Rabbi Shapiro's Shabbat Message - April 15, 2022

  • Clergy
  • Shabbat
Imagine what it must have been like for our ancestors. Having known nothing but slavery and servitude to Pharaoh, having never made a decision for themselves, to flee in the dead of night at Moses’ instruction. No time to pack, no time to think. They grab what they can and go. One foot in front of the other, they march out of the mud pits of Egypt and toward freedom. Realizing what has happened, Pharaoh leaps to action. He is on the move with his army in pursuit. The chase is on as our weary ancestors come to the Sea of Reeds—a dead end—Pharaoh’s men are closing in. Just when it looks like their brief encounter with freedom will come to an end, something miraculous happens. Moses stands on the shore of the sea, raises his staff, and the waters part. Awestruck, our ancestors keep walking toward freedom—right across the bottom of the seafloor. Now that’s what I call a miracle! Too bad it doesn’t work like that anymore.

Open the paper or listen to the news. The war in Ukraine rages on and another week brings news of yet another shooting rampage, this time on a crowded New York City subway. Antisemitism on the rise in Europe and civil discourse all but extinct here at home. Economies collapse and all the while climate change continues unchecked. It’s enough to beg the question: where’s a miracle when you really need one?

Yes, our ancestors lived in a world filled with God’s miraculous power—too bad we don’t. Or do we?

In imagining the parting of the sea, the rabbis of the midrash introduce us to two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who are walking a little slower than the rest, and can’t stop kvetching.

“It seems like we’ve been walking forever,” Reuven says. “My feet hurt!”

“I know,” exclaims Shimon in agreement. “The sand is so hot and it’s getting in my sandals!”

On they walked, complaining about the heat, complaining about the sand, complaining about anything they can find to complain about.

“Look at this,” Shimon grunts. “Now we’re traipsing through mud, this is disgusting!”

“This is worse than the mud pits we were forced to work in Egypt,” Reuven complains. “We should never have left!”

"You’re right," said Shimon. "There's no difference between being a slave in Egypt and being free here."

And so it went for Reuven and Shimon, complaint after complaint after complaint. They were so focused on their feet, so focused on their complaining, so focused on what was going wrong, that they never bothered to look up and to notice why the hot sand had turned to mud, never bothered to notice that they were walking through the bottom of the sea. For Reuven and Shimon, the miracle never happened because they were blind to it.

How many miracles do we miss each and every day?

The single mom who is working two jobs and still finds time to take her kid to soccer practice is a miracle.

The teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, is a miracle.

The smile when your child wakes up in the morning and sees you is a miracle.

The warm embrace of someone who loves you is a miracle.

Our tradition begs us to recognize the miraculous, extraordinary nature of the ordinary every morning by reciting the nisim b’chol yom—the blessings for the daily miracles of our lives.

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam…

Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe…

who removes sleep from the eyes and slumber from the eyelids.

who opens the eyes of the blind.

who raises up those who are slumped over.

who strengthens our steps.

who has made me free.

Simply waking up in the morning to live another day, is a miracle. Take off your glasses for a moment—the ability to see the world is a miracle. To be able to stand up, much less to walk, is a miracle. And, as Pesach reminds us, to be free is a miracle.

Abraham Joshua Heschel put it this way: “What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder…Our goal should be to live in radical amazement…Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Tonight we will sit at our Seder tables and proclaim,

B'chol dor v’dor, chayav adam lirot, et atzmo k'ilu hu, ya-tza mi-mitzrayim.
In every generation, it is our obligation to consider ourselves as if we had come forth from Egypt.

Pesach calls us not simply to remember that our ancestors came out of Egypt but to see ourselves as if we were slaves to Pharoah; as if we fled to freedom in the middle of the night; as if we stood on the shore of the sea; as if we walked across that muddy seafloor. It was us.

But if it was us, then there is also a little bit of Reuven and Shimon in each of us too—blind to the extraordinary, seeing only the mud.

How many miracles do we miss each and every day because we let the bad obscure the good, focus on the mud beneath our feet rather than lift our heads and open our eyes to the extraordinary nature of life itself?

Pesach calls on us to ask ourselves, who do we want to be? Reuven and Shimon, whose go to reaction is to complain; to see only the brokenness and not the beauty? Or one of the hundreds of thousands of Israelites awestruck and astonished by what they saw? A Jew who sees the wonder in the world, who sees the extraordinary nature of ordinary things, and sees the miracles, no matter how small, that surround us?

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,