2019-01-02 / Religion Column

Reclaim the sense of wonder at everyday miracles

RABBI TIFERET BERENBAUM
Temple Har Zion

Parashat Va’era
Ex. 6:2-9:35

Thanks to the vast and quick knowledge base of the Internet, we have lost “wonder” as a verb, and as a result we run the risk of also losing “wonder” as a noun. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l, observed in his book “God in Search of Man”: “As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines…Modern man fell into the trap of believing that everything can be explained, that reality is a simple affair which has only to be organized to be mastered. All enigmas can be solved and all wonder is nothing but ‘the effect of novelty upon ignorance.’”

This definition of enigma and wonder, however, does not apply to the wonders in this week’s parsha. We understand that Pharaoh said to Moshe “tnu lachem mophet.” “Make a wonder for yourselves…” or, “Amaze yourselves!”

What does this mean, “tnu lachem mophet?”

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk, Noam Elimelech, highlights for us the peculiarity of the word “lachem.”

One would expect Pharaoh to say, “Tnu li mophet.” Make a wonder for me. After all, the whole point of this is to show Pharaoh the power of G!d. He points out that afterwards the magicians did the same thing with their own staffs. Should it not be the case that after Pharaoh saw the magicians do it; there should be no reason to harden his heart? He saw a miracle done TWICE! Nevertheless, it seems simple to Noam Elimelech. We have a person who is accustomed to miracles since Hashem, may he be blessed, is doing a miracle for him in every moment! Pharaoh was unimpressed.

Like Pharaoh, we can become unimpressed by the miracles the Holy Blessed One is doing for us in every moment. The sun reappearing. Breathing. Waking up. Food turning into energy to keep our bodies going. These are truly wonders!

Yes, we understand, thanks to science, the why and the how of these processes, but WOW! The challah you eat can end up in the mitochondria of any cell of your body, like in your ear! It’s amazing! The knowledge makes these things even more of a wonder! And there is the person who sees, with her own eyes, and who gets, that Hashem is always doing miracles just for her. Even though she is accustomed to it happening, she takes the miraculous thing and marvels at it. It’s like the first time, every time!

This week, I charge you to reclaim wonder as a verb. Start to wonder about things that do not have simple answers. Wonder at worldly splendor. Appreciate the miracles that keep you going. Wonder at your own abilities. Appreciate your journey and how far you have come. Heschel wrote: “What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.”

Tnu lachem mophet.”

Make a wonder out of something for yourselves. Make it like the first time every time. 

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