On 23 June, 12 young footballers aged 11 to 16 and their coach entered the six-mile-long Tham Luang cave system in Thailand. They became stranded behind flood waters two miles in. After a daring rescue attempt, which lasted until
10 July, all of the boys and their coach were brought out to safety.
During a press conference, one of the boys called their rescue a ‘miracle’. Was it? In Jewish understanding yes, it was indeed a miracle.
A miracle for us is an act of partnership between the best of human endeavour and the values and power that we receive from the Divine.
The parting of the Red Sea, as the Israelite slaves escaped Egypt, is one of our best-known miracles. Although in the Torah it is presented as a straightforward act of God, our Midrashim extend the story and give two accounts of how people made it possible.
In one, Nachson ben Aminadav, later head of the Tribe of Judah, waded bravely into the sea up to his nose before the sea parted. In another, all of the women of Israel courageously took their children by the hand and walked into the sea.
Without human partnership, suggest the Midrashim, miracles can’t happen.
In the Yoma section of the Talmud there is a long passage about people needing rescue. It describes a child being lost at sea and continues with people being buried beneath a collapsed building.
The passage insists that any Shabbat or festival observance must be suspended so that people go to help rescue those in peril.
Their rescue may then be considered miraculous, but that is because people acted in accord with the best in themselves.
We are God’s hands for miracles to occur. We sing al ha-nisim on Chanukah, thanking God for the miracle of the Maccabees’ resistance against the crushing of Judaism, which meant there was still a Jewish Temple in which the Menorah could be lit.
The football team got out because divers and their back-up rescuers risked life and limb to get them out. Tragically, diver Saman Kunan lost his life in the attempt.
The miracle was that people used all their God-given ingenuity, courage and strength – and succeeded.
- Rabbi Mark Goldsmith serves Alyth Synagogue