‘Jewish Karma’: When Bad Things Happen to Good People Who Do Bad Things
I regretted my unkind words as soon as I wrote them. And then the pain I’d caused another person came back to haunt me.
A talkative female nurse, Patricia, eventually relieved the gentle but reserved man who treated my wound. Her friendliness prompted me to share the thoughts I’d been thinking since the moment I doused my hand.
“I think I know why this has happened to me.”
She looked up. “Like a karma thing?”
I nodded. “I used my right hand to write something I shouldn’t have on Friday, and I didn’t change it when I had the chance.”
Patricia smiled. “I believe you. I totally believe in karma.”
Strangely, the entire incident left me with no negative feelings. In fact, I felt strangely uplifted. I felt loved.
Despite the pain and the inconvenience, I had much to be grateful for: Had the incident happened on Shabbos, coming home from the hospital—as well as payment and obtaining medicine—would have been much more complicated. Had I decided to take my trip to the Bay Area when I’d originally planned it—the following week, not the preceding one—I would have had to cancel my trip. How would I have been able to help with a newborn if I couldn’t get my right hand wet or dirty, and pressure on it made me yelp and wince?
My husband was on vacation from teaching for another week, so he could wash the dishes and cook the food I could no longer manage, at least for a few days. I had no writing deadlines for the next two weeks, so I could take some time off from work if my hand hurt too much.
I had insurance.
I could have received a third-degree burn instead of a second-degree one. Or I could have burned my face.
My rebuke had not been meaningless. God had doled it out in exactly the form and measure necessary to convey my misdeed and give me the chance to do teshuva. He had waited to see if I’d do it on my own, and when I didn’t follow through, he helped me repent and make right, because he knew that was what I would want: to be a writer who uses her words to build instead of to destroy. And for that, I was grateful most of all.
When I visited the plastic surgeon the following Friday, I braced myself for bad news. The doctor in the emergency room had talked of permanent scars and reduced mobility in my dominant hand, and I expected the plastic surgeon to confirm his prognosis. All week, I consoled myself: At least the scar would remind me to use my right hand to build people up instead of taking them down a notch.
Unwrapping the bandage, the nurse, doctor, and I discovered a surprise: The oozing, open wound I’d witnessed just the night before had closed entirely. A layer of hot pink, sensitive skin had formed over the entire surface of the wound. While the burn was still unsightly, the plastic surgeon said it would disappear in a matter of weeks, leaving no discoloration or rigidity.
Smiling, he said, “You’re healing nicely.”
I couldn’t have agreed more.
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What happens when the most authoritative guardians of the tradition are sometimes baffled by the tradition themselves?