Are there miracles in the midst of tragedy?

Can we celebrate miracles no matter the circumstances?

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Judaism Holocaust survivor
Holocaust survivor

I once wrote an article about the miraculous escape of a hassidic Rebbe during the Holocaust. After that, I was contacted by a survivor – he was not happy at all. He said to me, no miracles took place for six million people who perished in the Shoah – please don’t mention any more miracles about the Shoah.

I was so upset that I had offended this person and I apologized to him. And then I started to grapple with the dilemma: Is it permissible to recognise miracles which have taken place in the midst of tragedy?

In the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim (chapter 218), there are some Halakhot that relate to the question. If we happen to be in a place where a terrible tragedy occurred, then we should recite the Bracha of Dayan Haemet, blessing God who is the ‘true judge’.

And then the Shulchan Aruch presents us with this Halakha: if you happen to be touring in the Dead Sea region and you come across the Pillar of Salt, which was once Lot’s wife, you must recite two blessings. The first is Dayan Haemet, the true judge, because that is where she perished and so many other people in that region, and the second is the blessing of thanking God for saving the lives of the righteous, because Lot and his daughters were miraculously saved.

Now, a Halakha relating to finding the Pillar of Salt? You might think, wow, if there was a shortlist of the most irrelevant Halakha on record – this might qualify for it! But actually, such a profound message emerges from this Halakha, because our Rabbis want to tell us that it is quite possible for miracles to coincide with tragedy and so we recognise everything that took place there at that time.

In this spirit, if say, a survivor of 9/11 visits Ground Zero, he or she should recite two blessings. First of all, Dayan Haemet, because of the terrible tragedy that occurred there and also, to thank God who performed a miracle for them in that place to save their lives.

As we look back at the Shoah, which certainly, without any doubt, was the greatest tragedy which has ever befallen our people – after only a few years, we miraculously established the State of Israel in order to rebuild ourselves. We thank Hashem, that Am Yisrael Chai – that through his miracles, the Jewish people lives on against all odds.