The Refuah Comes Before the Maka

Since downsizing considerably to move from Pennsylvania to Highland Park, NJ, my husband and I have been sharing a closet in our bedroom for the past six years. Our turf is clearly divided, his belongings to the left, mine to the right, and like wool and linen, never the two shall mix.

My husband is in charge of making sure that our closet keeps smelling nice. I don’t ask what he does to make sure that happens, and he never volunteered the information.

One day, I saw something on the top shelf of my closet that I wanted to pull down. I was too lazy to get a stepstool, so I prodded the corner of the box with a hanger, hoping that I would be able to catch it as it fell off the shelf into my waiting arms.


Sitting on top of that box was a plastic cereal bowl I didn’t know was resting there.

Filled with baking soda.

My husband’s secret weapon.

Before I even knew what was coming, responding to my hanger’s prodding, this bowl sailed through the air, did a 180, and deposited about two cups of baking soda all over me. One moment I was eager to check out a box on the top of the closet, and five seconds later I was sputtering, and trying to breathe through nostrils full of white dust. My face, arms, torso, legs, shoes, covered in a white film that is hard to describe, but picture throwing a handful of flour up in the air and letting it settle on you wherever it may land. You get the idea. The angel dust even spread itself all over my hanging clothes, and as I opened my mouth to scream for my husband, it entered my mouth as well. (Baking soda is renowned for its dental health qualities, but I don’t recommend eating it raw.)

The sight my husband and children found as I slunk out of our closet should have aroused sympathy, but instead, it brought on gales of laugher, the rolling on the floor, every time you try to control yourself, you just laugh more… kind of laughter. You see, apparently, I was quite the sight.

But Hashem brings the refuah before the maka. My hair was covered in a cap, and although coated in baking soda, I was spared the grief of a sheitle full of baking soda, which might have been a novel way to introduce some extra shine to my wig, but who needs the hassle?

It wasn’t long after the baking soda incident saga that I felt Hashem’s preparation for the maka in another palpable way. I visit once a week with Mrs. Lola Mappa, a lovely holocaust survivor residing in Lawrence, NY, for whom I am privileged to write her memoirs. As I was leaving her home today, she suggested to me that I borrow a scarf of hers, so that I shouldn’t be cold on the way home. I insisted that I was dressed warmly enough in my jacket, and that I would only be in the car anyway, so there was no need for a scarf. Lola has a big heart, and she wouldn’t hear of it. She went to her room and removed from a drawer one of her personal scarves and showed me how to wrap it around my neck for warmth. I appreciated her kindness, although I felt the scarf to be entirely unnecessary. I left with it wrapped securely around my neck.

A half-mile from Lola’s home, I heard myself scream as my car made an explosive sound. My right front tire blew out into smithereens, rendering my car immediately incapacitated. I was traumatized by this unexpected, dangerous turn of events, and with shaking hands, I called Triple AAA from the side of the road. (I was not from there, and I didn’t know if they had Chaverim!). I paced the side of the road for quite some time as I waited for Triple AAA rescue to arrive. I was shaking from fear, but I was warm, in my new, winter scarf.

Hashem prepared the refuah before the maka. And good for me, Lola was listening.

Azriela Jaffe is a regular writer for Mishpacha magazine, the author of 24 books, a holocaust memoir writer hired by private families who wish to document their matriarch or patriarch survivor’s life story, and also known in the Jewish community as the “chatzos lady.” Visit for more information on how to transform your approach to the stress of erev Shabbos.

16 comments on “The Refuah Comes Before the Maka

  1. Aside from Rav Twerski quoted above (and I don’t know his source), my understanding is that the Rambam basically says that Hashgacha Pratis is proportional to one’s righteousnesses.

  2. Reb Menachem:

    > The question many ask is “how often” and
    > on that there are a range of answers.

    The answers that I’m familiar with are “Hakol bidei Shamayim chutz miyiras Shamayim” and “Hakol bidei Shamayim chutz mitzinin pachin.”

    What would you say are some of the other answers?

  3. S.A., I don’t think anyone was questioning if God “can” control people’s actions and environment. Like you said for a believing Jew it’s quite clear that he certainly has and then there’s no reason not to think that he continues to do so. The question many ask is “how often” and on that there are a range of answers.

    Just as a believing Jews can’t question whether or not God “can” control actions since it would limit him, so too it would be just as limiting to say that God can’t decide not to apply this this control.

  4. I would like to make a few he’oros, in no particular order:

    1.) I enjoy reading Mrs. Jaffe’s writing immensely. This was another excellent piece.

    2.) Many years ago, when I was a chosson, several strange occurrences were starting to convince me that Ha-shem was telling me that something was wrong with my shidduch. A bus I was riding inexplicably broke down; a car I was getting a ride in inexplicably broke down; etc. I consulted my Rebbe, who urged me to ignore these occurrences, saying not everything that happens is meant to be interpreted as a siman min hashamayim.

    3.) In response to those who question if it is true that Ha-shem can control people’s actions and environment, I think it is clear from the past few parshiyos that this does happen. I believe Rav Dessler asks how it can occur that one human being (who has free will) can hurt another human being (who either deserves or doesn’t deserve to be hurt, based on Heavenly cheshbonos only). He explains that whenever a person hurts another person, it can only occur because Ha-shem determined ahead of time that the receiver of the pain deserved it. However, the inflicter of the pain does truly have bechirah, and he could have chosen not to hurt the victim. In such cases that a potential inflicter of pain does choose not to hurt a potential victim, then the z’chus of the choice not to hurt is sufficient to release the potential victim from the prior g’zeira, such that he no longer needs to receive that particular dose of pain as a punishment.

