We read many stories in the Torah where God performed miracles.
It is not, as we may understand them today, an attempt to bend the laws of nature, as such things as laws of nature did not exist. They were instead a sign that God has intervened in the natural course of nature, God’s creation, to make a point and to assert his divinity.
But even if they acknowledged miracles as God’s prerogative and power, the rabbis felt somehow uncomfortable with this idea.
Our sages established a principle that occurs several times in the Talmud. For example, it is said: “One should never put himself in a dangerous situation and say, ‘A miracle will save me’. Perhaps, the miracle will not come. And even if a miracle occurs, one’s merits are reduced” (Shabbat 32a).
Elsewhere, in Exodus Rabbah 21:6, the rabbis explain that the parting of the sea during Israel’s escape from Egypt was pre-planned by God as part of the creation.
We seem to have lost the sense of wonder when something extraordinary happens. We resist the idea of a God performing miracles as something unnatural. We have a better understanding of the laws of nature and the impossibility to bend them.
And yet, we are still using the word ‘miracle’ when something
unexpected, unthinkable, or unhoped for happens to us.
This may be in our private life, such as the complete recovery from an incurable illness, or collectively, such as the rebirth of Jewish life after the Shoah.
Maybe miracles occur today, and we cannot see them. Or maybe we should accept that as human beings, we are also capable of performing miracles, of changing the course of events for a better purpose.
- Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel serves Kingston Liberal Synagogue