Our Biblical ancestors were used to seeing revealed miracles all around them: staffs which became snakes; the opening of the Sea, lighting that could be hear, thunder that could be seen; a talking donkey; and many more. Even in Talmudic times, there are narratives about open miracles, such as Eliezer's beard turning white overnight, or the story o Rabbah and Rav Zera attending the Purim feast.
In our days, with no open miracles, we have lost the art of seeing miracles that present themselves to us. If we train our eyes to see what our souls know and experience, we will be able to live with a profound appreciation for the "awesomeness" we are surrounded with.
A SHORTER VERSION OF THE ABOVE:
Our Biblical ancestors were used to seeing revealed miracles all around them. With the age of open miracles long gone, we have lost the art of noticing miracles. Judaism calls on us to notice the “ordinary” miracles our souls experience daily, leading us to glow in the light of awesomeness of this journey we call life.
(ו) עֲשָׂרָה דְבָרִים נִבְרְאוּ בְּעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת בֵּין הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן, פִּי הָאָרֶץ, וּפִי הַבְּאֵר, וּפִי הָאָתוֹן, וְהַקֶּשֶׁת, וְהַמָּן, וְהַמַּטֶּה, וְהַשָּׁמִיר, וְהַכְּתָב, וְהַמִּכְתָּב, וְהַלּוּחוֹת. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף הַמַּזִּיקִין, וּקְבוּרָתוֹ שֶׁל משֶׁה, וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, אַף צְבָת בִּצְבָת עֲשׂוּיָה:
(6) Ten things were created on the eve of the [first] Shabbat at twilight. And these are they: The mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach in Numbers 16:32]; and the mouth of the well [that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 21:17]; and the mouth of the donkey [that spoke to Bilaam in Numbers 22:28–30]; and the rainbow [that served as a covenant after the flood in Genesis 9:13]; and the manna [that God provided the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 16:4–21]; and the staff [of Moshe]; and the shamir (the worm that helped build the Temple without metal tools); and the letters; and the writing; and the tablets [all of the latter three, of the Ten Commandments]. And some say, also the destructive spirits, and the burial place of Moshe, our teacher, and the ram of Abraham, our father. And some say, also the [first human-made] tongs, made with [Divine] tongs.
Suggested by Dr. Joseph Davis - sources (Maimonides, Nachmanides, Buber) need to be added.
One of the central texts (I would argue) is presumably Maimonides' comment on Avot 5:6, the idea of a preordained "miracle." This sets up Nahmanides' idea of a "hidden miracle." As so often, Rambam and Ramban are similar in one way, and opposite in another. Ramban wants people to see the everyday as miraculous. Rambam is struggling to get them to see it as natural, which was an uphill battle in his day. (Cf. Guide I, 71, and many other places in Rambam.)
Our situation is obviously again different. Particularly in the American Jewish community, hardly anyone needs to be convinced, today, as an adult, that the everyday is bound by natural laws. Everybody learned that in elementary school. The problem is seeing the everyday as miraculous, and what that might mean.
Maimonides, to come back to Avot 5:6, suggests the category of purpose or plan. Miracles are events that God planned it in advance, and hence they show some transcendent purpose at work. Modern people are more likely to accept Buber's notion of meaning based in relation -- Buber recovered the notion of a miracle for modern people. The everyday becomes meaningful, and hence, at least metaphorically, miraculous, when it expresses relationship.
