Being Moved Through Miracles by Gevura Davis (Intro by Lori)
Dear JWRP Chevra,
A new calendar year and new beginnings. I have been intrigued by some of the many "how to keep resolutions" ideas flying around social media this week. One caught my eye; it was about garbage. Yes, you read it right: garbage.
This one was called "40 Bags in 40 Days." The idea was to get rid of your "stuff." Not just garbage, but things in your home that you do not need, use or even want, most of which could be given to those who really need them.
I took that one seriously, and I have been sorting and throwing and giving away at least one bag a day and it is amazing, not just physically, but spiritually. All that stuff around us weighs us down and holds us back from achieving what we need to.
The new calendar year is a new beginning. Get rid of whatever is holding you back from achieving your personal potential and it may just clear the way to the greatest year of your life.
Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom,
Albert Einstein, the physicist whom many believe was the smartest man of the 20th century, brilliantly said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
In this week's lively Torah portion Va’eira, the Jews and Egyptians experienced some of the greatest miracles the world had ever seen: the first seven of the ten plagues. G-d temporarily altered the way the world operates and stunned the entire nation with the greatest show of lights, blood, animals and every incredible flash of nature one could imagine.
One would have thought that both the Jews and Egyptians would immediately bow in permanent loyalty and service to the Creator of these miracles, right? In the face of such power and awe inspiring events, how could a person not be changed forever?
However, that isn’t exactly what happened. It’s true, the Torah tells us that G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart to prevent him from quickly acquiescing to Moses’s demands, but something much deeper transpired. Both the Jews and Egyptians quickly rebelled against G-d. After Pharaoh finally let the Jewish people go, the Egyptians changed their minds and chased the Jews until the shore of the sea. And only 90 days after the Jews left Egypt and only 40 days after they heard G-d speak directly to them, they rebelled and built the golden calf.
What were they thinking? How could both the Egyptians and Jews not have been so permanently inspired and awed by G-d that their behavior would exhibit loyalty, dedication and on-going service to Performer of such irrefutable miracles?
There are many answers, but I want to focus on two. They so clearly relate to us and how we live our lives – especially after New Year's, when we confront our ongoing struggle to keep resolutions and change our behaviors.
The first is cognitive dissonance, which is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as they relate to behavioral decisions and attitude change. Often, we know the right thing to do in one place of our consciousness but then, for reasons we can’t explain, we actually behave differently. Our actions are not always a reflection of our knowledge and values. In fact, sometimes quite the opposite. We know something is wrong in our conduct but continue to do it. Eat unhealthy food, yell at our spouses or children, stay up too late, text or talk while driving, etc. Most of our bad habits stem from cognitive dissonance.
A great rabbi once remarked that the greatest distance in this world is the length between the head and our heart. Our behaviors are often guided not by logic or knowledge, but by our desires – our bodies, which seek pleasure and comfort and the path of least resistance. Our souls want to listen to the rational voice that says to do the right thing, but our bodies want what’s most comfortable. The problem, of course, is that letting our bodies run the show can often hurt us and those we’re closest to and prevent us from really growing.
The Jews and Egyptians who lived through G-d’s miracles knew that the same G-d who turned the Nile to blood and filled the world with locusts, wild animals and darkness was the same G-d who demanded that they live according to laws and rules that included freeing the Jewish people and not building false idols. And yet, they behaved in a way that didn’t reflect their knowledge of G-d.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz points out that the word for faith in Hebrew, emunah, is actually the act of being faithful and loyal to the knowledge of our belief in G-d. That knowledge must guide our behaviors to live in a G-dly way. The goal of faith is to train us to live in a way that is loyal to our knowledge of right and wrong and to use that knowledge to improve our behavior in order to become better people. To shorten that distance between our heads and our hearts so our behavior reflects our potential for patience, kindness, fortitude, strength, giving, loyalty, loving.
A second possibility for how the people in that generation could rebel against G-d despite the miracles they witnessed is something we all suffer from: a lack of sensitivity to the miraculous. This is what Einstein was addressing. When we look around at this beautiful and awe-inspiring world, it's easy to take for granted and forget it has a Creator. We become desensitized to the miracle of each blade of grass and the wonder of the gigantic black holes in space, or the enormity of the conception and birth of each baby and the details it took to create that perfection. The enemy of faith is not a lack of faith, it is cynicism that tells us there is nothing to have faith in. The job, however, of every human being is to look around at the glorious wonder-filled world and see the Creator’s footprint.
Let us each work hard to live our lives with loyalty to our knowledge of G-d and His the beautiful world He filled with so many miracles and blessings, and let us connect our behavior to that knowledge so we can cultivate our growth into the G-dly people we have the potential to be.
Gevura Davis is an educator who currently works as the Director of Women, Youth, and Family Division of The Etz Chaim Center in Elkins Park outside of Philadelphia. She recently moved from Kansas City with her husband and five children.