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Searching for Everyday Miracles
February 24, 2010 by Jonathan Fass
Most of us live our lives like commuters, not paying much attention to the "scenery" of life as we move from one activity to another. Commuters move on auto-pilot, and only pay attention to experiences that jar us from the everyday. So, the birth of a baby or a visit to the Grand Canyon is a miracle moment, but watching your toddler learn to talk is just the natural, developmental progression of a two year old. In today's miracle-jaded society, if an event would not make the evening news it isn't a miracle.

Judaism asks us to be more sensitive to the everyday miracles around us. In being more sensitive to miracles, we may come to greater appreciate Judaism as our tour guide to a miraculous world. In an important and often neglected teaching, the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidic Judaism, reminds us that miracles are happening every day but we “take our little hand and cover our eyes, " and the miraculous disappears.

Judaism recognizes two types of miracles, the revealed and the hidden. The miracle of Purim, the saving of the Persian Jewry through the efforts of Esther and Mordechai, is considered a hidden miracle, because God is never mentioned explicitly in the Purim story. Nevertheless, Jewish tradition "writes" God into the story by recognizing certain plot twists as only possible through God's intervention. For example, when King Achashverosh is unable to sleep, checks his royal annals, and is reminded of Mordechai’s loyalty, the Rabbis understand this verse to mean that God, the King of the Universe, woke up to the plight of Persian Jewry and began to work behind the scenes, through Mordechai and Esther, to save the Jews from annihilation.

The revealed miracles of the Bible are more familiar to us, including movie-worthy moments such as the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. It is easy to forget that Purim is a miracle, so the Rabbis wrote Al HaNissim, a prayer that reminds us that Purim is no less of a miraculous event as the Exodus from Egypt. This prayer begins by thanking God “for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and triumphs, and for the battles which You did perform for our ancestors in those days, at this season.” The prayer continues “You (G-d) in Your great mercy did frustrate his (Haman) counsel and upset his plan; You did cause his plans to backfire upon his own head, so that he and his sons were hanged upon the gallows.” Notice that the Al HaNissim prayer does not praise Mordechai or Esther at all, despite the fat that they are the heroes of the story.

The Al HaNissim prayer, which is also said during Channukah (a different version), reminds us to recognize the miraculous even when events don't stop us in our tracks. Treating our daily experiences as mundane might be necessary to get to work but does not need to spill into all of our daily experiences. Take some time to be awed once in a while and it will transform you into a more appreciative person and, at the same time, put your place in this world into perspective. This is a way that Judaism can make our lives more sensitive to the world around us. Ironically, we have the ability to cover our eyes and make miracles disappear. That doesn't make us powerful, just blind.