Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Acharei Mot-K’doshim

These days I find it challenging to open the Newsfeed applications on my computer. I hit the button and close my eyes, hoping that stories of blessings replace those of pain which I am expecting to read. While there are certainly amazing things happening in the world, we do not often get them on the front pages … if we get them at all. I chalk this up to several phenomena, not the least of which being the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

There is more, though, and the reasons are not all bad. The truth is that we would have no way to help in times of crisis, if we were unaware of the crisis. Some of the stories that shock our conscience help because they … shock our conscience. Watching horrific stories play out in the news allows me the gut check for my own behavior. They help me learn how to prioritize my life work and force me to be appreciative and thankful for the many blessings that I too often take for granted.

I teach all of my students that we walk sightless among miracles and that it is impossible to live to the full expectation of joy if we remain blind to the miracles that swirl around us. Uniformly, they look at me, and their eyes pronounce, “You are crazy! Miracles are the things that interrupt nature that make you go ‘Wow!’”

It is inevitable that a large portion of students, young and old, respond that they don’t believe in miracles. I open our prayer book and refer them to the section of the morning liturgy entitled, “Nissim b’khol yom – Everyday miracles.” The list of prayers illustrates the “everyday” miracles that we take for granted. We pray words of both thanks and praise for the freeing of our minds from the captivity of ignorance, the opening of the eyes of the blind (ignorance), the strength to face each day, and for the breath of life itself. I always appreciate when a twelve-year-old starts illustrating the miracles for which each prayer commands our attention. I then ask the $64,000 question (if they get it right, I give them my permission to ask someone for $64,000 … not that it will be granted): “Each prayer begins, We praise you God, Who (performs this miracle or that). How does God do these things?” Often they look at me with puzzled eyes.

I teach students that they are correct, miracles are the things that we cannot explain that should make us go, “Wow!” They are incorrect in that they happen all day … every day and they happen because we make them happen. Life begins with the interactivity of human beings. Education happens because teachers take an interest in students (and students take an interest in their teachers). The strength that we have to stand tall, even in the face of a crisis often comes from the people who interrupt their lives to hold us. For each miracle, there exists a human interaction that either makes the miracle real or helps us to appreciate that we walk in the realm of the miraculous.

Whatever role God plays in the process … only God knows, but the desire, ability, compassion and love that cause us to participate in creating and fostering miracles in each other’s lives begins somewhere beyond us. Absolutely, though, it begins with a love that commands our attention for the plight and well-being of each other. Where we pay attention, the world matures and heals. Where we ignore the miracles around us and turn our backs on each other, the world fails.

Torah commands us to love our neighbor as we should love ourselves. This teaching is the foundational truth that allows miracles to flourish in our world, and also why reading the news is so painful. Even while the difficult news can help us to enter each other’s lives, it also reminds us of all the people who have forgotten the power of the miraculous, and are stuck in the destructive forces of ego and selfishness. Yes, we all live partially in this realm … it is part of the human condition. Every one of us who writes, teaches or leads has to have a dose of ego to believe that what we have to offer matters. Often we find ourselves believing that it matters far more than it warrants. We struggle, though, to see past “me” to a focus on “us” … all of “us.” We are sometimes more successful than we are at other times.

We credit the Baal Shem Tov for founding Khassidut (celebration of faith). He taught that a soul might descend to earth and live seventy or eighty years for the sole purpose of doing a favor for another–a spiritual favor, or even a material favor. I understand this teaching to remind us of our need to focus on each person with whom we come into contact. We may have many people with whom we have an impact, but each is to be treated as if he / she were the only one. We must never look past the way in which we impact each other’s lives. We are each other’s miracles, and the day that we realize this truth, there will be no room for the abusive ego that drives war and the thirst for power. What miracles have you participated in today? How will you demonstrate thankfulness for the opportunity tomorrow? Shabbat Shalom.