Ki Tisa - Steven Carr Reuben
Baby Miracles . . .
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben
Board of Rabbis of Southern California
Parashat Ki Tisa
This Torah portion reminds me of baby miracles. As I officiated recently at the naming of a one year old boy, I remembered what his start in life was like: the surrogate of his mother who had been growing the egg and sperm of our congregant and her husband in her womb for many months, suddenly gave birth six weeks prematurely to this tiny, two-pound baby boy. They named him "William," for "will to live," and by the next morning when I arrived at the neonatal ICU of Santa Monica Hospital I remember seeing little William already resting in his tiny incubator breathing on his own. That was the first miracle.
I remember holding the mother as she shook with the fear of losing him, and marveling with her at the miracle of modern medical science that had allowed him to have such a remarkable chance at life. Every minute, every day, in a hundred tiny ways he grew stronger, more developed, more whole as a person, until he finally left his new, tiny, exterior womb and went home to his new life.
I remember as I watched little William stretching his arms and sucking on a pacifier that I could feel the love and longing of his mother to hold him in her arms. And I was certain that God was with us there in that ICU. And then a kindly, older African-American nurse came over and took the frightened mother's hands in hers. She looked into her eyes and with a powerful conviction, a deep reverence and the inspiration of a gospel preacher told her, "Every day look to the future. Every day take something home from here and put it in his hope chest. Every day know that he is getting stronger, better, healthier and will be coming home with you."
And I heard Jacob’s famous exclamation echoing in my mind: "God was in this place and I didn’t even know it!" And I knew it was true.
Williams's naming also reminded me of the miracle birth of another family in our congregation. They had twins, a boy and a girl and I recall the powerful moment when it was their little Jacob's turn to join the long line of Jewish boys that have entered the covenant through the circumcision of Brit Milah.
Those twins were another kind of miracle. They were a miracle of faith, of strength, of courage, of determination and love. For Wendy their mother had endured an extremely high-risk pregnancy and was forced to lie confined to her bed to prevent the probably loss of her pregnancy for six and a half months.
Everyone laughed when her husband, David, in paying beautiful tribute to her courage and strength of character all those months characterized her confinement as "house arrest," but we all knew it was true. She was the life-giving hero for these two precious new babies with all she endured.
So as the mohel helped the parents recite the blessings for entering their children into the covenant of the Jewish people, and family and friends shared their blessings, love and support, I knew I was seeing God's hand moving quietly through the room once again.
I thought of these miracle babies, and I couldn't help but think of Moses in this week's portion as he pleads with God to show him God's essence. In this famous passage, God demurs saying, "You cannot see My face ... you can (only) see My back," (Exodus 33:23) and the rabbis teach us that God's "back" is a metaphor for the effects of God in the world.
We see God's essence, we experience God's presence not by gazing into the face of the Divine, but by looking into the loving eyes of mothers and fathers, and staring with breathtaking awe into the tiny eyes of newborn babies. That is when we truly know that God's acts of goodness pass before us all every day.
Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben is the Senior Rabbi at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation.