then his is enabled to become pure” (Shabbos 104a). If we mind every step and choose our path carefully, Hashem will lead us along the road to spiritual success. If we drift into a trance of routine and thoughtlessness, then we have only ourselves to blame for the consequences of inattention.
When that happens, Hashem has countless ways of steering us back on the straight path. So I’m not complaining about my broken ankle. If that’s the worst I need to remind me to mind my step, I’ll try to be more attentive and be grateful for the warning.
With praise for and gratitude to the Master of the World, Rabbi Goldson is pleased to announce the publication of his first book:
Dawn to Destiny: Exploring Jewish History and its Hidden Wisdom
A comprehensive overview of Jewish History from Creation through the redaction of the Talmud, illuminating the intricacies and complexities of Torah tradition and philosophy according to the sages and classical commentaries, spanning the length and breadth of Jewish experience to resolve many of history’s most perplexing episodes, offering profound insights and showing their relevance to life in the modern world. An invaluable resource for scholars and laymen. A priceless tool for education and outreach. For more information click here.