We must live in the world of the ordinary
But if we then open our eyes and look — really look — we can glimpse the extraordinary. And then we experience a miracle.
Moses learned this lesson
He had to work hard in the world of the ordinary, shepherding his father-in-law’s flock, to arrive at the place of the miraculous. Focused fully on his livelihood, he happened upon a burning bush. Fascinatingly ordinary, this bush burning in the wilderness tempted Moses to do something extraordinary: to slow down long enough to open his eyes to look, really look. In the midst of the ordinary, he caught a glimpse of the extraordinary: that the bush, though burning, was not consumed. That moment changed his life.
When we open our eyes and look, really look, we can glimpse the extraordinary.
The Israelites learned this lesson
Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea at the heart of Parashat B’shalach, recounts the seemingly ordinary on the way to uncovering the extraordinary. Recounting the Israelites’ experience fleeing Pharaoh through the Red Sea, the song begins with the ordinary: Pharaoh’s army pursuing its enemies. We read, “Pharaoh’s chariots and army, God cast in the sea; Pharaoh’s very best officers were drowned in the Red Sea” (Exodus 15:4).
According to the Baal Torah Temimah, by Rabbi Baruch Epstein, it’s a later verse that describes the extraordinarily miraculous event, “ . . . but the Children of Israel walked in dry ground in the midst of the sea” (Exodus 15:19). As the late Rabbi Simon A. Dolgin interprets, “Only toward the very end of the song is the true miracle revealed — the deliverance of Israel. The supernatural is mentioned almost as a footnote to the natural.” The Israelites existed in the ordinary — rushing through the Red Sea just trying to survive. Then, when they looked back, really looked, they glimpsed the miraculousness of the extraordinary.
We, too, must learn this lesson
We rush through life doing our work, going to school, feeding our families, pursuing our livelihoods, trying to make ends meet. Just trying to get through. Simple, ordinary tasks in the pursuit of life’s rhythms. Then, every so often, when we slow down enough in the midst of the ordinary and look around, really look, we glimpse the extraordinary.
Standing in line at the supermarket, fumbling to find our credit card, we look up, hear the person at the cash register ask how we are doing, and for a minute, we engage heart to heart with a complete stranger. In the midst of the ordinary, we rediscover the extraordinary.
Sitting in a restaurant waiting for our meal, we look over at the people next to us, also enjoying a dinner out. Our stomachs growling, we almost miss the extraordinary in the ordinary. After all, they seem so different — be it their skin color, their clothes, their national origin or their age — that we often don’t notice how similar they really are, that we are human beings created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. Then they offer up a smile. Looking them in the eyes, we smile back, offer a kind word and engage in a short conversation. Barriers broken, walls of separation come crashing down, and we walk forth to freedom, rediscovering the extraordinary.
Exhausted after a long day at work, or minding the kids
We get lost in the ordinary tasks of closing up the day: putting kids to bed, paying bills, cleaning up after dinner, preparing for the next day. A child meanders over, a spouse glances up, a friend sends us a text. Can we look away from our ordinary concerns to see the extraordinary before us? Here’s our child, or our life partner, or our friend, who wants to engage with us. We see the miraculous before us, a soul yearning for connection. We turn to connect, and in deepening the relationship, we rediscover the extraordinary amid the ordinary.
Extraordinary Miracle in our Not-Really-Ordinary Lives
The Baal Shem Tov taught that the difference between a miracle and the everyday is only in frequency: “A miracle is a novel event, a new thing that happens for the first time in nature. But after it repeats itself, this, too, becomes nature.” Perhaps, then, our goal must be to live fully in the ordinary but to look, really look around us for the miraculous embedded in it.
The Kotzker Rebbe was once asked: “Where is God?” To which he replied: “Wherever you let God in.” So open your eyes and let the extraordinary in. You just might discover the signature of the Holy One.
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