We are blessed to have a beautiful family, with six wonderful children. Four of them have special needs.
A story we heard long ago about the Netziv, Rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, has framed our perspective and given us the ability to feel truly blessed. At a siyum upon completing his famous sefer, The Ha’amek Sheila, the Netziv told his talmidim that as a young boy he had been less focused, until one day he overheard his father telling someone that he was upset about his son’s inattentiveness. Realizing the pain he was causing his father was the push he needed to turn things around, to become a serious student. “Imagine,” he said to the assembled, “if I had not heard about my father’s distress. I would have grown up, living as a good Jew, and would have died without ever having written seforim. In heaven, I would have been asked where The Ha’amek Sheila was and I would have thought they were mistaking me for someone else. We each have a purpose in life. Boruch Hashem, I was fortunate enough to overhear a conversation which helped put me on the right path.”
It certainly would be easy to spend our lives feeling sorry for ourselves. “How can this be? Life was not supposed to turn out this way. Why were we chosen to have this “pekel”?
However, taking our cue from the Netziv, things look very different if a person is confident in what he is supposed to be doing on a daily basis.
Every day, people all over the world get up each morning and look at themselves in the mirror. The fortunate ones see the purpose in their lives, and are content with what they see. Those who are less fortunate look and wonder, “What am I doing? Is this really how I want to spend my life? What is it I am supposed to be doing on this earth?”
I feel that we are in the first camp. We wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and know exactly what we are supposed to be doing that day. We feel Hashem saying to us each and every day, “I gave you four children with special needs to care for. It’s a big job to do…go out and do it! I know you are going to be great. I am with you every step of the way. Talk to Me constantly throughout the day and you will hear and see Me in everything that happens. These children of yours are making the world a better place. And you are doing your part by caring and nurturing for them. These neshamos require extreme sensitivity and that is why I picked you to do it.”
Given such an important task, how else can we feel but extremely loved by Hashem? It is not an easy job. There are many moments that are less than glamorous. There are times when the frustration is beyond what we think we can handle. And yet, there is that constant knowledge forever present in the room reminding us that we did not volunteer for this job; we were chosen by the Creator of the world to fulfill it in the best possible way.
Just as important, we accept that we cannot do it alone, and we have learned over time to recognize when Hashem is sending us help. One such moment in our lives was when we found SINAI Schools, almost 15 years ago. The educators and therapists at SINAI have been major Malachim in allowing three of our children to develop in ways we know would not have been possible had we been left to figure things out ourselves. Each of our children has very different needs; SINAI has nurtured each of them based on their particular strengths and challenges, and has guided us as parents, holding our hands along the way. For that, and so much more, we are forever grateful.
Although we don’t always know if we are doing our job correctly, we do know that every morning we are on a mission from Hashem, and it is our responsibility to try to fulfill it. Through laughter and perseverance, we find meaning in seemingly trivial moments in order to give us chizuk to keep pushing forward. And through our belief that Hashem has chosen us to be the parents of our special children, we do feel blessed every single day.
Rabbi Yehuda and Laurie Minchenberg live in Passaic, NJ with their six children. Rabbi Minchenberg is a rebbe at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, and Laurie is an instructional aide at YBH in Passaic. You can learn more about their family’s journey by watching SINAI’s acclaimed documentaries, Heroes (www.sinaischools.org/Heroes) and Heroes Today (www.sinaischools.org/HeroesToday).