  5. Azriela:
    Arm & Hammer makes baking soda in vented boxes for use in the fridge. They work great. You should be able to get them at any large supermarket or variety store like Target.

    Hatzlacha raba!

  6. Since the created world in its totality has inputs from HaShem, how can it be considered closed?

  7. Here a couple of interesting quotes from an article about the Haitian Earthquake by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski:

    The world is a closed system. When a butterfly flaps its wings in Norway, it affects the ecology in Australia. When the Natural Law is intact, the earth’s crust and the atmosphere are stable. When air pollution tampers with the ozone layer, or sulfur dioxide pollution causes acid rain, the effects may be felt hundreds of miles away from the perpetrators. The people suffering these effects are not being “punished” by G-d, but are the victims of the reckless behavior of other people.

    Is this an injustice? Yes, just as it is an injustice for a pedestrian to be killed by a reckless driver. Such happenings occur because G-d does not interfere with the free choice and behavior of human beings.

  8. Bob,
    I figured that from the context of what I wrote, the meaning would be clear. Chaos means things that are not scripted into the laws of nature.

  9. HaLeiVi wrote “There is chaos on every level, including sub atomic, life and plant growth and decision, and energy level fluctuations.”

    Is this to mean:

    1. Chaos only in our perception?
    2. Genuine, objective chaos?

    I’d challenge 2.

  10. This is something that I’ve experienced so many times, that I almost expect it. My car broke down one summer, late at night with all the children in the car, on my way in to the city. It happened near relatives, and we had where to stay and put the kids up.

    You are interested in the gear-work of Hashem. The Ramban explains the Pasuk of Hayad Hashem Tiktzor, that Moshe understood that there won’t be a miracle. He was wondering how Hashem can naturally feed so many people. To this Hashem replied by asking, is Hashem’s hand too short? In this case, ‘Hashem’s Hand’ refers to the laws of nature. Let’s not forget that this is Hashem’s world, He is not a guest. The pasuk says, Ha’aretz Hadom Ragli, the earth is My footstool.
    Just as we understand that choices don’t come up all the time, thereby leaving our growth, in a sense, up to Hashem; so too, Hashem gives someone the idea to do a Mitzva. If the person utilizes the opportunity then he grows from it.

    Hashem planted the idea to destroy the Beis Hamikdash into Nevuchadnetzar’s head, but it was his decision to act upon it.

    Although Hashem created the universe with its laws, there is still plenty of chaos. The weather is a great example, it is all encompassing, starting from the butterfly. Hashem left the reins in His hands and did not turn on auto-pilot. There is chaos on every level, including sub atomic, life and plant growth and decision, and energy level fluctuations.

    People often think of Hashem’s intervention as a bolt of lightning coming down from the sky. That is a very big misunderstanding. Hashem controls all activity, long before the event it is being set up for.

  11. What is a makah and what is a refuah may often not be so clear-cut from our way-less-than-global perspective. The general paradox of HaShem’s knowledge and our free will is not something we can resolve. I’ve seen various exercises in resolution by analogy, and they always seem to lack some essential detail.

  12. Tesyaa #1: You’re right, sometimes miraculous events don’t happen. Even Rabbi Avi Shafran (whose father’s life was spared from the Holocaust by a number of miraculous events) has written that sometimes, well, missing a plane is just missing a plane. During this present recession, there are many Orthodox Jews in financial difficulty who are sitting there wondering where their refuah is, and when exactly it’s going to show up.

  13. I often have the same thoughts as the author, but we’re human, after all. What about the many times I’ve been caught unprepared without an umbrella, or my clothing has gotten ruined right after I’ve changed out of a washable robe? Just examples. We humans tend to see things that confirm our biases.

    Is it OK to say that sometimes Hashem DOESN’T place the refua before the maka?

  14. While I realize that these type of stories are merely meant as spiritual pick-me-ups, I find they often go to the core of issues I, and many I know, struggle with regularly. If you dig a little they become complex.

    If having the scarf was a “refuah” from Hashem how did it work? Did He take over Mrs. Mappa’s mind and force her to give the scarf to Azriela? If so, doesn’t that mitigate or eliminate Mrs. Mappa’s “credit” for doing a mitzvah? If the flat was a Maka, did God, himself, puncture Azriela’s tire? What if the tire was poorly maintained and was a flat waiting to happen? Does Azriel or her husband bare an culpability for the flat? What if some delinquents threw nails on the highway?

    Back to the baking soda story. Did God control Azriela’s choice of what to wear on her head at that moment? And then did he put in her mind to retrieve that box? Did He control her mind to make her lazy or careless at that moment so she’d try to move the box in that precarious way rather get a step stool? Did He manipulate Azriela’s husband so that he would carelessly place the baking soda in an open bowl on top of a box?

    I’m sure there are many more questions, but you get the point. Again, this in no way is meant to demean Azriela or her story, but there are growing numbers of people across the religious spectrum for whom these types of stories raise these types of questions and more, and for whom many of the “pat” answers don’t really cut it.

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