Despite the frequent frustrations, the constant worries and the maddening delays in deploying the Coronavirus vaccine, some of us have managed to get our first injection. Surely, many of us feel, we ought to recite a blessing when receiving what most consider a life-changing vaccination. But what blessing should we say?
Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles suggests that upon receiving our Covid vaccine, we recite a blessing that thanks G-d for miracles. He cites the blessing recited by Joseph when he returned to the Land of Israel to bury his father Jacob in Hebron. The midrash relates that on the way Joseph stopped to see the pit into which he was thrown by his brothers. There, years later, looking into the pit, Joseph recites the blessing, “Blessed be G-d, who performed miracles for me in this place.” Rabbi Wolpe says that the idea is that when we are in danger and we are saved, we thank G-d. He feels that it is appropriate for all of us to recite this blessing when we receive our Covid shot — “Blessed be G-d, who performed miracles for me in this place.”
But some of us might wonder whether the development of a vaccine for Covid is a miracle! As we remember, the rapid development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were often described as a “miracle” both in the media and in conversations. Whether or not it is a miracle depends on our definition of the term. Last week we read of the parting of the Red Sea. The Torah tells us that the waters of the Red Sea formed a wall on the right, and a wall on the left, and the Israelites walked through sea on dry land. No one who experienced that, or who reads about that, could doubt that this was a miracle. We read about how G-d rained bread from the heavens to feed the Jewish people in the desert. No one would doubt that the manna, so called, was a miracle. The Israelites are thirsty. G-d tells Moses to strike a rock and water will issue from it so the people can drink. No one could doubt that this too, is a miracle. In this week’s Torah portion G-d reveals himself to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. Yet another miracle that no one would doubt. These events all conform to the Oxford language’s dictionary definition of the word “miracle” – “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency”.
By the dictionary definition, the Covid 19 vaccine would not be considered a miracle. Although it is a welcome event and surprising in its rapid development, by its very nature it is explicable by scientific laws. But there is another school of thought that holds a very different definition of “miracle”. Consider our prayer for thankfulness in the Amidah, the “Modim” prayer, in which we affirm that G-d’s miracles are with us every day! The Piacezna Rebbe, writing from the Warsaw ghetto, maintains that the workings of the universe are merely cloaked in what we see as cause and effect. We perceive the world operating by the laws of nature, because it is through the laws of nature that G-d works in the world. But the truth is, says the Piacezna Rebbe, that it is all a miracle. The miraculous is camouflaged in the prosaic, the commonplace, and the everyday. The great 13th century Rabbi, scholar, physician and kabbalist Nachmanides declares emphatically that a person has no part in the Torah of Moses unless he believes that all ……. occurrences are miracles.
The renowned scientist Albert Einstein is reputed to have declared that there are two ways to live your life. One way is to live as if there are no miracles. The other way is to live as though everything is a miracle. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that “living as though everything is a miracle” means that we should live our lives in a state of wonder. If we look deeply into our soul, he writes, we will understand that nothing can be taken for granted. The fact that anything at all exists is unbelievable, wondrous. Each thing is a surprise. We should be amazed at the fact that there is anything at all. Indeed, our tradition mandates that we recite a hundred blessings every day, a way of keeping us awake throughout the day to the very miracle of being.
However, if we want to hew to the dictionary definition of a miracle, we can choose to recite the Shehechiyanu, the prayer gives thanks for bringing us to an important moment in our lives when we receive our vaccination. Others my wish to recite the Birkat HaGomel, the prayer recited upon deliverance from a dangerous situation. Or, we can make a blessing using our own words, in English.
May G-d send healing to all who are suffering as a result of the virus, and protect all who have not fallen sick. May we soon see the day when the virus no longer is the scourge that it is, the day that we will all return to our normal lives and societies and communities will resume their normal functioning throughout the world.