(February 1, 2023 / JNS) This week in Beshalach, we read the dramatic story of the splitting of the sea, arguably the greatest miracle in history.
One of the questions rabbis are regularly asked is “The Bible is full of earth-shattering and sea-splitting miracles that clearly show the hand of God. Why are there none of those kinds of biblical miracles today?”
The implication is clear: If God would only show me His heavenly hand today, I would keep the faith more faithfully. In Egypt, they experienced the Ten Plagues, the incredible Exodus and then the splitting of the sea and the revelation at Sinai. Later, Moses would draw water from rocks, his untrained slave-nation would defeat the most powerful armies of the day and his internal enemies would be swallowed up by the earth. The miracles would continue under Joshua as he brought down the walls of Jericho and more.
And today? We can’t even sort out a little virus.
Well, do you know why rabbis have two hands? So we can say, “on the one hand,” but “on the other hand.” So, let me take two approaches that appear to contradict each other.
First, let me ask you: If similar miracles occurred today, would we actually appreciate them for what they were? Let’s say Rabbi Goldman invited his congregation down to the East River, the mighty Mississippi or the Kinneret, and I proceeded to demonstrate my miraculous powers by splitting the water in two. What do you think would be the people’s reaction? Would they all become believers and start flooding the synagogues? Or would they say it’s a trick? “He’s probably got a generator underwater that manipulates the river.” Or they might offer any number of scientific or David Copperfield-type explanations.
We are not simple, primitive people like our ancestors in Egypt. We have become enlightened and sophisticated. And with sophistication comes a certain cynicism. Today, I think most people in Western nations have become super-cynical, even those who are not necessarily conspiracy theorists. Most of us are intelligent skeptics.
Maybe there are no more biblical miracles because it would be a waste of God’s time. People today wouldn’t be impressed. We’d have all types of explanations and rationalizations, and we’d basically laugh it off. There is a Talmudic principle that “God does not perform miracles in vain.” God forbid that His miracles should serve no purpose.
But there’s another completely different approach that answers the question very differently. You say there are no more miracles today. Really? Are you oblivious to recent history? Are you completely blind? How can anyone say that there are no more miracles today?
In my own living memory, Israel has been the beneficiary of miracles that are nothing short of biblical. How well I remember the Six-Day War of June 1967. To wipe out the Egyptian air force in an instant—was that not a miracle?
What about the Entebbe rescue in July 1976? I heard the story personally from one of the commandos who was there. Many miracles were required to pull off the greatest rescue mission in history.
I was personally in Israel on a South African Solidarity Mission during the 1991 Gulf War. Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel and there was not one fatality. A Scud puts the Hamas missiles to shame in size and lethal power. We stood on the debris of a house in Ramat Gan that was completely flattened by a Scud. Miraculously, no one was home at the time.
On the personal level, many of us have experienced miraculous recoveries from dreaded diseases and life-threatening illnesses, survived potentially fatal accidents and more. One woman told me that she went to hospital for a minor procedure and they happened to discover the early stage of a deadly disease in time to heal her. Was it just her good luck, chance or a miracle?
I have no doubt that you who are reading this have your own miracle stories to tell.
And what about all those of the Holocaust generation who survived? Every one of them has their own dramatic tale of the unbelievable wonders of their personal deliverance. There have been several books written just about Holocaust miracles.
I once asked my father (of blessed memory) who was the sole survivor of his entire family from Poland, how it was that, unlike many others, he never lost his faith. He told me that he felt the hand of God saving him from one dangerous situation after another. He was able to escape Poland, Vilna, Russia, Japan, Shanghai and ultimately merited to rebuild his family in America. From age 14, his whole life was one big miracle.
“How could I not believe?” he said.
So, miracles don’t happen in vain. If we but open our eyes and look objectively we will see miracles all around us.
May we take notice and be warmed and inspired.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association.
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