Rabbi Avi Schulman, one of the exceptional ninth grade abbeim in our yeshiva, uses a tremendous pedagogical tool to build awareness in his talmidim regarding hashgacha pratis, Divine Providence. Regularly, he has his talmidim enumerate what he calls “Mini Miracles” events that people can recognize as somehow beyond the natural order.
As I was visiting this ninth grade classroom recently, I asked if I could share an incident that had just happened to me, which I believed qualified as my own Mini Miracle. They readily agreed and I shared the following with them.
I had been driving along the RFK Bridge the day before when I was surprised to see what appeared to be a golf ball bouncing its way directly towards my car in loping arcs. Traveling at highway speed, I had no time to consider how strange this was before I heard a significant bang near the front of my car. I soon noticed the golf range adjacent to the bridge (be forewarned!) and since everything seemed to be intact, I continued home. Upon arrival, I inspected my car and noted a significant dent in the front just above the driver’s side headlight. It immediately dawned on me that had the ball – or my car – been traveling just a bit faster or offset by a few inches, it would likely have penetrated my windshield right in front of my face! I felt blessed at dodging what could have been a serious accident and injury and was pleased to be able to relate my Mini Miracle none the worse for wear.
It’s often difficult to see the hashgacha in our daily lives and we rarely appreciate it until we have the perspective of distance, if at all. As we go about our daily routines there is so much we can fail to notice, unless we are sensitive to the manifest ways – big and small that Hashem watches over us. Beneficence is regularly doled out to us in heaps that we just don’t see.
The famous Gemara in Taanis (29a) declares “M’shenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha” – as the month of Adar enters, joy is increased. Rashi there makes a perplexing comment: “Yemai nissim hayu l’Yisrael, Purim u’Pesach these were days of miracles for Yisrael, Purim and Pesach. Purim and Pesach? How did Pesach, which in any event occurs in the following month of Nissan, get mixed in with Purim? What is Rashi trying to tell us by connecting the two holidays? I believe that Rashi is conveying a profound message.
The occurrence of Purim during the final month of the Jewish year (counting from Nissan) is no coincidence. Purim represents the concept of the nes nistar, the hidden miracle. Klal Yisrael experiencing their first galus (exile) and their first exposure to life without the clear direction of prophecy and the path that is meant to be followed. Galus is a form of darkness, and in galus, Bnei Yisroel had to learn to recognize the Hand of Hashem when it was not at all clear that He was still actively assisting them. When we read the egilla, the miracles jump off the klaf, but those events actually transpired over a period of thirteen years! Recognizing Hashem’s “Hand” as the story unfolded, would have been as difficult as trying to observe a flower opening! It was only in retrospect that the miraculous events became evident.
As the period of prophecy came to a close and the darkness of exile enveloped us, we needed to develop a national consciousness that could recognize Hashem’s hashgacha in our lives, even when others saw only natural historical events. It was this realization that has carried us through the last two thousand years of exile. Prior to the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash, the Yad Hashem was evident to all. People regularly witnessed open miracles and recognized them for what they were. Pesach demonstrated Hashem’s hashgacha pratis in public, visible ways – something He continued to do until our exile. Purim demonstrated that if we tune our antennae properly, we can see Hashem’s continuing hashgacha even when it’s not obvious and out in the open. At some point, we perceive those hidden miracles and exclaim, “Oh, so that’s what Hashem was doing!”
The Adar experience, the period of recognizing the nistar, comes before Nissan to prepare us to better appreciate the openly revealed miracles Hashem did on our behalf during the month of Nissan and our miraculous Pesach! I believe this is the message that Rashi so brilliantly conveys to us in just six succinct words: Purim and Pesach are in facttwo sides of the same coin and both are key to recognizing Hashem’s hashgacha in this world. It is our hope that by beginning in the currency of nistar that we can become elevated and capable of living in a world of nigla once again.
That can only happen if we strive to connect the dots – something that may take many years to play out. Part of our problem today is that we don’t have the attention span to wait to see all the connections. Let me demonstrate with such an occurrence in my own life.
I grew up in a Jewishlysmall city in Canada without the benefit of a yeshiva education and struggled to maintain the best levels of Torah observance possible, considering the circumstances. I was fourteen before I had my first exposure to yeshiva life, on a Parshas Zachor on an rev Purim no less. I spent Shabbos lunch at the home of one the yeshiva abbeim where I began a lifelong loving relationship with a strange, yet wonderful concoction oddly called chulent. It was that Shabbos that inspired me to go to yeshiva and even though it took more than two years to get there, I feel the true journey started on that Shabbos.
In the many subsequent decades, I have often imagined another guest at that fateful Shabbos table asking my host: “Wouldn’t it be odd if this public school kid ended up going to yeshiva and make a lifelong commitment to learning Torah? And wouldn’t it be stranger still if one day, he actually carried the responsibility of running a yeshiva? And could you possibly imagine that you would have a son, who would become a talmid chachom and mechanech, and end up being a Rebbe in this public school kid’s yeshiva?”
Can you think of a more absurd series of queries taking place at that Shabbos table? I would certainly have scoffed such a discussion that Shabbos, but of course, that is precisely what did occur. You already know that I was the kid in the story, but the distinguished Rebbe’s name was Rav Berel Schulman, and he would one day have a son who would become Rabbi Avi Schulman, mechanech par excellence and innovator of Mini Miracles.
Could anyone have seen that coming all those years ago? Not likely. They say that hindsight is 20/20, but in fact it take a special sensitivity to keep our eyes open, break open the nistar and reveal the nigla that is sitting the right before us, just waiting to be perceived, revealed and reveled. Perhaps we should also shout forth resounding calls of “ore! not just to be able to avoid obstacles as they careen in our direction, but to awaken our awareness and make sure we don’t just let them pass us by.