D’var Torah – Beshalach – Acknowledging our Everyday Miracles
In our reading the last few weeks of Sefer Shemot, we have seen many wonders performed by God in an effort to demonstrate ultimate power and free the Israelites from Pharoah. Perhaps the greatest of these miracles occurs in this week’s parashah Beshalach. Of course, I am referring to the splitting of the Re(e)d Sea. After finally being freed, Moses and the Israelites are encamped by the Sea. With Pharoah and his armies chasing them and the Israelites losing their faith in Moses and God, God tells Moses to go forward. Astonishingly, “the waters are split, and the Israelites go into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (Ex 14:21-22). The Israelites are now truly free from the Egyptians and break out into joyful song.
Siddur Shema Yisrael, the children’s siddur used at my synagogue’s Junior Congregation, includes a midrashic tale our children have acted out dozens of times. It speaks of two Israelites who walked through the Re(e)d Sea focused on how muddy the floor of the sea was and how difficult it was to walk through. The men kvetch and grumble the entire way, comparing the mud of the Sea to the mud they handled in Egypt as slaves. It concludes, “they never once looked up and they never understood why, when they got to the other shore, everyone else was singing songs of praise. They were there, but for [them], the miracle never happened.”
The story is a great reminder of appreciating all the wonders around us. The miracles in our lives may not be as grand as the Splitting of the Sea, but nevertheless, do we recognize and acknowledge them? Only when a pandemic gripped our lives did most of us come to truly appreciate being with family and friends, in our schools, in our synagogues and at our camps. A colleague recently remarked that only after a snowstorm prevented delivery trucks from doing their jobs and, as a result, supermarket produce and dairy sections were empty do we recognize the complex logistics that allow us to fill our homes with food.
In Jewish tradition, I think brachot serve this purpose as well. When we say HaMotzi, we are not just thanking God for providing us with bread. Rather we are acknowledging that we are fortunate enough to have nourishment. The entire section of the siddur known as Birchot Hanehenin, literally “enjoyment blessings,” teach us to marvel at seeing a rainbow, hearing thunder, and eating a fruit for the first time. Judaism even has a brachah for going to the bathroom. Even the most mundane act is an opportunity to be grateful we are created in such an extraordinary way and that our body works as it should.
The 20th century theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel said it best: “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …. get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” May we all wake up each morning amazed and grateful for the miracles right in front of us.