Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story that is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.1

The human propensity to take wonders for granted is truly astonishing. We’re constantly trying to find patterns of phenomena, grouping events or people together, and explaining them away to help us simplify and make sense of life. As a result, we tend to overlook the extraordinary reality unfolding before us.

The English word nature is derived from the Latin word nat, which means born. This conception of nature is founded on the theory that things are the way they are because they were created that way and can thus never change. This mechanistic mindset shuts down curiosity, wonder, and excitement by downplaying the uniqueness of every single moment and encounter. As the saying goes, “It is what it is.”

In contrast, the Hebrew word for nature, teva, means to be submerged, as in tub’u bayam,2 submerged in the sea. When you stand on the beach and look out upon the miles of water before you, everything looks the same as far as the eye can see. What you don’t see is an entire underwater world teeming with millions of living species expressing an even greater array of biodiversity than exists on land.

From Judaism’s perspective, reality itself is like the sea—it is only when one dives in and is fully immersed within it that they can appreciate the wondrous world’s rich life concealed beneath its surface.3 In other words, reality’s true nature is hidden, waiting to be discovered, if only we would venture from the safety of the shore to swim in its deeper depths.

To understand the reality of nature, we must first understand the nature of reality. A brief synopsis of the Kabbalistic understanding of creation will prove helpful for this endeavor.

In the beginning, there was only G‑d; nothing else existed, and nothing else could exist without compromising G‑d’s essential singularity. Since G‑d is an infinite and unified being, nothing exists outside of G‑d.

Therefore, in order to create the world, the Creator contracted and hid His presence to make space for creation to exist. However, this also created a virtual veil of separation between the Creator and creation, allowing the universe to experience itself as possessing its own independent existence. Because of this dynamic, one can observe the universe and not immediately discern its origin, creator, and life-source. This state of affairs leads us to take nature and reality at face value, without looking beyond its facade to ascertain its deeper substance and significance.

Interestingly, in Jewish mysticism, G‑d’s various names represent different permutations of Divine energy. The force of concealment that hides G‑d’s presence to make space for the natural order to exist is referred to by the name Elokim. This is the particular name of G‑d mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, which describes the creation of the world. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the word Elokim (eighty-six) [when spelled properly with a hei] is the same as the letters that make up the word hateva (the nature).4 The role of Elokim in creation is precisely to introduce the element of concealment, simultaneously channeling and camouflaging the miraculous undercurrents that bring reality into existence. Elokim paradoxically orchestrates and obfuscates all visible clues to the Divine origin of our universe in the process of its manifestation.5

Jewish mysticism therefore views nature as a series of miracles6 that are perpetually recreated at every moment,7 yet never exactly the same as before.8

This understanding of reality is certainly not the norm, but it is available for those who seek it out. For instance, when a propeller spins slowly, its movement and constituent parts are obvious to the observer, but as it spins faster and faster, its continuous movement ceases to be apparent; it is just a blur.

Judaism’s teachings help us slow down the frantic blur of life, sensitizing us to see beneath the veneer of nature and into its miraculous depths. In fact, many Jewish prayers and practices are designed for this very purpose.

For example, when we wake up in the morning, we recite a prayer9 to express our gratitude to G‑d for the gift of a new day, which so often goes unnoticed and underappreciated.

Certainly, if there is one thing we take for granted more than anything else, it is the blessing of life we receive anew each day.

Following this moment of conscious awakening, we most likely need to use the restroom after a long night of sleep, and there is a special blessing for that as well.10 According to Jewish tradition, the mere act of going to the bathroom is a cause for spiritual celebration and sincere thanksgiving for the wondrous workings of our body.

Where many religious traditions shun the body in favor of the soul, Judaism guides us to become more—not less—aware of the workings of our body, because they are truly expressions of the Creator himself. As the verse says, From my flesh I will see G‑d.11

Additionally, further on in the morning liturgy of daily prayers, there are various blessings to express our thanks to G‑d for our renewed vision, vitality, mobility, powers of discernment, and for numerous other physical abilities12 that we so often take for granted, as well as blessings on the foods we eat and fragrances we enjoy. What’s more, Judaism has unique blessings for encountering exquisite beauty, extraordinary wisdom, and various natural phenomena such as thunder, lightning, rainbows, blossoming trees, and the sight of the ocean. In other words: Almost everything that we physically experience or ingest is seen as an opportunity to remember and connect with the source of its, and our, essential being.

What blessings are to nature and embodied experience, the Jewish festivals are to time. As opposed to seeing history as a “trash bag of random coincidences torn open by the wind,”13 the Jewish calendar reveals the hidden thread of Divine Presence and providence in the tapestry of human affairs. Furthermore, just as the purpose of blessings is to generate an intrapersonal awareness of the Divine within each individual, Jewish festivals serve to cultivate an interpersonal experience of the Divine as we gather to celebrate with our families and communities. Chanukah takes this one step further, as the Sages in the Talmud bid us to engage in acts of pirsumei nisa, publicizing the miracle to the wider world.14 This is but one shining example among many of the essential mission of the Jewish people, which is to illuminate the world with the light of the Divine, revealing for all to see that what we normally perceive as mundane nature is nothing less than miraculous.

The Big Idea

Judaism helps dispel the illusion of an autonomous natural order, revealing the Divine Presence within everyone and everything.

It Happened Once

The Washington Post once reported on a creative social experiment performed during rush hour in a busy Washington, DC, subway station: Joshua Bell, one of the world’s best concert violinists, played Bach’s finest pieces for forty-five minutes on a violin worth three and a half million dollars. Thousands of people passed by, but only seven stopped to listen, and even then, only for a few moments. Two nights earlier, Joshua’s show in the Boston Theater was sold out, with tickets averaging a hundred dollars each!

Every day, we find ourselves surrounded by the most beautiful music ever played, by the greatest musician who ever lived, on the finest instruments ever created. To hear the exquisite music within our world, all we need to do is pause and pay attention to the Divine Composer behind it all.

This way of seeing the world is beautifully depicted in a story about the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chasidic movement. One day, as the Baal Shem Tov was walking through the forest with his students, he pointed out a leaf that had just blown off of a tree floating down to rest on the sun-parched dirt road. The Baal Shem Tov told his students that the leaf falling off the tree at this particular time and landing in this specific place was orchestrated by G‑d.

He asked his students to lift the leaf off the ground, and there lay a worm dying in the summer heat; the fallen leaf had restored its energy and life, providing comfort and protection from the sun.

G‑d’s Providence governs every creation, including the most minute. Even this fallen leaf, tossed about by the wind, is an expression and fulfillment of G‑d’s compassionate orchestration.