Va’era 5783 – Wonder (Asher Yatzar)
Human beings are creatures of habit. Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in The House of the Dead, “Man is a creature that can get accustomed to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.” Some allow themselves to settle into such a monotonous routine that they walk through life like zombies. And yet, this characteristic means that even in the harshest conditions humans find ways to persevere and to survive.
At the same time, illumination flashes in the most surprising places. We never know when or where it might strike. We read in this week’s parsha, Va’era, about a strange hail:
וַיְהִי בָרָד וְאֵשׁ מִתְלַקַּחַת בְּתוֹךְ הַבָּרָד כָּבֵד מְאֹד אֲשֶׁר לֹא־הָיָה כָמֹהוּ בְּכל־אֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מֵאָז הָיְתָה לְגוֹי׃
The hail was very heavy – fire flashing in the midst of the hail – such as had not fallen in the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. – Ex. 9:24
This fiery hail is an oxymoron and an impossibility in and of itself – fire within rain. It was something so unheard of, so strange, that it served as a lightbulb of sorts for the Egyptians. They had forgotten who they were as a nation: founded as a land of beauty and hope and bounty along the Nile, welcome to strangers and suffering peoples in need during times of trouble and famine.
After seven (a number of completion!) plagues, a flash of illumination within the hail wakes them up and shakes them to their foundation. Before the next plague, the courtiers speak up for the first time, finally asking Pharoah to come to his senses and let the people go before Egypt is completely lost. This act is a flash of hope of a better tomorrow for the Israelites.
This song, “Wonder” is about the small miracles that happen in our lives every single day. Though day to day we may walk through life in routine, if we take a moment to pause, think, and open our eyes, we begin to notice and see the world anew. The Hebrew words in this song are the prayer “Asher Yatzar”, the prayer that Jews say after we go to the bathroom. Why do we say a prayer after we go to the bathroom? So many things in our bodies have to work properly in order for us to live each day, so many parts have to open and close at the right times. If we say a blessing to acknowledge the smallest things happening in our own bodies, all the more so we should be looking around and noticing the miracles and wonders all around us! This Shabbat, what will serve as a flashpoint for you? What needs changing in your routine or our collective psyche?