Although my portion today, Miketz, is about Joseph tricking his brothers, today is also Hanukkah, and that takes a special mention and highlight in our service by my reading a special haftarah for the Shabbat of Hanukkah.
So I would like to discuss Miracles, and, more importantly, what is a Miracle?
I know the Wikipedia definition of Miracles.
I quote: A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being (G-d or gods), a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader.
This, I believe, barely scratches the surface, and I would like to delve a little deeper.
Miracles always seem to appear just when we need them, and always in response to someone doing something for G-D.
The commentator Rambam, Maimonides, first believed that Miracles were actually put into nature, during the days of creation, and that miracles are part of nature.
He said, “G-d already expressed His will in the course of the six days of creation, and things act in accordance with their nature from then on…”
If Rambam is correct, then maybe there are no miracles, and everything is, and was, part of G-D’s plan.
But later in life, Rambam had a different view: he believed that miracles were deviations from nature, not planned during the six days, but rather times when God chose to intervene, and went against nature in doing so.
Rambam’s son, R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam stated that there are three different types of people:
1. Prophets and others who have been promised directly by G-D, and not only rely, but believe in “His miraculous intervention.”
2. Deniers and/or unbelievers who trust “only in intermediary causes.”
3. “The religious person who knows that the world runs according to nature but G-D can intervene at any time if He chooses”.
I disagree with R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam. I believe that a person can be in more than one of those categories, can both be someone with a promise, and someone who believes in the truth of the moment.
I think that you can never completely be in any one of those categories. You can also be in a completely different category. You can be someone who does not believe in G-D, but still trusts in something other than intermediary causes.
And is it fair to call someone an “unbeliever” because they don’t believe in the same miracle process as you? Is there anyone here in only one of these categories? Can’t a person both rely on “G-D’s miraculous intervention” and also think that the world runs according to nature?
Deuteronomy chapter 13 verses 2-4 says that "If a prophet arise among you who gives a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder comes to pass, but he desires to lead you into idolatry, you shalt not hearken to that prophet, for the Lord your G-d tests you, whether you truly love the Lord your G-d.”
This tells us not to believe in false prophets. I think a false prophet would be someone who led you away from G-D’s truth, meaning the message they deliver goes against what you personally believe or what you know to be true. You should also not believe in false miracles.
The popular camp song Ruach comes from a phrase from my haftarah, (sing it!) “Not by might, not by power, but by spirit alone.”
The spirit, or ruach, in question is G-D’s. What I take away from this is that while there are miracles, there are no human miracle workers, and though prophets speak of miracles G-D will bring, these things only happen through Him and not through mortals.
As Jews we don’t believe in saints or any one person doing miracles; in fact, the Passover story makes it very clear that our liberation from slavery was not done through an angel or through an intermediary, but only by G-d alone. The haggadah for Passover doesn’t even mention Moses, in case we want to make him into the source of the miracle of freedom.
So it doesn’t matter with which of Rambam’s opinions you agree, according to Jewish thought, miracles are still evidence of G-D’s power
But is a miracle just something that shows off G-D’s power? Does a miracle have to be as big as splitting the Red Sea?
One modern day opinion on miracles is brought to us by a popular cultural figure, Doctor Who.
“The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them miracles.” --The Doctor, Season 5, Episode 12.
This is actually a point in which I believe strongly: when we have no idea how to explain something, when science fails us, we call it a miracle.
“Even miracles take a little time,” said Cinderella. The famous girl with the shoe and the fairy godmother has a point. If you are demanding of a miracle at that very second, you probably don’t deserve the miracle you want.
I think that is important. For God to give you a miracle, for you to notice a miracle, you have to deserve it. You have to work for a miracle.
If you don’t help yourself, how can G-D help you? Otherwise, why would you get the miracle? If you live in a big fancy house, and are complaining about work, you want a miracle, do you really deserve it? Even if you have a small house, at least it’s a house. Many people cannot even imagine having a house.
There is an old joke about waiting for miracles. There is a couple living together in a house, and a flood warning goes off. A police car drives through the town, warning everyone to clear out. “We will wait,” says the couple. “G-d will save us.”
The water level rises, and the couple goes upstairs, to avoid drowning. Their neighbor comes by with a boat, telling them to get in and escape the flood. “We will wait,” says the couple again. “G-d will save us.”
The water rises again, and the couple goes up onto their roof. A rescue helicopter comes by. The pilot tells them to get in. “We will wait,” says the couple again. “G-d will save us.”
When the water level rises again, the couple drowns. They meet G-d and ask, “Why didn’t you save us?” To which G-d responds, “I sent a warning car, a boat, and a helicopter to save you. What more did you want?”
This shows that you cannot ask for a miracle and expect it to happen in a HUGE way. You have to be ready to see it. Maybe it is there all the time, and you miss it by waiting for the Hollywood version of a big-screen miracle.
Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” However, there is an in between. You can believe that some things are miracles, while others aren’t.
This is important because it connects to something I hear a lot. “It would take a miracle” people say. People beg for miracles. What they don’t think about is something I called the opinionated miracle. As in, it appears as a miracle to some people while it’s natural for others.
For instance, back to the Hanukkah story, the oil lasts for 8 days. How long does a light bulb last? Typical iridescent light bulbs last 1,000 to 2,000 hours. Compare that to 8 days. Doesn’t seem so miraculous, does it?
Well, imagine if we didn’t have lights, just natural light. Imagine if I showed you the light bulb. Now it seems kinda amazing, doesn’t it?
If you were in a wheelchair paralyzed, how would walking seem?
If you weighed 450 tons, and had metal wings, would you be able to fly? Well, aren’t airplanes miracles then?
David Ben Gurion was Israel’s first prime minister. It is believed that the following quote came from him, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Meaning the fact Israel exists at all is a miracle, if you look at it the right way.
My haftarah includes some things that could be viewed as miraculous. “And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be My people, and I will dwell in the midst of you'; and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me unto you.”
This is G-D telling us he will be among us. How will we know if G-D is among us? Miracles. But, He will only be among us when we already believe He is here.
Back to Hanukkah, the miracle of the Maccabees winning their war, and the oil lasting. They truly believed in these miracles. And that makes it so much more amazing.
So how do we connect this to our daily lives?
First, if you help others – you can help G-d make miracles. This year my mother and I chose to “adopt” a family for the holidays, and buy them their holiday presents. They all asked for socks.
Can you imagine if what you had to ask for during the holidays was socks from a random stranger? When we give tzedakah, we put positive energy into the world and help create those small miracles that make the world better.
Secondly, if you want a miracle, you must believe in them. You must choose to notice the wonder of the world. And you will see the miracles everywhere.
So here is the challenge for every one of us. Live our lives like everything is a miracle, just like Einstein says. We may be surprised how different things seem. Kind of like Chanukah all year long.