Lauren, you spoke today about your Torah reading but I want to spend some time on the Haftara that you read. You read the beginning of the story of Sampson, a man who led a very complicated life that ended tragically as he tried to save his people. The beginning of the story in your Haftara is interesting in its own right. A man comes to Sampson’s parents and tells them a remarkable son will be born to them and they must treat him like a Nazir, a very holy man, even before he is born.
Sampson’s father, Manoah, wants to offer a sacrifice to the man but the man says the sacrifice should be made to God. Manoah does this and to his surprise, the man merges with the flame and rises to heaven. It is not a man after all; what appeared to be a man was an angel that ascended to heaven on the flames of the sacrifice. It is called in Hebrew, “pele” a wonder, a miracle, something beyond our understanding.
Lauren, if you watched an angel ascend in a flame to heaven, your reaction would be pretty much like Sampson’s parents. They just stood there with their mouths open in awe of what they had just witnessed. Manoah, was a bit frightened but Sampson’s mother takes a more rational approach. The prediction comes true and Sampson is born and begins his complicated life.
Lauren, what you may not know is that this word for miracle, “pele” is found in another context in our prayer book. Judaism believes that big, wondrous miracles can be great and we are always grateful when we experience one. But when we pray, we are grateful for a different kind of miracle.
Lauren, you see, the very early part of our service, the part that is recited before the formal service begins, includes a prayer for our body. We thank God that we have a body that includes many different tubes and openings. We may not always know how it all works but we do know that if a tube that is open should become plugged up, or an opening that is supposed to be closed should remain open, our health would be in serious jeopardy. We really don’t pay very much attention to our body and how it works until the time when it is no longer working properly; when our head gets stuffed up, we start seriously bleeding, or we can’t breathe or swallow. All signs that something is wrong.
In fact, Lauren, we should be grateful that our bodies work each and every day. It may seem mundane, after all, our body does work every day, but it is this everyday miracle that is just as important as the wonder that amazed our ancestors. When our body works then we can get out and run, play and compete. When our brain works we can memorize a poem for our literature class and when our heart works we can, as you well know, do the work that needs to be done to help others find their place in our world.
But very few of us really understand the miracle that our bodies represent. It is such a mundane, everyday kind of a miracle that is easy to overlook. There are many mundane miracles that surround us all the time. There are the flowers that bloom up and down the street. There are the stars that shine beautifully in the night sky. There is the love that your parents and grandparents share with you every day. These are the normal parts of life that are “pele” miracles. These make up just some of the hundreds of reasons we have to be grateful to God every day.
Lauren, you listed some of the groups you know and care about because they do such good work in the world. Someday soon, you too will join their ranks and bring miracles into the lives of others as part of your “Tikun Olam” as part of your making the world a better place. You will be the reason that others will have to be grateful for the miracles in their lives. You will be their miracle.
Just don’t forget that you to receive miracles every day. The miracle of good health, of good friends and a good home. Lauren, we are grateful for all you have done this day as you begin your new life as a Bat Mitzvah, a responsible adult. You have expressed your gratitude for those of us who made this day possible for you. The world is filled with the presence of God, in miracles great and small; miracles wondrous and mundane. Let us always be thankful for that. … As we say … Amen
Mazal Tov to you Lauren and to your family.
Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, June 3, 2017.