(א) הללויה הודו לה' כי טוב כי לעולם חסדו. מי ימלל גבורות ה'. זה שאמר הכתוב (תהלים מ ו) רבות עשית אתה ה' אלקי נפלאותיך ומחשבותיך אלינו. הרבה נסים ונפלאות אתה עשית עמנו ואתה עושה גם כן בכל יום ויום ואין אדם יודע. ומי יודע אתה ה'. אמר רבי אלעזר בן פדת ראה מה כתיב (שם קלו ד) לעושה נפלאות גדולות לבדו. מה כתיב לגוזר ים סוף לגזרים נותן לחם לכל בשר. הפרנסה הזו שקולה כנגד הים שנקרע ללמדך מה הפרנסה הזו אי אפשר לעולם בלא היא. כך אי אפשר לעולם בלא ניסין ובלא פלאין. כיצד אדם נתון על גבי המטה והנחש בארץ לפניו ובא לעמוד והרגיש בו הנחש כיון שבא ליתן רגלו עליו ברח הנחש מפניו. ואינו יודע מה פלאי עשה הקב"ה עמו. ומי יודע הקב"ה. שנאמר לעושה נפלאות גדולות לבדו. הוא לבדו יודע ניסים ונפלאות שעושה עמנו לפיכך הוא אומר רבות עשית אתה ה' אין ערוך לשבחו. משל למה הדבר דומה לשני אנשים האחד היה גבור והאחד חלש. וכי החלש יכול לספר שבחו של גבור לאו. למה שאינו יודע מה שבחו וכחו. אבל הגבור שהוא יודע מה כחו הוא יכול לספר שבחו של גבור. הוי אומר מי ימלל גבורות ה'. אמר רבי שמואל ומי ימלל כגון אנו. שאנו עסוקין בתורה כל צרכנו:
“Who can tell the might acts of the Lord?” (Psalm 106:2)… This means that every day You do many miracles and wonders for us, of which no one knows. And who does know? You, O Lord!
Rabbi Eliezer ben Pedat said: Note what is also written in Psalm 136:4: “Who alone works great marvels…” The world could not exist without miracles and wonders. For example, a person is lying in bed, and nearby on the ground there is a snake. As the person starts to get up, the snake senses it; but as the person is about to step down, the snake slithers away! No one realizes how many wonders the Holy One, blessed be He, does… “Who alone does wondrous things” (Psalm 72:16)… “Alone” means that God alone knows how many wondrous works He does for us every day.
Submitted by Dr. Ruth Sandberg - English and Hebrew need to be adjusted to match
This is my favorite midrash about miracles, because it defines miracles as those divine acts that are actually hidden from us. A person gets out of bed and doesn’t even realize that the simple act of getting out of bed involves a miracle of God causing a snake to run away rather than instinctively cause a poisonous bite. We don’t know how many of these “hidden” miracles happen each day, because we have no idea when they happen.
The midrash also has a masterful interpretation of the Hebrew word “l’vado.” The original context of the word refers to the fact that only God can perform miracles. However, the midrash interprets the word as meaning “alone.” God is all alone when performing daily miracles for us, and God alone knows when a miracle takes place. In other words, God has no need for us to know when a miracle occurs. God does not have any ego invested in performing miracles for us – they are done out of love and not for self-aggrandizement.
Because God is ultimately humble about doing great deeds and miracles, we should also be humble about our accomplishments. We shouldn’t assume that everything we accomplish is done by our own individual will and power. Perhaps God intervened to help us in ways that we don’t realize. Furthermore, we should strive to be humble about our accomplishments and not brag about them or become prideful when they bring us fame, because it is ultimately God who is behind all our efforts. Most importantly, we should see each day as miraculous, from simply getting out of bed to going to sleep at night – it is our daily life that is the true miracle.
“The world is full of wonders and miracles, but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing.” (Ba'al Shem Tov - 18th century)
Find original text.
Suggested by Dr. Betsy Katz, with the comments below:
1. We are so much in a hurry today, we rush by miracles and do not even notice them.
As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner asks: What if Moses had not paused to observe the burning bush? He had to stand there for a few moments before he realized that it was not being consumed by the flames.
2. We take too much for granted. My son can read radiology reports instantaneously and communicate with doctors from all over the United States—and even around the world.
Our family is flying to Israel this spring to celebrate my granddaughter Dina's bat mitzvah. I was taking a walk in the local Botanic Garden and had a conversation with Dina about her parsha over FaceTime.
I have an ongoing bond with you based on shared interests, respect, and affection, and we live hundreds of miles apart (Maybe I can come to the filming of your presentation in December.)
3. We focus on “non-miracle” areas of life—like money; materials; daily chores; violence, corruption, and contempt in the news—although if we look hard enough, there may be hidden miracles even in them. Miracles may be there but we don’t look for them.
