I just received a letter that I had never expected.
A number of years ago, I got a letter from Chaim Dovid Goldstein, who had read one of my articles in Hamodia, and had a few questions. In and of itself, this is very unusual. By and large if there are questions they get filed away under H for ‘hmmm’, and are forgotten. Occasionally the person with the question will ask her rabbi or rebbitzen, and more rarely actually send me a letter.
What made this letter unique is that it came from Federal Prison. Periodically, he wrote letters to me about my column The questions were always on target, often accompanied with a dash of wit and always with a full cup of good humor. In the course of the years, I got to know about his transformation. He read chumash, mishnah, and articles on hashkafa. Jewish volunteers from the area would visit him as well as the handful of other Jewish prisoners. He began to keep kosher very seriously. What that meant was never having hot food, since even kosher food that was brought couldn't be warmed up in the general oven. It also meant adopting a very different schedule than the rest of the prisoners. He would get up early to learn and to daven, and go to sleep as soon as possible to avoid the dissolute lifestyle and language that was so much part of the culture of the prison.
I know him as the man he is now; an idealistic baal tshuvah who serves Hashem with significant mesiras nefesh. And of course I hope that this is the way Hashem judges all of us. None of us are completely clean, and Hashem is merciful enough to look beyond our incredibly numerous failures.
We have been through hard times. The Covid has imprisoned all of us to one degree or another. I hope that you have been well and are managing under the circumstances. The political turmoil has also done its bit to pull the rug out from under our feet. May we soon all be free, and may it happen with the miracles that we saw in Mitzrayim or more!
Miracles happen all of the time. Wait a minute. If they happen all of the time, why call them miracles? Why not just describe what you see. You are surrounded by miracles that you may have never noticed.
Did you ever hear the harsh silence of the forest? I would at times escape to Brooklyn's Botanical Gardens during my High School days. I didn't know enough to see the author of the silence and the beauty. I was in Bais Yaakov, but to shallow to make the lessons that every Parshah and every prophet spoke out with such elegance have much to do with real life. I didn't use the word "miracle' in my self-talk. I used the vocabulary of Waldon Pond which we learned in our rather forgetable English class. It was only much later that I knew that a miracle isn't supernatural necessarily, or even unusual. It’s anything that leads you to Hashem.
Ramban tells you that a miracle is something dramatic enough to catch your attention and make you recognize that G-d is not only the direct cause of the world's existence, but is also involved in its moment by moment continuance. Not only that, but that He is fully aware of the choices you make, and the way they cause you in a certain sense to rebrand yourself and the world as a whole. Think about what being in Egypt during the year before the exodus would have been like.
Blood (and don’t forget, the act of changing water to blood not only is changing the appearance and taste of the liquid, but its entire chemical structure), Frogs (and don't forget that the Hebrew word for frog, tzfradea has its root in the word tzfar, which means siren. The incessant croaking was their proclamation of Hashem's ability to change the rules of the game, by changing the instinctual responses of animals.) The frogs came indoors, away from their outdoor wet habitat into the ovens and beds of the Egyptians. Lice emerged from the earth so that they were literally stepping on swarms of the repulsive creatures. The Egyptians didn't open their minds; to them the event was tragic, not miraculously. The Reason that this was the case is that t a miracle must by definition lead you back to Hashem, and they didn't have the fortitude to let themselves go so far beyond their assumptions about life.
What does this have to do with you?
You don't have your water turn to blood, or your bed full of frogs, or your ankles oozing with lice bites. What all of these plagues tell you is that you matter. You are seen. Hashem responds to you. You are the reason that the cosmos exist.
You can partner with Hashem by being part of the story, not just a spectator. Notice what goes on around you. See His hidden hand. When you do this, the gigantic miracles that your ancestors saw in Egypt become part of your life. You come to realize that you are seeing what they saw, but in far more subtle form. Thinking in these terms can make you realize something.
You are in His image
You can notice HIs involvement
You can mirror His involvement and caring, by more like HIm. That means, (gulp) being more involved and more caring.
You can replace words like "impossible" "terminal" "all over" "too late" and "hopeless" with new words. "Unlikely, but then again, who really knows?" "The One who cared enough to get me to Israel, keep me alive, and find me people who care, is still with me now.
Think about the big miracles as you obsrve the small miracles of daily life.
Chaim Dovid Goldstein didn't know or care about "impossible" hopeless" or "too late". You can make the same kind of choice. Let his example stay somewhere in back of your mind, so you can pull it out when you over overwhelmed. You can learn to think in these terms even if you are in quarantine. Even if you have Covid. Even if you have had enough