All of us are privy to Heaven-sent messages, which take different forms and occur at various times. At certain junctures, we are in a position to more readily recognize them for what they are.
Fifteen years ago, on the night of Erev Rosh Hashanah 5760, I was on my way to Maariv. Ahead of me, a huge tree at the end of my block suddenly became uprooted and came crashing down without any provocation that I could see. (Perhaps its roots had weakened and could no longer sustain its thick, leaning trunk). In the process of falling, power lines that ran nearby were damaged and a street lamp was smashed, with broken glass scattered in every direction.
This tree landed in what is, during the day, an extremely busy thoroughfare. The neighborhood where I resided at the time, in Mexico City, besides being home to a vibrant Torah community of shuls and batei medrash, is also a commercial district. At the corner where the tree had stood is located the main shul of the large Sephardic community. Several Minyanim take place daily; on Shabbos and Yamim Tovim, many more attend. On Yamim Nora’im, understandably, even more. Needless to say, on these days, large crowds of people are outside the shul at various times, arriving or leaving. Remember, this happened the night prior to Rosh Hashanah.
Additionally, a large (non-Jewish) school is located on the other side of the street; on weekdays, periodically, the street is teeming with youngsters, arriving at or leaving the school grounds.
No one was hurt, baruch Hashem, by the falling tree, and no cars were passing underneath at that moment, although there was light traffic at the time.
Some questions present themselves. This huge tree was probably standing in this spot for a good few decades. Why did this occur around 9:00 at night when it was relatively quiet at the scene? Why did it happen the night before Rosh Hashanah? Why did it happen a moment before I may have decided to walk on that side of the street?
In pondering this occurrence, I came up with a couple of possible lessons.
We are all the recipients of a continuous flow of chassadim that Hashem grants us, many of which we are unaware of, as discussed in Sefer Chovos Halevavos (in Sha’ar HaBechinah),which offers an illustration of a blind man walking who, for some reason, changes his course and is unknowingly saved from a dangerous obstacle in his path. There are so many other examples: the smooth operation of our bodies; our food, drink, clothing, and other products and services that benefit us; the ability to carry out our daily routine undisturbed, just to name a few.
It would behoove us to express our gratitude for these phenomena, as articulated in our brachos and tefillos, and in our overall avodas Hashem. Such a reminder is especially poignant in Elul, a time which should bring to mind the countless gifts Hashem granted us since the previous Rosh Hashanah — gifts which we davened so fervently for and in fact received. It is a pity that we often take these blessings for granted.
Another teaching that comes to mind is that when Hashem desires us to better ourselves in some area, there are two ways in which He can convey this message. The well-known method is through sending unpleasant situations, through which it is readily apparent that we ought to take the cue to arouse ourselves and contemplate what needs to be rectified. But there is another way, through sending people good news and positive experiences. Perhaps this occurrence falls into the latter category?
The Gemara in maseches Shabbos discusses the concept of “demolishing for the purpose of building.” Perhaps, to some extent, we can find a symbol for this idea in the aforementioned incident. The idea is that a Yid should always seek to be in a mode of “building,” i.e., uplifting himself and the world around him via endeavors that amplify kvod Shamayim in the world, and to be aware of the kindnesses the Ribbono shel Olam is continually sending our way, without the need for periodic reminders.