Our sages teach us that when we have left this life and face the Court on High, we will be called upon to answer for our lives. Among the questions we will be asked is, “Did you throughout your lifetime eagerly await and anticipate the geulah, the ultimate redemption?”
This is a deceptively difficult question. On the one hand, the answer seems self-evident. Of course we awaited that glorious time of redemption. How could we not? The travails of our lives and the lives of Jews everywhere have kept our thoughts on the coming Messiah, on the coming redemption. And yet, if we are truly honest, have we, with all of life’s day-to-day distractions, pressures and mundane preoccupations really, fully, eagerly awaited and anticipated redemption?
We have been distracted by our lives. We cannot help but be. As Jews we are aware that we have been created both flesh and soul, of heaven and of the earth. Our thoughts by virtue of our creation must be focused on both redemption and the world. As such, the question is impossible for us to answer in the affirmative.
But we will be asked. So, perhaps, the challenge is not in how we must answer but in how the question is phrased.
Perhaps it will be, when that awesome day comes, that the question will be asked, “Was there a day, an event, a moment, when you felt that redemption was at hand; that you were actually engaged in the redemptive process, that Mashiach was actually knocking on the door, awaiting entry?
In short, was there a moment when you felt the miraculous?
There are those who proclaim that life is filled with miracles, that if we truly open our eyes we cannot help to see that it is so. To them, miracles abound. But what is it that they mean when they speak of miracles?
Is it a miracle when you are accosted on a street corner only to have a police car “miraculously” drive by at that moment? Is it a miracle when, faced with foreclosure of your home, you win Lotto? Is it a miracle to notice the beauty of a field filled with wild flowers?
Does a miracle depend on the suspension of natural law?
Is it all of these things? None of them?
I would suggest that the thing that makes a miracle (versus a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, i.e. “luck”) is God’s involvement. When God is involved in our lives, not only are we experiencing the miraculous but, by definition, redemption is as close as the beating of our own hearts.
The truth, as our sages have taught, is that God is close by always. Yet even closeness is not always so easy to discern. We can follow God’s commandments, pray fervently, and lead lives of exemplary behavior and yet not feel the closeness of God.
As Jews, our history and tradition have taught us that God indeed engages in our lives. Didn’t He intercede in the lives of the Hebrews, redeeming them from slavery? The challenge for the modern Jew is that we tend to embrace miracles as communal events and most often in the distant past. They happened long, long ago. Sinai comes to mind.
But personal miracles? The modern Jew often dismisses such things. Isn’t embrace of miracles the domain of other religious traditions? Aren’t we more “rational” and “legalistic” in our lives?
The truth is, God engages us all the time and our experience with miracles is not wholly communal nor in the distant past. Miracles animate every aspect of our existence. It is our success or failure to note and embrace these miracles that will provide our answer to that question on High.
Have we experienced redemption? Yes! Once. A hundred times. A thousand times.
More than asking, What is redemption? or, What is a miracle? we might want to ask, What does it mean to have God in our lives, to know the holiness of the Divine touching our everyday lives? To feel as did the Jews at Sinai, who saw the mountain smoking and saw the voices and the flames, who trembled in awe as they responded, “we hear and we act…”?Rabbi Eliyahu Safran