Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Surely God is in this place, but I did not know it -- seeing the miracles

The most famous case in the Bible of someone realizing the possibility that the Great Holy One can be right before you and still you might not truly see that incredible Holiness is when Jacob awakes from his "Jacob's ladder" dream (Genesis 28:16). But it is not just Jacob who has this kind of experience. All of us face this possibility all the time. We live in a world full of amazing wonders -- the mere fact of the existence life itself is an incredible miracle. And, yet, we can easily go through the normal routine of our days without a single awareness of the "miracles that daily attend us."

Yesterday, the great scholar Art Green shared with us at Oraita a great teaching on miracles from the Hasidic master Kedusaht Levi. Writing about Hanukah, the Kedushat Levi tells us that we need spiritual "exercise" in order to help sensitize us to the נסים שבכל יום -- t the miracles that are in the "every day." Building on the work of the great Medieval Bible and Talmud commentator, the RambaN, the Kedusaht Levi says there are two types of miracles:
  • נס נגלה -- Miracles that are revealed. That, is miracles that are obvious because they involve obvious changes in the natural world (eg, the splitting of the Red Sea).
  • נס נסתר -- Hidden miracles. Miracles that do not involve any supernatural change in the natural order (eg, the wonder of the leaves -- for no apparent reason -- turning brilliant colors before they fall from the trees or the softening of a heart that was so hard that one could never imagine it ever softening -- a miracle I see often in my work as a hospital chaplain).

This final category, he divides into two types
  • A hidden miracle that is purely God's work (here, he cites the miracles of the holiday of Purim).
  • A hidden miracle that does have human involvement in its success (here, he cites the miracles of the holiday of Hanukah, where humans made their involvement when the Jews fought their war against their Greek oppressors).

What the Kedushat Levi is suggesting about this hierarchy of miracles is that the the obvious miracles like the splitting of the Red Sea and the hidden miracles that have some human involvement help sensitize us the the kind of miracles that are truly the most amazing of all -- the "little" ones that we can not go even one step in our lives without coming across.

In terms of my own development as a Jewish person developing a practices as a trainer of chaplains and other spiritual caregivers the significance of this is that it helps me develop a Jewish language for things like spiritual training and development. The importance of this should not be minimized. So many Jews -- and this described myself as well not so long ago -- are repelled by spiritual development (or Clinical Pastoral Education) because it feels Christian. Being here at Oraita -- and learning with a great mind like Green -- is helping me find my own Jewish way forward. And it is giving me the tools to share that with my own Jewish students going forward.

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