4. We are living in a time of one of the greatest miracles of Jewish history, the re-establishment of a Jewish State. The shady politics, the need to defend Israel from attack, the anti-Israel/anti-semitism in the world are like a hand that can cover our eyes and not allow us to appreciate the miracle that is Israel.
Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that a man's wife died and left a child to be suckled, and he could not afford to pay a wet-nurse, whereupon a miracle was performed for him and his teats opened like the two teats of a woman and he suckled his son. R. Joseph observed, Come and see how great was this man, that such a miracle was performed on his account! Said Abaye to him, On the contrary: how lowly was this man, that the order of the Creation was changed on his account! Rab Judah observed, Come and see how difficult are men's wants [of being satisfied]. that the order of the Creation had to be altered for him! R. Nahman said: The proof is that miracles do [frequently] occur, whereas food is [rarely] created miraculously
Suggested by Rabbi Michael Gold, with the following comment:
The question is whether miracles are good or are they bad? Should God change the laws of nature for us?
Erica Brown suggested: I love the chapter in James' Kugel's book called "The Moment of Confusion."
If someone steals a sela of wheat and plants it in the ground, by right it should not grow, but the world goes according to its laws. Fools who acted corruptly in the future will have to give an account. Similarly, if a man has relations with the wife of his fellow, by right she should not get pregnant. But the world goes according to its own laws. Fools who acted corruptly in the future, will have to give an account.
Suggested by Rabbi Michael Gold, who also added:
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev translated the words "ruach kadim" as an "ancient wind" rather than as east wind, explaining that "God does not change or suspend the laws of nature in order to work miracles. The wind that divided the sea had been created for that purpose at the time of the creation of the world."
This is the “oven of Achnai.” What is Achnai? Said Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Shmuel: That they surrounded it with words [of debate] like an Achnai snake, and declared it impure. It was taught: On that day R. Eliezer answered all the answers on earth and they did not accept it from him. He said, “If the law is like me, the carob tree will prove it”; the carob tree was uprooted from its place one hundred Amah, some say four hundred Amah. They said: “We do not bring proof from a carob tree.”... He went and said “If the law is like me the water channel will prove it”; the water channel flowed in reverse direction. They said: “We do not bring proof from a water channel.” He went and said “If the law is as I say the walls of the House of Study will prove it”; the walls of the House of Study inclined to fall. R. Yehoshua protested at them, saying to them “If scholars defeat each other in the law, how does it better you?” They did not fall because of the honor of R.Yehoshua and they did not straighten, because of the honor of R. Eliezer, and they still incline and stand.... [R. Eliezer] went and said, “If the law is like me, from Heaven they will prove it”; a heavenly voice came out and said, “What have you with R. Eliezer, who the law is like him in every place?” R. Yehoshua stood on his feet and said “[The Torah] is not in heaven,” (Deuteronomy 30:12). What does "[The Torah] is not in heaven" mean? R. Yirmiyah said: “That the Torah was already given at Sinai, we do not pay attention to a heavenly voice, since You already wrote at Sinai in the Torah, “After the majority to incline,” (Exodus 23:2). R. Natan met the prophet Elijah and said to him, “What did the Holy One Blessed be He do in that hour?” He said to him: “He smiled and said, “My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me.” They said: On that day they burned all the pure things R. Eliezer had declared pure; they voted upon him and excommunicated him. They asked “Who will go and inform him?” R. Akiva said, “I will go, lest an improper person inform him and all the earth will be destroyed.” What did R. Akiva do? He dressed in black and sat before him at a distance of four Amot. R. Eliezer said: “Akiva, what is today from all days?” He said, “My master, it appears to me your friends distanced themselves from you.” R. Eliezer too tore his clothes, removed his shoes and sat on the ground his eyes flowed tears. The earth was stricken, a third in olives, a third in wheat, a third in barley. Some say: even dough in a woman’s hand spoiled.... It was taught: Great was that day that every place R. Eliezer put his eyes was burned.... And even R. Gamliel was on a ship; a wave stood upon him to drown him. He said: It appears to me this is only because of R.Eliezer b. Hyrkanos. He stood on his feet and said, “Master of the world, it is revealed and known before You that not for my honor I did nor for the honor of my father’s house but for Your honor that controversies not multiply in Israel.” The sea rested from its anger. Ima Shalom, wife of R. Eliezer, was R. Gamliel’s sister; from then she did not allow R. Eliezer to fall on his face in prayer. One day the New Moon became miscalculated for her between a twenty-nine or thirty day month. Some say: a poor man came and stood at the gate, she brought out bread to him. She found R. Eliezer fallen in prayer and said, “Get up, you have killed my brother.” Meanwhile a ram’s horn blast went out from R. Gamliel’s house [to announce] that he died. [R. Eliezer] asked, “How did you know?” She said, “So I have received a tradition from the house of my father’s father: “All gates are closed but the gates of oppression.”
