There are some people who mistakenly think that miracles are preferable. In their opinion, the more we describe the Six Day War as a miracle beyond nature, the better. However, truth is the real blessing occurs when Torah and its mitzvot are observed, and then, blessing flows in a natural way. The mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land) and enlisting in the army are fulfilled, and we merit settling the Land and defeating our enemies. The mitzvot related to family are observed, and we merit having blessed families. And so forth in all matters.
However when a miracle is required, it is a sign that the situation is dire, and calamity could be lurking around the corner. The greater the miracle, the greater the fear of calamity should be. Because a miracle is like a loan on the grey market – the interest on which constantly rises, and if we fail to immediately correct our actions and repent, the calamity following the miracle, increases immeasurably.
Thus we learned in the Midrash:
“There were four kings, each of whom requested different things. They were David, Asa, Yehoshaphat, and Chizkiyahu. David said: ‘I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them: neither did I turn back until they were consumed.’ God answered him, and he killed his enemies. Asa stood up and said: ‘I lack the strength to kill them; instead, I will pursue them, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it,” and killed his enemies. Yehoshaphat stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them, or to chase them; instead, I will sing a song, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, and killed his enemies. Chizkiyahu stood up and said: ‘I do not have the strength either to kill them, chase them, or to sing; instead, I will sleep on my bed, and You do what is necessary.’ God said to him “I will do it”, as it is written: “And it came to pass that night that the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of Ashur” (Eicha Rabba Petichta 30).
King David was Victorious without Miracles
David, King of Israel, did not ask for any miracle. After Shaul’s defeat, he began to train the soldiers of Israel, so they could be victorious in war, as written: “And he said to teach the sons of Judah the bow. Behold it is written in ‘Sefer Ha’yashar’ (the Book of the Just)” (2 Samuel 1:18). ‘Sefer Ha’yashar’ is the Torah, in which we learn that it is a mitzvah to serve in the army for the sake of the people, and the country. The book ‘Bamidbar’ is called ‘Chumash ha’Pikudim’ (the Book of Census) because in it, the soldiers who are required to conquer the Land, are counted. Therefore, the gravest sin in the ‘Chumash ha’Pikudim’ is the Sin of the Spies, in which they were afraid to fight for the Land, and asked that the Land be conquered before them, by a miracle. David was also the greatest worshiper, but in his prayers he did not ask for a miracle, rather, asked God to help him reveal all his powers naturally.
Thanks to this, David won all his wars, and laid the foundation for the kingdom of Judah and Israel for more than four hundred years.
Asa Needed a Minor Miracle, and His Calamity was Minor
About sixty years after the death of King David, after the kingdom of Israel had already been divided from the kingdom of Judah, Asa became king of Judah. At first, he did what was right in the eyes of God, and when he began to grow stronger, Zerah the Cushite came from Egypt against him with a very large force. The situation was extremely dangerous. “Asa called to the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, it is all the same to You to help the numerous and the powerless. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on You, and in Your name we have come against this great multitude… So the LORD routed the Cushites before Asa and Judah, and the Cushites fled. Asa and the army with him pursued them as far as Gerar. Many of the Cushites fell wounded beyond recovery, for they broke before the LORD and His camp. Very much spoil was taken” (2 Chronicles, 14: 10-13). This is what Asa said: “I do not have the power to kill them, but I will pursue them, and You kill them, and God answered him and killed his enemies.”
It was a miracle, but not a great one, since Asa himself pursued his enemies. After the great victory over Egypt, there was hope that Asa would grow stronger in his faith, and unite the Kingdom of Judah and Israel. However, when Aram and Israel came up against him, instead of strengthening against them and winning as the prophet Hanani said, fear befell him, and he took a large amount of silver and gold from the Temple, and bribed Aram with them. The bribe succeeded, and Aram began to attack the Kingdom of Israel and conquer territories from its northern border, and King Baasha of Israel was forced to withdraw from the border of Judah. At that time, Hanani the prophet came and rebuked Asa for not relying on God, for if he had strengthened his faith, he could have defeated them and united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Instead of repenting, Asa became angry with the prophet, and imprisoned him in the stocks. Judah was weakened, its treasures dwindled, and the opportunity to unite all of Israel under the Kingdom of Judah was missed. From then on Asa oppressed the people, suffered from an acute foot ailment, and two years later, died. Even in his illness, he did not pray to God, but rather, contented himself with turning to doctors (2 Chronicles 10-16; 1 Kings 15:9-24).
Thus, the miracle he received did not benefit him, but made him proud and sin, and two years after the miracle, he died in agony.
Jehoshaphat the son of Asa, followed in the ways of David; he encouraged the people to learn Torah and keep mitzvot; God was with him, and he had wealth, honor, a strong army, the surrounding nations feared him, and did not wage war against him. His heart was elevated in the ways of God, and he removed the shrines and sacred posts from Judah, and sent officers throughout all the cities of Judah to return the people to God, and to arouse the judges to judge righteously (2 Chronicles 17:19).
