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Judaism: Depending on Miracles

What is the place of miracles?
Published: Thursday, July 25, 2013 9:30 PM


I recently engaged in a conversation with a friend regarding the political situation in the country. Throughout the discussion, it was clear no resolution was possible as we seemed to be arguing based on different perceptions of reality, different concepts of priorities - and because we were both stubborn. Yet though nothing in the discussion was surprising, except that I was astounded by one comment he made.

At one point my friend said to me ,”so now look  at the situation ‘you people” have found yourself in. You now have to depend on the Palestinian Authority to say “no” to Kerry’s plan”. I responded that “actually I don’t depend on the Palestinian Arabs for anything and especially not to keep Israel safe. I depend on Hashem”.  He made a face  and said " no really... I'm being serious". My friend is a deeply believing follower of G-d. He knows as well as I do that G-d is very involved and active in our personal lives. Yet somehow when it comes to what we see around us, Hashem becomes an interested bystander.

It is true that we are not meant to depend on miracles  - Lo Lismoch al HaNes. (Bava Metzia 106). This concept is homiletically linked to the verse in the Torah portion of Va-etchanan  "You shall not test ( Tinasu) Hashem, your G-d,  as you tried Him in Massah.( Deuteronomy 6:16). The word Tinasu is connected to the  Hebrew word for miracle, Nes. That is to say "do not abstain from doing what you have to do and depend on miracles to do the work instead of you. The Talmud Yerushalmi has an identical teaching  and explains that the words "not to depend on miracles" means that one is not to  desist from one's obligations in the natural and wait for miraculous intervention from  the supernatural ( Yerushalmi; Yoma 1:4).

Yet in our Torah portion we receive inklings of another, almost opposite, approach.

"Will you say to yourself, 'These nations are more numerous than I; how will I be able to drive them out?'  You shall not fear them. You shall surely remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Pharaoh and to all of Egypt: The great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm with which Hashem, your G-d, brought you out. So will Hashem, Your G-d, do to all the peoples you fear.(Deuteronomy 7:17–19)

So which is it, depend on miracles and divine intervention or not?

Recently I attended an evening to remember the destroyed communities of Gush Katif. A young woman, Racheli Gross (nee Yichieli), who was one of the leaders of the young people in Gush Katif, spoke eloquently and passionately of her experiences. At one point she described the last Tisha B'Av service in their community of Katif.

After so many months of activity and demonstrations and after some many months of tears and prayer, this was to be the climax.  She said that she was sure that before Tisha B'Av would end, the redemption would blossom. The day wherein the long painful exile began, would be the day it would end.

As the day began to ebb away and darkness began to creep through the skies, she remembers that she and many others were fixated at staring out the window. They were sure that somehow the dawn would break forth and the ultimate light would dispel all the darkness.

Regrettably, the skies remained darkened.

She and all of us who were striving for and passionately and  actively  trying to stop the expulsion believed that a miracle would happen. The sense of that anticipation was palpable. Yet G-d obviously responded with a "not yet!!".

Were we wrong in anticipating a miraculous intervention?

The Torah portion describes the supernatural power we can expect to experience in this  land.

For the land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt, out of which you came, where you sowed your seed and which you watered by foot, like a vegetable garden.  But the land, to which you pass to possess, is a land of mountains and valleys and absorbs water from the rains of heaven." (Deuteronomy 11:10-11) .

What the verse seems to be telling us is that in the natural world all around us if you want water you must go to the river. Yet in this land G-d is saying "if you want water you must come to Me". This is a land that "absorbs water from the rains of heaven"

Furthermore, Hashem says this is a land that "..Hashem, your G-d, looks after; the eyes  of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the  year." (ibid:12)

In summary then, as we begin to confront the new threats from the Arab forces around us, from our European self righteous neighbors and our American ( "do it my way") allies we need to be reminded of three conclusions.

The first is that we must act in the natural world and not depend on miracles because the “stirrings from Above" follow the " stirrings from below" .This is what the  prophet Zechariah   says;  "  ..turn to Me , said Hashem of Hosts and then I will turn to you"( Zechariah 1:3). We cannot depend on miracles and must do all that we can to build, settle and strengthen this land. Yet we must be careful to be reminded as Moshe warns; " and you will say to yourself, 'My strength and the might of my hand  has accumulated this wealth for me.' But you must remember Hashem your G-d, for it is He that gives you strength" (Deuteronomy 8:17-18).

The second is that we must continue to expect miracles because our whole existence in this land and our survival throughout these many generations is nothing short of a miracle. Only if we expect to witness miracles will we merit seeing them.

The third is the understanding that in fact it is this duality and seeming contradiction that Hashem has put into place. As Moshe explains “And you shall remember the entire way on which Hashem, your G-d, led you these forty years in the desert, in order to afflict you to test you ( Linasot), to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."( ibid 8:2).

It is not happenstance that Hashem uses the same word for two sides of this duality. First Hashem says "You shall not try ( Tinasu)  Hashem, your G-d..(ibid 6:16) . That is to say “do not wait for the miraculous and do what needs to be done”.

On the other hand we read  “Hashem, your G-d, led you in order to afflict you to test you ( Linasot), to know what is in your heart”( ibid 8:2). That is to say that Hashem wants you to live a life expecting miracles because that is the essence of your existence. We are bidden to walk in the midst of this delicate balance. That is the basic duality of our existence.

After all is said and done, we depend on one truth; This land is "a land that Hashem, your G-d, looks after; the eyes  of Hashem your G-d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the  year." (ibid:12)


 

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