עַל הַנִּסִּים וְעַל הַפֻּרְקָן וְעַל הַגְּבוּרוֹת וְעַל הַתְּשׁוּעוֹת וְעַל הַנִּפְלָאוֹת וְעַל הַנֶּחָמוֹת שֶׁעָשִׂיתָ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time—
"Our original ancestors saw miracles on a deeper level. They saw God as both the One who ordered the heavens in the time of creation and does hidden miracles each day. This was not taken for granted by them. (...) Our ancestors saw miracles in all things -- they were rescued from hunger, death, war and the sword, and were given wealth and respect -- a good life...they understood that all things depend on hidden miracles." (Ramban, Commentary: Exodus, translated by Rabbi Dr. Charles Chavel)
A Jew who does not believe in miracles is not a realist. (David Ben Gurion, 1956)
There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)
Suggested by Yael Lilienthal, with the comment below (she also sent me a pdf of the Nishmat
Adam in Hebrew):
Nishmat Adam writes about a tshuva of Abudraham (or Abudirham), who commented on a Shulchan
Aruch passage, which refers to the story in Brachot. There ’s a lot to think about: within the story, the two miracles seem to be quite different from one another; but I think it is interesting to think about the connection between place and miracle, or the longlasting effect between the site and the miracle itself. Nishmat Adam, suggests that the descendants must praise Hashem for the miracle which happened to their grandmother.
Nishmat Adam 1:65 (R. Avraham Danzig, Poland, c. 1800)
Rabbi David Abudirham wrote in the name of Rabbi Asher of Lunil that a person is to say a blessing only for miracles that deviate from the course of nature, and Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote this in the Shulhan Arukh as well. I thought that they meant that the salvation would deviate from the course of nature, as described in the Gemara in the story of Rava, for whom a miracle occurred and a wall collapsed. But when I looked in the Abudirham, I found the following, ‘only over a miracle that deviates from the pattern of nature... But a miracle that is in the course of nature and causality such as if thieves came in the night, and he was endangered, but was saved he is not obligated to bless.’ And according to this, even if a wall collapsed on a person, smothering her, and she was saved by others who excavated her, she should not bless for what distinguishes this from thieves?
This requires consideration. For at the beginning of the ninth chapter of Berakhot we say, “A man was passing through Ever Yemina, and a lion fell upon him. A miracle happened for him and he was saved from it. He came before Rava, who said to him, “Every time you return there, you should bless ‘Blessed is the One who did a miracle for me in this place.’”” But there is no hint that the salvation occurred miraculously, as it did for Ravina, only that he was saved, and even so Rava told him to bless. And this was quoted by the Rif and the Rosh... In the case of mortal danger, where a person is within inches of death such as if a wall collapsed directly upon her, and it is a great miracle that she is not killed... being saved from death is a miracle and Divine providence, and it is clear that everyone agrees that she should say a blessing. Therefore I instructed my daughter, who once had a wall collapse upon her, that when she comes upon that place she is to bless, “Who did a miracle for me” with God’s name and dominion. And so too all of her descendants her sons and daughters are to bless “Who did a miracle for our mother in this place”... and her grandchildren “Who did a miracle to my ancestors” (or “our ancestors” if there are several of them). And for the rest of our family, even though they were all in danger in close proximity to the falling wall, and all were slightly injured
- since they were not in mortal danger, they should not say a blessing. And blessed is Hashem who has saved us.
