The age of miracles

Passover: A time to witness "natural miracles" that surround us as acknowledgement of the "wonder of daily life in the Holy Land."

Rainbow 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rainbow 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I just had to laugh. I was listening to a Torah lecture a few weeks ago, when the speaker quoted a halachic principle, and then immediately indicated that there were several rabbis who disputed the point. He then brought a third opinion which argued against the first two.
“This debate is nothing unusual,” said the lecturer, “Jews argue about everything!”
Immediately, someone from the audience yelled out, “No, they don’t!”
So, yes, we Jews do seem to have varied opinions about most everything. But we are not alone in that regard. In fact, even non-human aspects of Judaism battle each other. Example: The months of Tishrei and Nisan have an ongoing disagreement. Tishrei claims that it is the pre-eminent month, the “king” of the calendar, because it was in Tishrei that the world was created and when time – at least in human terms – began.
Nisan, however, begs to differ. It claims supremacy, based upon the fact that history, at least for we Jews, began anew when we departed Egypt on the 15th of Nisan and officially became a people. That is why, when the Torah refers to “the first month,” it is always talking about Nisan and not Tishrei.
In response to the obvious question – “How can Nisan be first, when the world was created six months earlier?” – Nisan proudly points out that the very word, “Nisan” contains within it the word “nes,” or miracle, indicating that God performed a miracle in re-ordering our calendar to reflect our new-found freedom and lease on life.
To be sure, Nisan is clearly the month of miracles. And no miracle seems greater than the splitting of the sea, the crowning glory of the exodus and the reason why Passover is seven days in length, rather than just one. The destruction of the Egyptian army before the eyes of the anxious Israelites, accomplished through the suspension of nature in a most spectacular fashion, cemented the ex-slaves’ belief in God and restored their sense of self-respect. The very word, nes can also mean, “banner, or flag;” this being an event to rally around in tribute to the marvelous events of the day and God’s awesome power.
But, interestingly enough, the rabbis contend that supernatural miracles are actually less impressive than those which occur in a natural fashion. In fact, it is only a lesser-believing, more spiritually-insecure person who requires an out- right, nature-defying miracle to justify his faith; the stronger, wiser individual is he who recognizes that miracles are to be found everywhere, albeit cloaked in natural “clothing.”
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, on reflecting upon another of the exodus-era miracles, that of the manna , makes a profound observation. While in our present-day eyes, this wafer-like food which fell to earth each day – supplying all the nutrients one needed and even possessing a smorgasbord of tastes – is truly a marvel and a wonder, to the Israelites of the desert it may not have been nearly so appreciated or so spectacular.
Imagine, he says, a child who grew up eating manna every day for 40 years, never knowing any other kind of nourishment. Then one day, at the border of Israel, he sees the most amazing creation: Trees, which yield delicious, nutritious, succulent fruits of every shape, size and color!
“What a miracle this is!” he excitedly proclaims, forgetting about the manna and happily devouring every apple, pear and melon he can find. It is only the regularity of the earth’s bounty, says Rabbi Dessler, which dulls our senses to its uniqueness.
The natural world, affirms the Talmud, is the greatest repository of miracles. Whether it is rain, the ability of the human body to process and excrete food, or the birth of a child; there is a steady stream of divine blessings of which we are the constant beneficiaries. In fact, says one famous Talmudic passage, in answer to the question of what God has been doing since He finished fashioning the world, creating successful marriages is no less difficult a task than the splitting of the sea!
And so our prayer books rightly include the thrice-daily acknowledgement of “the miracles that are with us every single day.”
Of course, we here in Israel are privy to an even greater abundance of heavenly gifts, surrounded by surreal events that literally boggle the mind. The miraculous victory of the Six Day War (indeed, all of our military successes, may they continue!); the airlift of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to freedom in one day – in the middle of a civil war, yet! – the magnificent meshing of dozens of disparate communities, the flourishing and fortitude of our little nation in the midst of so much chaos around us, the inability of our many enemies to retard our march to greatness; all of this should serve to leave us wide-eyed and in awe, if only we care to accept and admit it.
The splitting of the sea? Impressive, no doubt, but relatively tame compared to the ongoing wonder of daily life in the Holy Land.
The challenge of Passover is to lift the self-imposed veil from our faces and see this world for what it really is: A manifestation of God’s handiwork reflected on the canvas of the land, the people and human events. If we do that, we will undoubtedly be filled with a surge of hakarat hatov – appreciation for God – and will acknowledge that we, no less than the heroes of the Haggada, are living in the Age of Miracles.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; jocmtv@netvi-;