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TO SEE THE ORDINARY AS EXTRAORDINARY

Thursday, 13 January, 2022 - 10:42 pm

Professor Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”


When the Torah portion of Beshalach - Shira describes the splitting of the sea, it states:

And the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.


But later, after the miracle has concluded, as the Jewish people sing the “song of the sea,” they state:

For the horses of Pharaoh, with his chariots and horsemen, went into the sea; and G-d turned back on them the waters of the sea, but the Israelites marched on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

There is a subtle but significant change from the way the miracle is described as it happened and the way the Jews sang about it. The first time around they “went into the sea, on dry ground.” In the song afterward, they describe the experience in the opposite order: “They walked on dry land, inside the sea.” Why?


Here is a marvelous Chassidic insight, by the great Chassidic master Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk.


On one occasion, Rabbi Elimelech and his brother Reb Zushya were staying at an inn. Each night, gentile peasants would enter their room and jestingly beat the one who lay nearest the fireside, Reb Zushya. One night, Rabbi Elimelech offered to change places with his brother so that he could take the beatings instead. Suggesting that Reb Zushya had suffered enough, the agreement was made and Rabbi Elimelech lay next to the fire instead. That night, the common gentiles again entered to begin their jest. This time, however, one of them said that the one by the fire had taken his fair share of the treatment, and now it would be better to jest with the other one! Again Reb Zushya took the beatings. Afterward, he told his brother, “if you are meant to get it—you will get it!”


The purpose of the splitting of the sea was not just to create a stupendous miracle for the Jews at that moment, so they can pass through, and their foes would drown; it was to create a paradigm shift in the Jewish psyche for eternity—that the world and all of nature belonged to G-d; that the One who formed earth into habitat for man and beast, is the same One who formed the seas as the habitat for marine life, and if He willed so, the sea could be transformed into a home for humans and mammals.


The splitting of the sea, in other words, was there to teach the Jews that walking on dry land was no less a miracle than walking amidst the sea—both were creations of G-d, both were equally miraculous. If I’d see a sea split, creating a path for me to walk, I would be overwhelmed. When I walk, though, on earth, I don’t even take note. But why? Does it make sense that out of nowhere, just randomly, this entire earth formed, allowing me to walk on it comfortably? How many trillion coincidences had to converge to form such a planet with an ecosystem, and a perfect balance between dry land and water, to create life?  

This was the purpose of the splitting of the sea, to shift our perspective on those segments of life’s story when water remains water, dirt remains dirt,  earth remains earth, when every pattern of nature goes on singing its same song, and when all is said and done and properly in place, something wondrous and unexpected has emerged. Gā€‘d sneaked in when nobody was looking, and we still can’t find the crack, but the evidence is in every nuke and cranny.

The Baal Shem Tov once said that the greatest miracle in nature. Only it is a miracle that keeps on repeating itself.


We recite every morning a blessing: “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who spreads out the earth upon the waters.” We do not take for granted that earth was formed, and we can walk on it, and live on it, while nearby there are awesome bodies of water that allow the earth to produce life and sustain life. As I get out of bed and take my first steps on earth I pause and express gratitude for that miracle, akin to the splitting of any sea.

Junior high school students in Chicago were studying the Seven Wonders of the World. At the end of the lesson, the students were asked to list what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World. Though there was some disagreement, the following placed received the most votes:

1. Egypt's Great Pyramids

2. The Taj Mahal in India

3. The Grand Canyon in Arizona

4. The Panama Canal

5. The Empire State Building

6. St. Peter's Basilica

7. China's Great Wall


While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student, a quiet girl, had not turned in her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The quiet girl replied, "Yes, a little. I couldn't quite make up my mind because there were so many." The teacher said, "Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help."


The girl hesitated, then read:

"I think the Seven Wonders of the World are:

1. to touch...

2. to taste...

3. to see...

4. to hear... (She hesitated a little, and then added...)

5. to feel...

6. to laugh...

7. and to love.


The room was so quiet; you could have heard a pin drop.


Coincidence is G-d’s way of remaining anonymous, Albert Einstein said. Our job in the world is to serve as whistle blowers to reveal that every moment, every event, every experience is flowing with new Divine energy.

Don't wait for miracles; your whole life is a miracle.


Now we will appreciate the above change in language. First, the Torah describes the narrative as: “The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” This was the miracle, they entered the sea, and it turned into dry land.


But after the event happened, as the Jewish people are recounting the miracle in the “song of the sea, they express themselves in a way that demonstrates that they did not only appreciate the miracle as a one-time event but that they internalized its message for the rest of history: “They walked on dry land, inside the sea.” From that moment on, their paradigm shifted. Whenever they would walk on dry land, they would perceive it as a miracle akin to walking inside a sea!


A regular stroll on the street would be appreciated and celebrated as a stroll inside a sea. Every step they’d take would be the miracle of the splitting of the sea.

 

Shabbat Shalom and a happy Tu B'shvat,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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