Hershel Matt, 1963 Rabbinical Assembly Proceeding
What, then, is a miracle?
A miracle is any event which reveals to man the power and love of God. Every miracle depends upon God: His power and love create the miracle; yet every miracle also depends on us: we are the ones who (with God’s help) must see what is revealed.
Too often our eyes remain closed to the miracles which God seeks to disclose. We pass through a world of miracles, allowing the miracles to pass us by. When we come upon miracles, we reduce them to scientific laws and facts, and explain them away. Any miracle can be scientifically explained after it has happened. That is the function of science.
Any miracle can be recaptured, making it present again. That is the function of a b’rakhah, a benediction.
A b’rakhah helps us to relive the miracle, to open our inner eye, to cross the threshold of the world of miracles, or rather, to remind us that we have been there all the time, in God’s great House of Miracles, without having known it. With the aid of a b’rakaha, uttered with true devotion, the momentary can become momentous, and the ordinary can become holy. The might moments of the past can become present, when we say yotzer or or go-el yisrael or notein hatorah. Everyday moments – reising from sleep, eating a meal, or beholding nature – can, through the appropriate b’rakahah, become special moments. The facts of life and the laws of nature, without being denied, can eb seen as “the work of God’s creation.” They can suddenly become transparent, and the loving power of God shines through.
Often, when we speak of miracles, we seem to be speaking of believing with a blind faith. And in a sense we are, for in one sense, miracles cannot be seen. But in another sense, this faith is not really blind at all. Quite the contrary; this faith is one of great vision. Through the blessed vision of a b’rakhah, not limited or dimmed or distorted by the science of the age – in some ways, indeed, sharpened by the science of the age – we can behold a world of miracles. In the light of the b’rakhah we can see.
(א) וישמע יתרו. מַה שְּׁמוּעָה שָׁמַע וּבָא? קְרִיעַת יַם סוּף וּמִלְחֶמֶת עֲמָלֵק:
(1) וישמע יתרו AND JETHRO HEARD — What was the particular report which he heard so that he came? — The division of the Red Sea and the war with Amalek (cf. Mekhilta; Zevachim 116a; Jerusalem Talmud Megillah 1,13).
הדרן עלך ארבע מיתות
But did R. Akiba learn this from R. Joshua? Surely it has been taught: When R. Eliezer fell sick, R. Akiba and his companions went to visit him. He was seated in his canopied four-poster, whilst they sat in his salon. That day was Sabbath eve, and his son Hyrcanus went in to him to remove his phylacteries. But his father rebuked him, and he retreated crestfallen. ‘It seems to me,’ said he to them, ‘that my father's mind is deranged’. But R. Akiba said to them, ‘his mind is clear, but his mother's [sc. of Hyrcanus] is deranged: how can one neglect a prohibition which is punished by death, and turn his attention to something which is merely forbidden as a shebuth?’ The Sages, seeing that his mind was clear, entered his chamber and sat down at a distance of four cubits. ‘Why have ye come?’ said he to them. ‘To study the Torah’, they replied; ‘And why did ye not come before now’, he asked? They answered, ‘We had no time’. He then said, ‘I will be surprised if these die a natural death’. R. Akiba asked him, ‘And what will my death be?’ and he answered, ‘Yours will be more cruel than theirs’. He then put his two arms over his heart, and bewailed them, saying, ‘Woe to you, two arms of mine, that have been like two Scrolls of the Law that are wrapped up. Much Torah have I studied, and much have I taught. Much Torah have I learnt, yet have I but skimmed from the knowledge of my teachers as much as a dog lapping from the sea. Much Torah have I taught, yet my disciples have only drawn from me as much as a painting stick from its tube. Moreover, I have studied three hundred laws on the subject of a deep bright spot, yet no man has ever asked me about them. Moreover, I have studied three hundred, (or, as others state, three thousand laws) about the planting of cucumbers [by magic] and no man, excepting Akiba b. Joseph, ever questioned me thereon. For it once happened that he and I were walking together on a road, when he said to me, "My master, teach me about the planting of cucumbers". I made one statement, and the whole field [about us] was filled with cucumbers. Then he said, "Master, you have taught me how to plant them, now teach me how to pluck them up". I said something and all the cucumbers gathered in one place’. His visitors then asked him, ‘What is the law of a ball, a shoemaker's last , an amulet, a leather bag containing pearls, and a small weight?’ He replied, ‘They can become unclean, and if unclean, they are restored to their uncleanliness just as they are.’ Then they asked him, ‘What of a shoe that is on the last?’ He replied, ‘It is clean;’ and in pronouncing this word his soul departed. Then R. Joshua arose and exclaimed, ‘The vow is annulled, the vow is annulled!’ On the conclusion of the Sabbath R. Akiba met his bier being carried from Caesarea to Lydda. [In his grief] he beat his flesh until the blood flowed down upon the earth — Then R. Akiba commenced his funeral address, the mourners being lined up about the coffin, and said: ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof; I have many coins, but no money changer to accept them.’ Thus from this story we see that he learned this [sc. the producing of cucumbers by magic] from R. Eliezer? — He learned it from R. Eliezer, but did not grasp it, then he learned it from R. Joshua, who made it clear to him. But how might R. Eliezer do so? Did we not learn, IF HE ACTUALly PERFORMS MAGIC, HE IS LIABLE? — If it is only to teach, it is different. For it has been said, Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of these nations: thou mayest not learn in order to practise, but thou mayest learn in order to understand.
I am going back and forth with these sources (Sanhedrin 17 and 68). There were some pretty miraculous things happening in the Temple period in the Temple itself, according to Pirkei Avot. We could say that with its destruction, the age of miracles ended (which is exactly what the Gemara says elsewhere about prophecy). But exactly when the Temple was destroyed, there was no Sanhedrin anymore, so is this Gemara referring to a time when there was a Sanhedrin but no miracles?
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (Musar Movement, 1876-1970) wrote: But Amalek had also head of the supernatural events at the Sea, yet remained unmoved by them - and was even audacious enough to attack God's nation. Jethro realized that miracles do not always bolster faith or transform the beliefs of the Amaleks of the world; those who refuse to recognize the hand of God will always interpret events to suit their own purposes.
רצה עתירתם בעמדם בלילות שעה נא כקרבן כליל ועולות תראם נסיך עושה גדולות לשמוע אל הרנה ואל התפלה
Final stanza of the third slicha recited on the first night of slichos claims, if read generously, that the fact that our prayers are answered is a miracle. (comment by Matthew Kritz)
I don't agree with the reading, though.
A group of high-school students once came to see the Rebbe. The students had each prepared a question, which they posed to the Rebbe in the course of the audience.
Toward the end of the meeting, after the Rebbe had answered their queries on various issues, one student asked:
“I have heard it said that the Rebbe has the power to work miracles. Is this true? Do you perform supernatural feats?”
The Rebbe replied: “The ability to work miracles is not confined to a select group of individuals, but is within reach of each and every one of us. We each possess a soul that is a spark of G‑dliness. So we each have the power to transcend the limitations imposed upon us by our physical natures, no matter how formidable they may seem.
“To demonstrate this to you,” said the Rebbe, “I will now perform a miracle.”
Smiling at the startled young faces around his desk, the Rebbe continued: “Each and every individual in this room will now resolve to improve himself in one specific area. You will each choose an improvement that you recognize as necessary, but until now have perceived as being beyond your power to achieve. Nevertheless, you will succeed, proving to yourselves that the soul indeed has the power to overcome the natural ‘reality’ . . .”
Parking space "joke" - a person is desperately looking for a parking spot and begs God to help him find it. As he is turning into the first aisle for the fifth time, the first spot is open. He looks up and says - thanks, but I do not need you anymore. Is this how we go about life? Not noticing all the things that happen at the right time, which lead to other things happening at the right time, which combined actually change us and our lives?