“To experience a miracle is to taste the finest part of life.”
We are about to sit around the Seder table with our families and do what we do best, ask questions. Why is this night different from all other nights? Why do we dip twice? We encourage young and old to ask, ask, ask. Through the wisdom of our tradition, answers unfold before our eyes. It is a paradox. We encourage all to question and then, go right ahead and expect that we should believe. The staff turned into a snake. The Red Sea parted. How do we make the transition from questioning to a leap of faith? We do this by embracing all of life, by noticing the miracle in all of God’s creations. We teach our children to question and believe, all at once.
Miracles are God’s way of helping and guiding people. There are big miracles, small miracles, obvious miracles, and some miracles we cannot see. To experience a miracle is to taste the finest part of life. And the best thing to know about miracles is that if you open your eyes just wide enough, you can see them every moment of each and every day.
One morning while I was driving my kids to preschool, my four-year-old announced from the back seat, “Wow, look at how blue the sky is!” For two years we had driven the same route and seen the same blue sky every day. But after that morning, I looked at the sky differently. My little one saw what I could not see. I had been looking at the sky for over thirty years and forgot just how beautiful it is. We all have the ability to see and experience miracles. It is our job as parents to make sure our children’s vision for seeing miracles is crystal clear.
When we talk of miracles, we can divide them into three categories. The most popular kind are huge, supernatural miracles, like the ten plagues or the splitting of the Red Sea. They are a little like magic and people talk about them for thousands of years. We read of these kinds of miracles often in our Torah.
Of course, some people question whether these supernatural miracles are actually miracles or is instead nature presenting itself in amazing ways. Several scientific studies have described the splitting of the Red Sea as an act of nature. But, the question persists, “Why is it that the sea split at the exact moment the Jews crossed over? The same could be said for the ten plagues. The occurrence of the plagues could certainly have been an act of nature, but why did they happen at that specific time? While we will never know these answers, these events have a miraculous component, whether they are acts of nature or supernatural miracles.
When the Israelites were developing as a nation, much of their journey was to become a people of faith, and God’s intervention in everyday life was essential for their development. Just like an infant needs a something concrete in order to understand a concept, so, too, did the Jewish people. They experienced God’s presence through these supernatural miracles, and their faith was ultimately bolstered when they reached Israel. But, after their arrival in the Promised Land, these large-scale miracles were no longer necessary. The miracles did not utterly stop occurring, they just manifested themselves differently. We don’t lose faith because today the Red Sea does not part. Yet, the fact that we are a more mature people does not diminish our need for miracles. Our maturity simply means that the shape of miracles grows with us.
“Covered up miracles” are the events in our lives that may seem like extraordinary coincidences, but are really miracles. Each coincidence, such as the fellow who missed his scheduled flight due to a traffic jam and then met his future wife on the next flight, makes us stop a moment and ask, “Was that just by chance or could that have been a miracle?
The third kind of miracles may be the most important, but are the least popular. These are the miracles of nature. Unfortunately, we sometimes take nature for granted because we see it every day. Have you ever awakened at dawn to see the sun rise? It is amazing! If it only happened once in a thousand years, you would surely say, “It is a miracle!” But because we see it daily, we forget just how wondrous it is. The beauty of the sun rising could only be the craft of God. It is just as miraculous as the sea splitting, but may be even more so.
We are able to teach our children to appreciate life when we help them to see everything as a gift from God. This year, let’s not forget to point out all miraclesthe miracle of family and friends sharing the Seder together, the children’s searching for the afikomen (middle matzah that is hidden during the Passover seder), and the love that surrounds the room as we recount a story that happened over 3000 years ago.
Tips for Talking to Young Children about Miracles
1. Start with the most spectacular miracle of allyour child’s birth. Tell your children their birth stories and record these special moments in a journal.
2. Tell your children what miracles are. The Hebrew word for miracle is nes. Nes means “a wonder”.
3. Remind your children of the many miracles they see everyday of their lives. Point out the sun shining, the glimmer of the moon, the green grass, the way their hands move, the power of their smiles. Take your children places where they will be deliberately exposed to miracles. Go to the beach, take a hike in the mountains, visit the Grand Canyon, look out your bedroom window, take a walk in the garden.
4. Explain to your children that you might not be able to fully explain why a miracle does or does not happen, yet we can still believe.
5. Tell your children that it is God who is behind all the miracles they encounter. When you stand with them and look at the sunset, you can say, “Look how amazing the sunset is,” or you can say, “Look how amazing the sunset is that God created.”
6. Read your children stories about miracles. A good book is Small Miracles by Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal. This helps them to know that miracles do happen every day.
7. Pay attention to the miracle of every moment. Teach your children how blessings are a way for us to thank God for everything around us. Learn the shecheyanu and teach it to your children. This prayer thanks God for bringing us to this moment. Blessings are tools that help us do two things. Some are used to request of things from God while others give praise to God. Both versions of prayer help us to affirm God’s existence as well as our personal relationship with the Almighty. Blessings help us to recognize the uniqueness of every moment, both difficult moments and joyous moments.
Hints for Talking to Teens and Young Adults about Miracles
Young adults respond to the subject of miracles differently than young children dotheir eyes are not as wide open. Like younger children, many of them don’t believe that God exists to safeguard the world and unveil kindness and wonder. As people grow older and experience all sides of life, skepticism and doubt arises. However, parents can still try to foster a belief in miracles. Here are some suggestions:
1. Explain that the miracles of long ago (like the splitting of the Red Sea) were tools used for a specific reason, at a specific time, but that we no longer require the same kinds of miracles. The miracles of today suit our contemporary world’s needssuch as the miracle of peace, which we are coming closer to attaining. Discuss the end of Apartheid, the fall of Communism….all miracles that have occurred with human assistance.
2. When a teen comments, “I wish miracles still happened today,” he or she is opening a door for you to discuss the topic of faith. Have a conversation about belief in God, which include questions like, “Do you believe in God?” “Does God listen to your prayers?” “Do you talk to God?” “Have you ever experienced a miracle?”
3. Visit a local bookstore with your teen and explore the religion section or the New Age section. Both are filled with books on miracles. Discuss what experts have written on the subject.
4. When a young adult doubts the existence of miracles, it may not be the parents’ job to disagree. One does not need to believe in the miracle of the Red Sea to understand what it symbolized. The event reminds us of our faith, of the pursuit of survival and the beauty of hope.
As Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles explains: “The time may come when we no longer believe in the tooth fairy, but the time need never come when we forget that the tooth fairy symbolizes certain miracles: the miracle of growth and change; the miracle of parental love.”
Risa Munitz-Gruberger wrote this article for the on-line magazine Jewish Family & Life!-www.jewishfamily.com