As many of you know, Jerry and I lived in Israel for 3 years, from 1972 to 1975. It was the best and most difficult of times for me and for my family. I gave birth to a son in April 1973, who died at the age of 5 days due to challenging circumstances. We were devastated, and I could not be consoled. Just 2 months later, our daughter, Leorah, then 18 months old, woke one morning with a fever and could simply not walk. When on the floor, she dropped to her knees and crawled, dragging one foot behind. After a brief visit to our local clinic, we were sent immediately to the same hospital where we experienced the horrific loss of our child. Medical care in the 70’s, in our little town of K’far Saba was not what it is today. Then, the hospital had very strict visiting hours, even for parents of a sick child. Some of the medical team lacked a needed, gentle bedside manner, so terms like bone cancer and brain complications were put out there without any real test results. Even as I write this, these terrible memories become so vivid to me; I feel it all in the pit of my stomach.
“I am not leaving this hospital,” I cried to Jerry, as ‘visiting hours’ were coming to an end at 4pm. “I will chain myself to her bed if anyone tries to remove me.” The nursing staff did not know what to do with this very assertive American woman. The Medical Director was called onto the floor, and it was clear as I wailed about staying, that the best decision was to bend the rule. All day and all night I sat in a chair, next to Leorah’s bed, holding her, calming her as blood was drawn or an IV was inserted. Jerry kept encouraging me to let him stay while I rested at home, but that was an impossible request for me and my state of mind. The little boy, Yoav, in the crib next to ours would look over at Leorah, holding on to the crib bars, and jump up and down, most often laughing. Day after day, little Leorah watched with interest, but could not pull herself up on her feet. I prayed and wept. “Please, God, help her to stand, help her to heal. On day 7, an ordinary moment became an extraordinary one. Little Yoav began his jumping. I smiled at him and then turned to Leorah. She began to raise herself up in that crib, found her bearings and began to jump. Can you imagine – she began to jump. I ran to the nurses’ station, shouting to come quickly. We were all crying. My daughter was on her way back to a full healing, a r’fuah shleimah.
It was an incredibly holy moment, and although I am not sure what defines a miracle, all of us in that hospital room were provided with a renewed sense of clarity about the Presence of God in our lives, and about the possibility of miracles both large and small. (Another amazing miracle came with the healthy birth of our second daughter, Alisa, at a wonderful hospital in Tel Aviv.)
In Parashat Bo, we read about the final four plagues that occurred during our Egyptian enslavement. Our people had been slaves for so very long, and they were finally about to experience one of the greatest miracles of our tradition. As the midrash teaches us, “Thus it is said that the rescue from Egypt is equal to all the miracles and deeds that God performed for Israel.”
As the Jewish people, we have always been compelled to tell and retell this story.
It captures the imaginations of authors, illustrators, and filmmakers alike. Of course, our tradition dedicates an entire holiday to it. In fact, the Haggadah may be the Jewish text that has been illustrated most over time.I believe that one of the reasons we continue to be so captivated by the story is because it teaches us about the possibility of the impossible. God does care about our suffering, God can help us, and miracles do happen.
We have many diverse and conflicting theologies in Jewish tradition. Though some of our greatest philosophers dismiss God’s active participation or interest in our lives, I have resonated most with those who believe that God does interact and partner with us. “God works through people,” I say to the children. By listening to the small, still voice within, we bring God’s light to the earth.” I connect with thinkers like Martin Buber, who believed that God is the Eternal Thou that we could interact with as human beings, and who is present as a third partner any time we authentically encounter something else in our world. And I resonate at times with the teachings of the kabbalists who believe that our actions here on earth have an impact on God, and that God is truly present and accessible.
Many of us do indeed experience the incredible, the miraculous, and the mysterious in our lives. And sometimes, despite efforts to explain these events away through scientific means, we still can’t explain why certain things happen. We may have a dream that helps us, through imagery, metaphor, and emotion, with a decision we need to make. And this, I believe, comes from the divine soul within us that offers its wisdom and guidance. We may have a relative who, according to the doctors, is terminally ill, but somehow he or she recovers and regains strength and health, sometimes baffling the medical world.
We may experience something challenging, heartbreaking, or painful that we don’t understand at the time, but later we see that it set us on a new path that we never would have undertaken otherwise. And although I do not believe that God brings about that heartbreak, I do believe that God gives us the ability to be resilient, open to the support of friends and family.
I have heard from many Jeremiah congregants throughout my years here who experience these miraculous moments, and who enjoy sharing their sense of wonder, appreciation, and gratitude. I hear from them that they found the opportunity at Jeremiah to talk about these events, to be validated, and to be able to enjoy the mystery of it all. Just as the Exodus from Egypt included various signs and portents from God, our lives can also contain these messages. Many of them can help us see the daily miracles that fill our individual life stories. We may not ever see something as grand as the Sea of Reeds parting before our eyes, but we can still experience God day by day.
We live in a world where bad things can and do happen. We might be faced with unemployment, the loss of someone we love, illness, and a multitude of other challenges. Often the more difficult choice is to not turn away from God. Parashat Bo reminds us of the mutuality of our relationship: we are given the great gift of freedom to deepen our relationship with all that is holy and, ultimately, to create a better world.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.