After about fifty years of rivalry and wars between the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, he was able to make peace with the house of Ahab, and his son Jehoram married Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Isabel; Ahab and Jehoshaphat would go out to war together against Israel’s enemies, and were victorious. About them, our Sages said: “Great is peace, for even if Israel worships idolatry but live in peace, the Holy One, as it were, says: Satan cannot touch them” (Sifrei Bamidbar 42).
However, Jehoshaphat was overly enticed by the house of Ahab and began to be punished for this, in that his army was greatly weakened. When the army of Moab invaded Judah, fear overtook him, and he encouraged the people to sing to God, and pray for a miracle. Their prayer and singing to God was wonderful, and God miraculously saved them. In the morning, they realized that during the night, their enemies had fought one another, and fled. About that war, Jehoshaphat said: “I have no power, neither to kill, nor to pursue; instead, I will sing a song, and You, kill my enemies. God answered him, and killed his enemies.”
However, as mentioned, the recipient of a miracle should be warry of calamity, and if he does not immediately and most decisively correct the sin that caused him to require a miracle, disaster will follow. Before his death, Jehoshaphat bequeathed the kingship to his eldest son Jehoram, who was married to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, and gave gifts to his other sons and appointed them governors of fortified cities. However, immediately after Jehoshaphat’s death, Jehoram murdered all his brothers, sons of Jehoshaphat. Enemies attacked him from all sides, he lost possessions, most of his sons were killed by an Arab regiment, and within three years, he fell ill with a shameful disease, and died in disgrace (2 Chronicles 21).
Following him, his younger son Ahaziah reigned for a year; he continued to sin, and even went to visit the house of Ahab. Just then, in accordance with the command of the prophet Elisha, Jehu rose up against the house of Ahab and destroyed them all, including Ahaziah the king of Judah, and his relatives and advisers (2 Chronicles 22:2; 2 Kings 8:25-29). When Athaliah heard that her son had died, she reigned in his place in Judah, and ordered all Jehoshaphat’s heirs to be murdered, so they would not threaten her kingdom.
Thus, a few years after the enormous miracle of salvation, Jehoshaphat’s entire house was destroyed. Only Jehoash, the younger son of Ahaziah, was saved, and from him, the line of the House of David continued (2 Kings 11:1-3; 2 Chronicles 22: 10-12).
About one hundred and forty years after Jehoshaphat, King Hezekiah reigned in Judah. He greatly strengthened Judah from a religious point of view, and believed that, thanks to this, he would be able to succeed in rebelling against the Assyrian Empire. The prophets warned him of this, because although he succeeded in strengthening Judah in the mitzvot between man and God, in the mitzvot between man and his fellow man their situation was abysmal; the ministers and the rich corrupted their ways, and oppressed the poor.
The Assyrians invaded Judah, and began to destroy its fortified cities. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, or sold into slavery. Hezekiah then realized the strength of Assyria’s army. To try to save Jerusalem, Hezekiah surrendered, and agreed to pay huge sums. For this purpose, he collected all the silver and gold in his treasures and that of the Temple, cut down the doors of the Temple, and the gold plating in the Temple. The Assyrians took the heavy tax, but continued their campaign of destruction in Judah, and conquered Jerusalem. The situation was desperate.
Hezekiah cried out to God, and said: “I have no strength, neither to kill, nor to pursue, nor to sing a song; rather, I will sleep on my bed, and You take care of matters.” God said to him: I will do it, as written: “That night an angel of the LORD went out and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp, and the following morning they were all dead corpses.” Sennacherib with his remaining soldiers were forced to return to his country (2 Kings 18-19).
There was no greater miracle of rescue than this. However, like interest on moneylending in the grey market, if Hezekiah did not immediately rectify all evils, great calamity was bound to occur. Despite his immense righteousness, instead of working on repairing the relationship between man and his fellow man, and in the process, gradually strengthen Judah – he received a delegation from Babylon, to forge a new alliance against Assyria. At that time, the prophet Isaiah prophesied about the kingdom of Judah falling into the hands of Babylon, and that the descendants of Hezekiah would be eunuchs in the court of the king of Babylon. Even his son, Manasseh, although he was witness to the great and awesome miracle, was more evil than all the kings of Judah, and in his days, the decree of destruction and exile was sealed on Judah.
The Value of Miracles
The great miracles that Israel experienced in Egypt and the desert, were meant to reveal the foundations of faith and Torah, and to guide Israel in their light; to a perfect life in the Land of Israel, but not to solve problems. Therefore, upon entering the Land of Israel, the revealed miracles were canceled. It is our obligation to follow the ways of the Torah, and continue drawing Divine blessing to the Land, in a natural way.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.