I awoke Tuesday morning to find the following email in my inbox: “Dear Rabbi, as we approach Rosh Hashana, I feel compelled to make a confession. As q die-hard skeptic, I was ready to honor the New Year with the usual resigned, even sarcastic attitude. Yeah, I’ll probably go to Synagogue, but mostly out of guilt (my parents, grandparents, the Holocaust), mixed with a little tradition and a lot of superstition (what’s there to lose, let me make my annual deal with God to be sealed in the book of life for a blessed year). I’ll do my routine praying, but for me (and so many others) it’s more like lip-service, by-rote, mechanical faith.
“But then, after watching the miraculous Jets win Monday night against the Buffalo Bills, I could not help but think: Are there indeed miracles in life? Was this God’s hand? I mean, Garrett Wilson’s absurd, logic-defying catch to basically tie the game in the last minutes (when all seemed lost); Xavier Gipson’s amazing punt return touchdown to win the game, in overtime no less; and all this on the heels (no pun intended) of Aaron Rodgers season (career?) ending devastating injury just four plays into his highly anticipated first game with the Jets! Is this a Divine sign? Is this some form of wakeup call (to all of us, but especially to the doubters) – just days before the High Holidays – that perhaps there is an invisible hand behind the scenes choreographing the narrative of our lives?
“Yes, I know that, as we speak, young children are dying of cancer, innocent people are suffering, and the world has plenty of problems, and we sure can use some miracles. But one thing does not negate the other. Sure, one winning game in football doesn’t mean much in the scheme of life challenges. But should we ignore an incredible event that makes our eyes rub in disbelief? If such an unlikely scenario can happen in front of millions, how many more unlikely miracles can take place in our lives? Can prayer help?”
My dear friend, I replied, allow me to share with you the timeless words of the great mystic and founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov: The difference between a miracle and a natural event is only one thing: frequency. Were the sun to rise once in our lifetimes, we would all be rushing outside with our families and friends, with camera crews and media attention, gazing at the heaven and saying: “Awesome. Look at that flaming ball in the sky rising in the horizon” (just look at the attention a solar eclipse attracts). But since it happens every day without fail, we take it for granted and seek out other novelties (healthy or unhealthy) that will provide us with a new rush of excitement. That is human nature.
Every moment new, healthy children are born. Is that not a miracle? Think, a seed fertilizes an egg, and a new life is conceived. One cell. One single cell splits into two, then into four, then into eight, and over nine months a full and complete child with over 40 trillion cells emerges from its mother’s womb. That is you – with all your beauty and complexities, with all your nobility and neuroses. Is that not a miracle?
But since children are born all the time, we lose sight, and get distracted by the superficial, impermanent experiences of our lives.
How many things must work right for every breath we inhale? A healthy adult takes around 12 to 20 breaths per minute. Do you even notice But then when you see someone on a respirator struggling to breathe, you suddenly realize the miracle of just one breath.
Life is a miracle. And miracles abound everywhere, if you only choose to look. From time to time, the invisible hand does reveal itself to remind us of the miracles that are already there, just waiting for us to embrace them, to channel them into our lives. When asked “where is God?” Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said: “Wherever you let him in.” If I may, side by side, irreverently cite Michaelangelo: When he was asked how he sculpts those beautiful angels in the marble, he purportedly replied: “I see the angel trapped in the marble, so I carved and carved to set it free.”
The Jets miraculous win, in the days when we prepare to enter a New Year and celebrate the collective birthday of the human race on Rosh Hashana, reminds us of the miracles and angels trapped in our material, distracted lives, and the call of the Shofar awakens us to do our part in unleashing them. Our prayers and good deeds carve away the outer excess allowing our souls to emerge and shine. On Rosh Hashana, after Adam had sinned, God cried out to Adam: “Where are you?” and this is the question we are all asked on this day: “Where do you stand in your life? Have you betrayed yourself and your destiny? Are you present, serving as My partner to transform this world into a spiritual garden? Are you living up to your mission and calling?”
I recall a cynical guy asking me at one of my classes: “Hey, can a tzaddik – a pious God-fearing person – fly?” I replied simply: “I don’t know if he can fly. But I can tell you that for him (or her) walking on earth is as miraculous as flying…”
Every step we take, every breath we make, every fiber of existence is brimming with enormous energy and potential.
If anything, the Jets improbable win opens our eyes and ears to seeing the miracles in every moment; to see (in Blake’s words) a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour. To experience the extraordinary in the ordinary.