other night I was watching Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central,
a rabbi was being interviewed. During the course of the conversation the
rabbi remarked that dying and coming back to life is no big deal. This was
his answer when the reporter asked him with humor, if he ever wonders "what
would Jesus do?"
surprised by the rabbi's answer. Is this true? Have lots of people died and
come back to life and if they have, is it really "no big deal?"
watch "The Daily Show" and actually caught that segment. It was very funny -
quite the unexpected answer to the question. It is true that there are a
number of such episodes recorded both in the Bible and in the Talmud, and
indeed it seems like no big deal. I am pleased to discuss one of them
together with you, not only because it is quite the engaging topic, but also
because this back-to-life story may have some instructive insights for this
time of year.
Book of Kings II, Elijah's foremost disciple Elisha succeeds in bringing
a child back to life. This particular child has been born on account of
Elisha's special behest. The child had been out in field complaining of a
headache, took ill and died. The prophet is summoned, he prays, stretches
out over the child and the boy is revived.
raises a number of questions. The issue that intrigues me most is the
seemingly low-key nature of the narrative. A child is brought back to life
and the world goes on as normal. Elisha is rarely ballyhooed as the prophet
who brings people back to life. No big deal.
How can we
begin to understand the ordinariness of the phenomenon? Why is it no big
deal? Why does it seem that in Judaism it is not extraordinary to bring
someone back to life? I think this can be explained by an amazing irony
inherent in the Jewish discussion about Jews and miracles.
On one hand,
we are not short on miracles. Quite a few miracles occur in the Bible. We've
got 10 plagues, the splitting of the sea, the walls of Jericho, and on and
on. These are astounding miracles performed by and large in order to
strengthen belief in God. This belief, writes 12th-century Jewish thinker
Nachmanides, should lead individuals to perceive and become aware of the
miraculous nature of life itself.
Here is what
he says: "Through the great open miracles, one comes to admit the hidden
ironically, we Jews tend to down play the pizzazz of miracles. Miracles?
Look at everyday life, reflect on the natural world, and consider too the
miracle of Jewish history. Those big miracles? They are a wake-up call. Look
around a little - do you ever notice the hidden stuff of miracles?
A case in
point: the child in Kings II, Chapter 4 is brought back to life.
After bowing to the ground, the mother simply picks of the child and leaves.
No great fanfare, no headlines, life simply returns to the usual. But
perhaps that is the very idea. We should think of it this way: miracles are
ordinary and the ordinary is miraculous.
plot thickens: the child that was brought back to life was no simple child.
He came into the world by the specific actions of Elisha. After being the
beneficiary of great kindness from the Shuammite woman who had provided
dramatic hospitality for the man of God, Elisha asked what he could do for
her. He says, "Can we speak on your behalf to the king?"
"I live among my people."
question, but an even stranger reply. Eventually, it emerges that she has no
child and Elisha promises her a child.
the masterpiece of kabbalah, sees hidden messages in this oblique discussion
that bears strongly on this time of year. The day of the above conversation
was the Day of Judgment.
was Rosh Hashanah - the day Kingdom of Heaven reigns, judging the world, the
time the blessed Holy One is called King. So he asked her, Can we speak on
your behalf to the king?'"
awesome day, the Shuammite woman was not anxious to be noticed. So what was
she saying? "I don't want to be designated about, but rather include myself
in the multitude and not to isolate from their entirety."
relevance for us is this: God is the king who sits in judgment on Rosh
Hashanah. The seeds of all kinds of miracles are planted, but, most of all,
the seeds of the ordinary and the miracle of everyday life. But what is the
key from the Zohar? Let us not stand alone, but among our people.
Hashanah we are judged by the King. Where are you going to be on September
16th? Let's be together you and I. Let us stand ready as a people with our
uniquely Jewish way.
Joshua Heschel draws our attention to ideas of "radical amazement" and to
seeing "the hidden in the apparent." I say, coming back to life? No big
deal. Everyday life? Now we're talking miracles.