A friend of mine shared an incident with me that unfortunately is all too common. While driving on the highway, she turned on her blinker in order to merge into the lane next to hers. She glanced in her rearview mirror and had started to switch lanes when a car honked loudly as it zoomed by. She quickly swerved back into her lane, narrowly escaping an accident.
She thought she had checked her blind spot, so she couldn’t believe there was a car there. She had been microseconds away from a high-speed collision, and felt extremely grateful that she was alive. Later, she mentioned that she literally felt the hand of G-d guarding her and her family, preventing the collision. Although car accidents do happen, near-misses are more common. Yet we often escape these potential disasters without even taking note.
Most people do not take into account the hundreds of times a day in which the hand of G-d protects us. We have a so-called “blind spot” to G-d’s kindness towards us.
One Shabbos a number of years ago, I attended shul with my sister-in-law and my three-year old niece. As the energetic toddler jumped in between the pews, I watched her mother strategically place her hands so my niece would not bump her head. She simultaneously stopped the siddurim from falling on my niece or on the floor. I remember thinking, Wow, my niece has no idea that her mother is guarding her every move to make sure she does not hurt herself. That is when it hit me: Just like our parents do so much for us without our realizing it, so too is our Father in Heaven, constantly protecting us even when we cannot see it. Although it may not always seem that way, He is orchestrating every move of our lives to ensure the best outcome for us.
Witnessing this “blind spot” of a young child is cute and endearing. However, as adults, we act the same way. We merrily go about our day, barely noticing all the amazing miracles that have kept us safe.
Sometimes, Hashem’s presence is so pronounced it is impossible not to see. His miracles feel so grand that we can’t help but stop to marvel at G-d’s presence in our lives. These are “split the sea” moments. Yet, such huge, blatant miracles are not the norm.
Sometimes, we may experience challenges that seem so unbearable that we wonder if there is a G-d at all. How can we manage to see G-d’s hand during trying times? We have to work on seeing G-d’s light on a daily basis, so that when challenges arise, we can look back and feel His presence, even in the darkest of times.
How can we find G-d’s guiding hand in quieter, less noticeable areas of our lives? How can we learn to recognize and have gratitude for these small moments, or mini “love taps” from G-d?
We need perspective.
Imagine peering through a small window and seeing one man slicing another open. “Stop!” You’d want to call out. But then you pull back and realize you are outside a surgeon’s operating room, and he is saving the man’s life. It is this widened perspective that enables us to see what’s really going on. Initially, the full story is in our blind spot – we cannot see it based on where we are placed. Yet the question still remains, what opens that perspective for us? How can we successfully take that step backwards to understand the bigger picture in our lives?
This question was answered for me one afternoon as a young adult in a seminary classroom. In this setting, I experienced one of the simplest, yet most profound exercises of my life. We were sitting quietly in class when the teacher asked us to keep a “hashgachah pratit” diary for the next two weeks. “A what now?” I asked. “What is hashgachah pratit?” The rabbi explained that it was a gratitude log for all of the “divine interventions” in our lives. He said that it did not matter how simple or small the experience was. He gave examples such as, “You were having trouble understanding material while studying for a test, and at precisely that moment, a friend offered to help you.”
“Or, you were on your way out for dinner with friends, and right after arriving at the restaurant, it began to rain, so you missed getting caught in the rain.”
Or even, if we saw some positive results after prayer. He basically said that we must try to document any moments where we felt G-d’s presence guiding or helping us.
The rabbi went on to explain that people feel that Judaism is a religion, but it’s actually a special relationship with G-d. He wanted to show us that G-d is directly involved in the day-to-day grind of all his creatures, even in the slightest of ways. G-d did not create the world and then leave it to run on its own. Rather, he takes interest and care in every one of us.
He called it hashgachah; I call it “love taps”. Whatever it may be, I was skeptical – at first.
I spent the next two weeks writing one thing down per day – and I was amazed at what I had found. Things that I would have dismissed before as luck or coincidence, such as getting a taxi at the exact moment that I needed one, or finding money in my pocket right after realizing that I’d left my wallet at home, were suddenly illuminated in a whole new way. It certainly opened my eyes to this blind spot in my life, and helped feel G-d’s direct presence in everything I did.
In fact, having this tool in my back pocket helped me one afternoon, years later. I remember it clearly. On that day, my sister-in-law gave birth to a baby girl. Her entire family decided to come to town for Shabbos to celebrate the occasion. Everyone wanted to join together to celebrate the simchah, despite the fact that she herself would still be in the hospital. My mother-in-law looked at me and asked if I could help cook that Shabbos meal – for over 15 adults!
I jumped at the opportunity – perhaps too soon, because I wasn’t exactly sure how I would manage it. I had a six month old myself, was in school, and held two jobs. It was just one of those times in life where I had to step up and make it work.
I remember walking back from the market in Queens, NY with my baby in a baby carrier. I was racing back to my apartment with an old fashioned pushcart and each arm loaded up with two oversized grocery bags apiece as my baby cooed all the while. I was not doing this easily or gracefully, and I arrived home completely overwhelmed and very unsure of how I was going to pull it all together. Suddenly, I got a call from a friend of mine. Out of nowhere, she said, “Hey Sarah, I was just thinking about you. I’d love to come over and help you prepare for Shabbos. Do you need any help?”
Not only did I have tremendous gratitude towards her and the act of kindness that day, but I also felt a gentle love tap from G-d in that moment. My joy increased because I saw Him at work in my life, and recognized it for what it was on a deeper level.
It is for this reason that every evening at dinnertime, my children and I relate our favorite part of the day, and something we are grateful for. We emphasize our own hashgachah pratit, and it increases our overall gratitude and joy. It also allows us to see that guiding hand, whether keeping our heads from bumping on pews or driving every day in the family car.
When we begin living in a state of gratitude and expand our perspective, it shifts the blind spot out of the periphery, allowing us to see things we couldn’t before. Just like we should always check the blind spot in the car before merging, we should also try to check our spiritual blind spot on a regular basis. If you do, you might just be surprised at what you see.