Jewish World Review
Feb. 10, 2006
/ 12 Shevat, 5766
Living an extraordinary ordinary life
Rabbi David Aaron
The Divine becomes believable only when life becomes unbelievable
Once I was walking down the street with my two-year-old son. He looked up and saw something fly by in the sky. He was just beginning to talk, so he said in his limited Hebrew, "Abba, ze," meaning, "Daddy, that."
I looked up, and replied, "Oh, that's a bird."
My son repeated, "Bird."
I felt really good; I'm an adult teaching him how to see the world and how to say the word, "bird."
Then, all of a sudden, another bird went flying by. My son said "Oh, Abba, ze."
I replied, "That's also a bird."
I could see in my son's eyes the confusion. How could they both be birds? They're so different.
You see what happens we get used to experiencing reality by labelling everything. We cease seeing this amazing, unique, flying creature; we just slap an easy label onto it "bird." We become existential file clerks. That creature goes under "bird." Finished. We stop seeing ze, the indescribable "that".
The Kabbalah tells us that at certain times in the Torah the term Ze, "That," alludes to G-d. The goal is to be able to see "That" without labels, without preconceptions. Labels prevent us from directly experiencing reality; they obliterate our vision, and prevent us from seeing G-d. We have to train ourselves to see that which is, without defining or comparing to anything else.
EYES OF WONDER
Children have the capacity to see pure uniqueness. We have come up with so many precise labels and definitions. We think we know whatever it is we are encountering. But children know better. They know that they don't know what it is. And that openness allows them to really see what they are looking at.
Children see something and they are struck with awe. What does it mean to be struck with awe? It's a little like seeing fireworks. When we see fireworks, we exclaim "ohhhhhhh," "ahhhhhhh." We're so dazzled, we simply have no words.
That moment when you see a waterfall, or a rainbow, or a stormy sea, or a new born baby, and you are overwhelmed with feeling of reverence and wonder, when you are so struck with amazement at G-d's brilliance and genius that you can only utter "ahhhhh," that is awe. And it is the beginning of seeing G-d. It is the beginning of seeing reality, of seeing what is real rather than looking at the world through a filter of your interpretations and categorizations of what is real.
To see the extraordinary in the ordinary, you need eyes of wonder. "Eyes of wonder" are eyes of innocence, eyes not jaded and obscured by preconceptions. "Eyes of wonder" take nothing for granted, the ordinary is a miracle; the everyday is a surprise.
Most adults have lost the art of wonder. We have to re-learn it from innocents babies, toddlers, our children. Children can teach us how to see G-d in the wonders of the everyday. The Torah refers to the Israelites as the Children of Israel. We are meant to never lose our childlike innocence and openness.
In fact, it's been said that in ages past a prophet had to be an adult child. A prophet was an adult who had evolved intellectually and yet had not lost the sensitivity and surprise and amazement that a child constantly experiences.
I get a great kick watching my children watch the world. I watch my baby look at things. He looks at each object as if he's never seen it before. He is so surprised by it. He's surprised by his own hand. He can sit there and look at his hand for the longest time as if it's the most fascinating object. And he just giggles and laughs.
SEEING IS UNBELIEVING
The first step to living an extraordinary ordinary life is to see the world without knowledge, without expectations, without the demand that the world fit into our ideas and definitions. Just see it. Once we have experienced seeing it, knowledge will be a helpful, although limited, tool to communicate what we have seen, but we can never allow it to interfere with what we understood before the labels and categories.
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Perhaps that is why for the first two years of life, a child experiences the world without really understanding words and without the ability to speak. Childhood is a time for wonder. We have to spend some time in wonder before we can start using knowledge to define, evaluate and clarify. Words are great, but if they substitute wonder then we lose our direct experience with reality.
The greatest obstacle to seeing life with the eyes of wonder is our conviction that we have to understand, label and categorize everything we see.
Our mental filing cabinet gives us a sense of being in control. When an experience comes along, we know right where to file it. But, if we need to understand everything, we can never see that which is beyond understanding. When everything is comprehensible, we're blind to the incomprehensible and the extraordinary.
This realization hit me like a ton of bricks at the birth of my first child. My wife Chana and I did all the birthing prep courses and read all the books we could get our hands on. But when that baby came into the world, I was literally in total shock. Even after all the knowledge I had accumulated I was completely taken by surprise. It was clear to me that even seeing is not believing. Only then I discovered that G-d becomes believable only when life becomes unbelievable.
One day my son Yehuda asked me how is it that when it is day for us in Israel, it is night for Grandpa and Grandma in Canada? I took a tennis ball and a basketball to demonstrate how the earth (the tennis ball) rotates on its axis and circles the sun (the basketball). As I am explaining this simple concept and feeling delighted to share this very basic knowledge with my son, I see the incredulous look on his face.
Suddenly I got a glimpse of how all this looks to my son's pure eyes of wonder. I then realized how utterly arrogant of me to think that I could actually explain the movement of the universe. My son's expression communicated to me how unbelievable it all was.
PURE AWE, TRUE WISDOM
This is the meaning of the verse in Psalm 111: "The beginning of true wisdom is awe of G-d." The beginning of wisdom is awe, to see what is there, not through the filters of your words or your concepts or your biases.
Seeing life with the eyes of awe and wonder means to see without any expectations to understand, without trying to fit it into whatever we already know. Rather than trying to adapt what we see to our minds we must adapt our minds to what is. Awe and wonder is an act of surrender. I give my mind over to what is, rather then expect what is to fit into my mind.
Have you ever looked at an incredibly inspiring scene and said, "Wow, this is so beautiful. It's just like a post card." Your head is full of post cards. And when you see the Grand Canyon, for example, instead of allowing your mind to be blown away by the colossal magnitude and beauty, you shrink the experience down to fit the mental postcard. You do not see what is; you see post cards. Instead of allowing yourself to adapt to reality in all its grandeur and glory, you try to adapt reality to your concepts, to your frame of reference. This is the opposite of seeing with eyes of wonder.
WONDER BREAD FOR THE WONDERING JEW
After their Exodus from Egypt the Jewish People wandered in the desert for 40 year. During that time they ate manna (the original wonder bread) a food stuff that miraculously fell from the sky daily. On Fridays, however, a double portion would suddenly appear in preparation for Sabbath. The two loafs of bread (challah) present at the festive Sabbath meal reminds us of this miraculous double portion. What's the message?
Imagine you're in the desert and suddenly food falls from the sky. You are awestruck by this outright miracle. But then it happens day after day and the awe wears off. It just becomes part of the ordinary. Along comes the sixth day and suddenly double the amount appears and you realize that what seemed to be ordinary is really extraordinary and miraculous; behind the natural is the supernatural.
Sabbath breaks our weekly routine. It reminds us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary and celebrate the miracle of our everyday lives. But to do this you have to stop taking life for granted. To see the extraordinary in the ordinary, you need eyes of wonder and see the wonder in your daily bread.
Adopted from Seeing G-d: Ten Life-Changing Lessons of the Kabbalah
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron