In the little shtetl of Vaysechvoos, a young man was hurrying home to prepare for Rosh Hashanah when he was accosted by two hooligans, beaten and robbed and left in the alley he had used for a shortcut. He was angry with the forces that ordained that life should be what it is, so he decided to go to the Sage of Vaysechvoos with a full account of the unfortunate event.
The Sage sat, listening and stroking his beard. “I see, I see, I see, I see,” he said.
“See what? What do you see? You are a Sage of renown, a wise man. Please tell me why such a thing should happen to me, especially on such a night as Erev Rosh Hashanah?”
The Sage asked the young man, “After you were beaten and lying on the ground, unable to pick yourself up, tell me, what did you think, see and hear?”
The man took a long moment to think. “First I wondered if I would ever live to see my daughter married and know the nachas of having a grandson. Then, after that, I saw the boots of a man walking slowly by. Then far away, I heard the rattle of a team and the clomp of many hooves against the ground.”
Once again, the Sage said, “I see, I see, I see, I see.”
“But what do you see?”
“I can see why it might have happened to you. The Almighty is good, blessed be His holy name. In my vision, I see that those boots belonged to a brutish big man, an assassin who was following you for your money. I see you dead—murdered—a funeral and great mourning.”
“Oy! Is that all you see?”
“No,” said the Sage. “It might not be quite so bad. The sound of the hooves could come from a big team of horses driven by a teamster also in a hurry to get home to prepare for the holidays. I see you crossing the road. The horses knock you down and the wagon, with the steel-rimmed wheels, rolls over your legs. A cripple for life.”
“Oh, my God!” said the frightened young man. “Is that all you see?”
“No,” said the Sage. “There is still a third possibility. I see that you arrive home safely. You make a good match for your daughter. She marries. Her firstborn is a son. He goes to play outside where it is not safe. His mother admonishes him to stay out of alleys but the child says, ‘Zayde always walks in alleys.’ Your daughter realizes that she cannot correct your grandson, cannot control him, because you hurry home through alleys.”
“But sir,” implored the man, “which of these three worse misfortunes would have befallen me if the hooligans hadn’t beset me?”
“Probably none of them. They never happened before now.”
“Then why did the Almighty let this happen? Give me the real reason.”
The Sage, again stroking his beard, paused, and said, “The mishap came to you so that you, who go hurrying about from here to there, from your shop to your home, from your home to the shul, from the shul to your home, might take a moment and come to your Sage so that he could tell you that God is good and that He cares for you. Otherwise, worse would happen.”