Why is it that when we hear an incredibly miraculous story we feel the desperate need to share it with others?
At the very beginning of the war the same bunch of stories kept going around by word of mouth, Facebook, Instagram, etc. It got to the point that if anyone started to tell me a story that they had heard, I knew I had already heard it multiple times. (Not that the third time makes it any less incredible than the first, but it’s just not as exciting after the first time.) But starting this past weekend, I have been hearing a crazy number of stories that have not made it big. That have not gone viral. And it got me thinking about the way we think about miracles.
What does it do to us? Does it make us feel closer to God? More hopeful that He will provide us with more miracles? Does it improve our prayers? Make us want to pray if we don’t already? Or is it completely unrelated to God?
There are hundreds of books out there that are full of miraculous stories that have happened to our people over the years. These books are popular, so we seem to like hearing about and sharing miracles even if we don’t necessarily know why. And even if we don’t know the people to whom they occurred. So I’m trying to figure out why.
Hearing and sharing these stories seems to make us feel connected, but to what? To whom? Maybe to God. Maybe to the person telling the story. Or maybe to the subject of the story. Why would we feel the need to be connected to some random stranger in a story? It’s often the case that we will never meet them or hear about them ever again. So what does it do for us to feel connected to this person?
Last week I watched someone I know send her husband back off to war after he had come home from the army for Shabbat. We’ve all heard about these goodbyes and thought about what they must feel like (if we haven’t experienced it for ourselves.) But this was the first time I saw it with my own eyes. I saw plenty of videos, but seeing it in real life it is another level of real. It’s no longer a generic story on the internet. It makes you part of the story. The story of our people. Everyone wants to be part of the story right now. Really always, but especially now.
Maybe it’s the same thing with the miracle stories that we hear and can’t wait to share. Knowing the story somehow in a weird way makes us feel like we know the subject of the story which in turn gives us some sort of extra “power.” The power of connection. Which inspires us.
What does it mean to be inspired? According to Dictionary.com, inspiration is the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something. It also means inhalation. And I don’t think the two are unrelated. We all know from experience that being inspired doesn’t last long unless we do something about it. Unless we “do or feel something” after receiving the mental stimulation from some source, it rapidly fades. Similarly, if we don’t make a concerted effort to hold onto an inhalation, it quickly becomes an exhalation. Both types of inspiration generally happen without any conscious effort on our part, and both require significant effort to not let them go.
Hearing or seeing these miraculous stories play out provides us with mental stimulation which generally causes us to feel something. (There’s a reason many inspirational speakers are known to share good stories.) We humans like that feeling because it connects us to others. And we crave human connection. It’s in our nature. So hearing an inspirational story makes us feel at home. Warm and cozy inside. Who wouldn’t want that? So we share these stories because we love how it makes us feel. Even if it’s a sad story. And maybe, depending on the details of the story, it will make us feel closer to God as well. And as God fearing people, that feels good too.
It can sometimes be difficult to connect with God, especially when we are experiencing seemingly endless tragedies. So any means by which we can connect with God is even more welcome and desperately needed, whether or not we realize what is going on in our brains during this process.
Sometimes it may even feel selfish. Is it fair to feel so connected to stories that we are in reality so far removed from? It really couldn’t be farther from selfish. Because feeling connected to our people is not selfish. It’s selfless. It’s removing our individual selves from the picture by remembering that we are part of a bigger whole. And the whole of עם ישראל is much much greater than the sum of its parts.
We have varied experiences in our lives for a reason. We cross paths with all sorts of people. And we are meant to learn from each and every one of them. So it’s not selfish to gain inspiration from a person you’ve never met before or from an instance that you were not directly involved with. It helps grow the circle of our nation.
So if you hear about a miracle that happened to a stranger, and it inspires you, embrace it. Feel it. Do something about it. Pretend you know the person however well you want if it will help you make something more out of the mental stimulation that you were blessed with. It’s a blessing. Take note of that. Not everyone has the ability to connect. Feelings are powerful. The more personal you make it, the more communal benefit it has the ability to provide.
Keep your eye out for new stories. They are thankfully endless right now. I’m sure we are only even hearing a fraction of them. Stories in the making are happening as we speak. In Gaza. In homes all over the country and the world. On airplanes. In airports. On the street. And probably in lots of other places. The miracles coming out of this war are totally crazy and almost quite literally unbelievable. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find one or more that pull at your heartstrings.
Let’s feel these miracle stories (the old ones and the new ones that continue to emerge) as deeply as we possibly can. And share them as passionately as possible. Because that’s part of the magic that will win us this war. Allowing the inspiration to completely overtake us and build the Jewish people ever stronger is the exact antidote the world needs for the unparalleled hatred we are seeing and feeling channeled toward us right now. So it’s easy. (Perhaps easier said than done.) Take a deep breath in. Allow your body to pull in as much oxygen as possible. (Don’t forget to let it out eventually.) Embrace the miracles, and feel them deeply. Really really deeply. As if your life depended on it. Because it kind of does.