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November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
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A Cardinal Message


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A flash of red caught my eye, and I looked up and saw a cardinal perched on the picnic table on my deck. What a miracle, I marveled. You’re beautiful. Thanks, Hashem. And then my mind’s wheels began to roll, and it struck me that several miracle stories had come my way this week. The stories prodded me to think of and feel Hashem’s presence as a more tangible and vivid reality.

“It was a little after noon on Erev Shabbos,” a visiting rabbi said in shul. “I was looking forward to spending a great Shabbos in your community when my world suddenly went dark. My glasses, the same pair I’ve had for the past 12 years, snapped in two. The Shabbos that I eagerly anticipated suddenly loomed like an oncoming nightmare, and my blood pressure soared.

“How was I supposed to address a crowd, using my sefarim and notes, without being able to see? When introduced to people, would I shake their coattails instead of their hands? I worried about tripping on my way up to the podium, on my way back, or both. Well, I shared my gloomy predicament with my wife, and our driver overheard my lament. Within the hour, I was happily set up with a brand new pair of glasses. You see, my driver happened to be Dr. Simson.”

Ah, we all nodded knowingly, the picture became strikingly clear. Dr. Simson just happens to be an optometrist. That’s pretty amazing, I thought. Hashem was clearly watching out for him.

My next light bulb was activated on Erev Shabbos. I was speaking to an older lady friend, and she relayed the following scenario: “My son-in-law was just diagnosed with a tumor.” I gasped. “Thank God, it’s benign,” she said, hurrying to reassure me. I could feel her gentle smile through the phone. “But you’ll never believe what happened when he was on the operating table. Just when they opened him up, he had a heart attack.”

I gasped again, failing to see the miracle. I assumed that the surgery had shocked his body into cardiac arrest. But she continued her saga, quickly dispelling my incorrect assumption. “They found three of his arteries blocked,” she said slowly, and incredulity began to dawn. “He was a walking time bomb. If his heart attack would have occurred at any other time or place, it may have been fatal. But because it happened while he was on the operating table, they were able to save his life.”

Unbelievable, I marveled. Hashem is really here with us every second, pulling strings and making life happen. And then I remonstrated to myself: Is this what you need to bolster your emunah? Don’t you feel Hashem with you every moment without needing the sea to split and manna to rain down from shamayim? I mean, isn’t your very existence reason enough to sing “Mah rabu ma’asecha Hashem”? And what if these two stories hadn’t ended with such fairytale endings? Would that mean that Hashem was any less involved, chas v’shalom? Or does it simply indicate that He, in His infinite wisdom, ordained these events to happen as they did?

For the next few days I thought about miracles, their purpose and message. And then a very special, miraculous day arrived – the day of my youngest child’s siddur play. From the moment my Tehila marched on stage, a golden crown adorning her head, my eyes swam. My heart was filled with an emotional intensity that I can never adequately describe.

I watched my daughter sing about the treasure of tefillah, the gift of being able to communicate with our Father and King at any time for any need. She sang about Shabbos and berachos, and appreciation for everything we have. And my tefillos took wing on her song.

Please, Hashem, I begged, may she keep her youthful energy and excitement as she grows to serve you throughout her life. May her eyes glitter with the same love, and may she sense your closeness as she walks up life’s hills and through its valleys. May Shabbos and Yom Tov fill her soul with a spiritual boost and forge a path within her heart leading toward eternity.

I looked around, pausing in my silent tefillah. Other parents were snapping pictures and smiling. They looked happy, almost lighthearted. They were younger and had many siddur plays ahead of them.

Don’t be so sure, I wanted to tell them. Your innocent child will not stay frozen in time. She will grow, and she may become complacent. Worse yet, doubts may fill her mind. Guard her like the treasure she is, and daven for her like your life depends on it.

Shacharis, Minchah, Ma’ariv,” Tehila sang, and my heart sang with her. Yes, my daughter, tefillah is a magical opportunity. Hashem waits to hear from you. Don’t let Him down.

“Hashem gives us so much. We thank Him for everything…” the little girls chorused, smiling at us from on stage. Yes, Tehila, you will see miracles in your life. But don’t forget the everyday ones that are equally significant. Pause to admire the rose growing in front of your house, and marvel at each step and phase of your child’s development. Allow the big, open miracles to wake you up. But don’t forget to be refreshed by the ordinary moments, the everyday miracles. And when life doesn’t feel miraculous because everything’s going awry, that too is a miracle. Because when you think about it, any intervention from Hashem is miraculous, is it not? Even when we think the scenes are not playing out the way we would have written the script.

One last song, and the play was over. I hugged my little girl, and she tenderly handed me her siddur. I told her how proud I was, and filled her plate with cake. And as I left the auditorium, I knew I had witnessed a miracle – the miracle of my baby reaching yet another milestone in her development. But Hashem’s blazing, meteoric miracles don’t last. The roiling Red Sea rolled back into its bed, and the manna stopped falling after 40 years. Hashem sends us spurts of inspiration to encourage us, and then says, “Kids, now it’s up to you. I changed nature for you to get your attention. Now I charge you to sustain that inspiration. And if you keep your eyes open, you’ll see small, daily miracles that have My imprint, and they’ll carry you through.”

I was preparing dinner later that afternoon. Sure enough, I glanced out through my sliding glass doors, and there was another cardinal (or maybe it was the same one). I stopped, moved again by his message of beauty. And after his beady black eyes stared into mine, he flapped his wings and soared heavenward. He was waving to me, as if wishing me well on my journey.

I’ll try, I told him, gazing till I could no longer see his bright plumage. I, too, will try to use my wings and fly ever closer to Hashem’s throne of glory, remembering that our lives are filled with constant miracles, every moment of every day.

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A flash of red caught my eye, and I looked up and saw a cardinal perched on the picnic table on my deck. What a miracle, I marveled. You’re beautiful. Thanks, Hashem. And then my mind’s wheels began to roll, and it struck me that several miracle stories had come my way this week. The stories prodded me to think of and feel Hashem’s presence as a more tangible and vivid reality.

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