Webster Dictionary defines a “miracle” as: “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.”
Miracles always seem to be the extraordinary events, the sea splitting, skies opening raining down manna, the sun standing still, the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series (OK, now it’s old hat) kind of moments.
When we define miracles only as these extraordinary, over-the-top, suspension of the laws of the universe moments, however, we do ourselves a disservice. I, for one, have never seen such a moment (the Red Sox not withstanding).
In this week’s Torah portion Joseph is in search of his brothers. He needs to find them to fulfill his destiny. He is lost, wandering in the desert and seemingly out of nowhere a man appears and directs Joseph in the right direction ultimately reuniting Joseph with his brothers allowing him to fulfill his destiny.
Then a man found him, and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, “What are you looking for?” And he said, “I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?” And the man said, “They have traveled away from here, for I overheard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers, and he found them in Dothan.
Some rabbis say this was no ordinary man, rather, this was an angel. Others say it was a ghost, a spirit, an apparition. Either way, he was an extra-ordinary miracle sent by God to help direct Joseph on his way. Maybe that’s true. I, for one, prefer the more obvious interpretation. Who was this masked man? He was just that, a man – a man who happened to be there, in the right place at the right time to guide Joseph along the right path. In the middle of nowhere, against all reason, all odds, all probability there he was just when Joseph needed him most. That, my friends, is no less a miracle and a miracle that I certainly can believe in.
All the time, all around us there are miracles abounding and unfolding. Although I haven’t seen the seas split, I have, however, seen a river flowing, a tree blossoming, a toddler stand up for the first time, a hospice patient sit up for the last time as they say good bye to their family. I have seen a blind person navigate the streets of NYC on their own, turtles cross the busy street near my home unscathed, a widower laugh again, live again, love again after the loss of his beloved wife. I’ve seen first hand, time and again, people who have lost everything and yet pick themselves up, dust themselves off and begin again to rebuild their lives against all expectations, odds and reason – and prevail. And I have had so many seemingly impossible, chance encounters where the right person comes along at just the right moment directing me on my path making me sense that all is right with the world. In those moments I have sensed I was witnessing and participating in the unfolding of a miracle.
In the words of the Ba’al Shem Tov (founder of Chasidic Judaism): “If we were to walk in the woods and a spring appeared just when we became thirsty, we would call it a miracle. And if on a second walk, if we became thirsty at just that point again, and again the spring appeared, we would remark on the coincidence. But if that spring were there always, we would take it for granted and cease to notice it. Yet is that not more miraculous still?”
Miracles aren’t just the “wow” sights, sounds, experiences and moments; miracles can equally be the seemingly ordinary moments too. Just because we’re used to them doesn’t make them any less of a miracle. In some ways the very fact that we can become used to miracles is in and of itself a miracle. It gives us the opportunity to constantly choose to see, sense and experience those miracles anew. It is a choice. In the words of Einstein, “there are two ways to live: You can live as if nothing is a miracle; or, you can live as if everything is a miracle.”
I, for one, choose to see such moments as miracles. As Chanukah approaches and we begin to reflect upon the nature of miracles, my hope is that you see and feel this sense of the miraculous all around you too.
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