The GPS and the Chagim

10 Oct 2016

Sometimes it takes a while to realize that you are lost. You think you are on the right path but it proves to be elusive. But know this: unlikely as it seems, you are still being guided.

This August, my family and I thought that we were on the right road, the one to Chalkis, the road that would return us to Athens, a winding road that we would drive for two hours through kilometers of pine forest and mountains. We were taking our soldier son back to the Athens Airport for his return to Israel. He had to be on base the next day, so he couldn’t miss the flight. We had rented a house on the beach in Evia, Greece on Trip Advisor and had found an isolated beautiful spot for our family vacation. There were no foreign tourists—except for us, the only tourists were Greek. Very few people spoke English. We used a lot of pantomime to communicate.

That day our GPS seemed to be working as we maneuvered the many rolling hills but the voice was silent for most of the time. “She’s tired,” I thought. “Like me. That’s why I needed a vacation. “

We had no idea where we were because every sign was in Greek.

We drove for over an hour on narrow roads passing houses with red piped rooves, pines trees, olive trees, vineyards. It was time to come to the main highway. Instead we saw a gas station on a country road that looked like the gas station that was not more than five minutes from the house we were renting.

And so it was that the GPS took us in a very long loop back to where we had started and then on to the city of Edipsos which should have been 30 minutes away from where we were staying but had now become an hour and a half journey. Apparently the GPS had decided that we should not continue overland but instead should take the ferry to the mainland. We knew that there was a ferry that embarked every two hours and we were sure that we had missed it. But The Voice coaxed us onward. We drove into Edipsos and into a traffic jam. And somehow there it was, the large three decked boat on the turquoise sea and we were at the ferry dock full with passengers and cars ready to go. We boarded the ferry at 10:00, the next to last passengers.

We thought that we knew where we were going but somehow the GPS had another plan. And the plan seemed to work, much to our relief. Even with the detour we would still get to Athens earlier than we had planned. It wasn’t the most direct route that’s for sure. But it was a route.

And yet that GPS drive hinted to me that there is a plan. Because it was so perfectly orchestrated. Could the GPS have known that ferry schedule? It was unlikely. But still the voice got us there on time.

And now as I write this, a few weeks after vacation, I am in bed because I fell a few days ago and broke my ankle. It’s painful and a pain in the neck not to be able walk. It feels like this can’t be part of the plan for my life. It has to be a detour. But it is. Even the detours are part of God’s orchestration.

We think we are in control. But there is a power beyond us, that knows so much more than we do. And try as we wish, there are things that we cannot change, fates we are assigned that much as we struggle against them, are decreed. Not everything feels good and that is also our lives. This too is my life. And sometimes it is best to accept that we have to take the long way, through groves of thick trees, where the signs seem to be unreadable. And that is our greatest challenge: the signs that God sends us are hard to decipher. The Torah is our clearest guide but where is God speaking to us in our lives? What is the divine trying to tell us? How can we possibly know? 

So the chagim come to tell us to slow down and stop and pray and struggle and cry out to G-d for mercy. They tell us to thank G-d for the blessings we receive. In these months, we can try to pay attention to the voice that matters, the voice that guides us even when we think we are the ones controlling the wheel. The still silent voice that emerges when we stop and bow to the weight and wonder of the world.

Sherri Mandell is the co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation which runs programs for bereaved families including Camp Koby. She is the author of the Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration and The Blessing of a Broken Heart which won a National Jewish Book Award and has been made into a play. She is a frequent lecturer on healing and resilience. You can reach her at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.