Do You Believe in Miracles? By Lauren Shaps (Intro by Lori)
Dear JWRP Chevra,
I hope you are enjoying this holiday week as much as the Palatniks are. We have been in Phoenix all week at a Passover retreat where I am a speaker. We have taken advantage of offers from various retreat organizers over the past 10 years and have turned Passover into our annual family vacation. My kids say, "It's not easy being your kid, but there are advantages!"
This year is especially poignant, as our son, Moshe, is engaged with plans to marry Esti Couzens in Israel in July, please G-d. Every day I think, "This is the last time we will all be together like this. Perhaps Moshe won't be with us next year, or if he is, he will have a wife with him." Since they were born I have prayed for them to meet their soul mates, for dating to go quickly and smoothly and with a lot of clarity, and now, here it is in front of me.
I couldn't be happier. Although I don't know what next Passover will look like, I am savoring the moment. And isn't that what we should always be doing? Let's let go of the past, leave the future to the Almighty and just be present.
Enjoy the last days of this holiday of freedom. Being present is part of what makes us free.
From Phoenix, Chag Sameach, Good Shabbos and Shabbat Shalom.
Do you believe in miracles? Our Passover Seders were full of talk about these miraculous events, and Passover doesn’t end with the Seders. In fact, the last days of the Passover focus on another great miracle, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, so it’s worthwhile to have a little grounding in miracles, so to speak.
Pummelled by miraculous plague after miraculous plague, Pharaoh finally sends the children of Israel out of Egypt. Rather than leading them on the most direct route to the land of Israel, G-d takes them toward the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh changes his mind and chases after them with his army of warriors, horses and chariots. He’s dead set on capturing or killing his former slave labourers.
The Jews are in a bind; Pharaoh and his army on one side, the Sea of Reeds on the other. The people cry out. G-d commands Moses to stretch out his arm above the water. The Torah tells us, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and Hashem moved the sea with a strong east wind all the night, and He turned the sea to damp land and the water split. The Children of Israel came within the sea on dry land; and the water was a wall for them, on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:21-22).
Miracle of miracles, 3 million Jews march through the walls of water. The Egyptians pursue them, and then, when the last of the Israelites is safely on the other side – yet another miracle – the walls of water close in, drowning Pharaoh and his army.
Read these verses and what goes through your head? Are you thinking, “Nice story, but never happened?” Or maybe you are thinking, “Hard to believe, but could have happened.” The generation that experienced these miracles 3,500 years ago told their children, who told their children, all the way to us and our children.
You could be thinking, “The sea split? What an incredible force of nature!” The moon’s gravitation, the force of the winds, the waves of the sea, all lined up coincidentally at exactly the right moment to save the Jewish people.
Or you might be thinking, “Ding, ding, ding, ding. Miracle!!”
Guess what? We aren’t the first to question exactly what went on at the Sea of Reeds. Our sages went to great lengths to understand these miracles and the concept of miracles in general. The Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Nachmanides, 1194-1207, Spain) explains that G-d makes the rules and He can change them when a miracle is called for. G-d used the east wind, a force of nature, because “Divine Omnipotence reveals itself by modifying its own natural law into marvellous and extraordinary events.” (“Call of the Torah,” Rabbi Elie Munk, pg. 175).
The Maharal, a great Jewish leader and Kabbalist (Rabbi Judah Loew, 1520-1609, Prague), tells us that this was a miracle way above and beyond the forces of nature. When the sea split, all the waters of the world divided, to show that from this point forward, “natural laws would no longer constitute a barrier before Israel. The characteristic trait of G-d’s people is the dominance of the spirit over the material world.” (“Call of the Torah,” pg.175)
There are many pathways to strengthening belief. Studying Torah and observing the magnificence of the natural world are two ways to get to know G-d. A third is by paying attention to miracles.
Today, we think we’ve seen it all and none of it is real. We’ve been inundated with larger than life special effects at theme parks, movies and stadium-sized concerts. We’re a bit jaded, certainly skeptical. We expect that everything can be explained through science and technology. If we saw a miracle, like the splitting of the Sea, of course we would believe. But, the truth is that we experience miracles every day. Human nature is to say, “That’s cool, now what’s next?” We shrug them off and go on our way.
Our rabbis advise us to start with events that seem so natural we forget they are truly miracles: the intricate workings of our bodies, the birth of a baby, the rotation of the earth around the sun. These miracles happen so regularly that we take them for granted. We forget that every breath we take is a miracle.
A miracle is an invitation from G-d to connect, to believe, to have a relationship with our caring Creator. We can choose to accept or turn the invitation down.
“And Israel saw the great hand … and the nation feared Hashem and they believed in Hashem. … Then they sang…” (Exodus 14:31). My husband’s Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz, of blessed memory, points out the progression of events. First, they saw the sea split, then they experienced the awe of Hashem and that awe led them to believe in G-d. They had to concentrate, to focus on the colossal magnitude of this event, to choose to let it sink in, to allow themselves to feel gratitude. When they made the effort to think about G-d’s intervention in their lives, His caring and concern, then they were lifted up by their belief and they sang from joy and gratitude.
And so should we. That’s why I choose to believe in miracles. It’s the rational thing to do!
Chag Sameyach and Shabbat Shalom,
Lauren Shaps, MSW, is a JWRP City Leader and a full time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps and they are blessed with five wonderful children. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.