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Home » Beshalach, Emor, Miscellaneous, Passover

Why Doesn’t G-d Make Miracles Anymore?

Submitted by on May 7, 2012 – 1:48 amNo Comment | 2,084 views

A Holiday for Every Miracle

Almost every miracle in Jewish history has a holiday. It is an ingenious way of keeping history alive. Jewish children don’t need a history lesson to tell you when G-d gave the Ten Commandments or when our ancestors left Egypt. They don’t need to learn it, they live it. They celebrate it every year. (1)

Chanukah celebrates our victory over the Syrian Greeks, Purim celebrates our rescue from the Persian Haman, Sukkot celebrates our miraculous journey across the desert; we even have a holiday for the splitting of the Reed Sea. (2) So why don’t we have a holiday for the splitting of the Jordan River?

That’s right. The Jordan River split when Joshua led the Israelites across. It was a rather dramatic scene. The Holy Ark was carried into the river and the water flow miraculously halted. The tributaries continued to feed the riverhead, but rather than flow downriver the current miraculously stopped and built up a massive aquatic wall for the duration of the Israelites’ crossing. As soon as the Ark was removed from the river the wall cascaded into the riverbed and thundered on down below. (3)

It was an amazing miracle, but we have no holiday to commemorate it. In fact, it is hardly ever mentioned. Such a big deal is made of splitting the Reed Sea and yet we hear nothing about splitting the Jordan River.why doesn't G-d make miracles anymore innerstream

Are Miracles Good?

We assume that miracles are good. That G-d’s supernatural intervention to better our lot demonstrates His profound love and concern for us. Yet a fascinating Talmudic anecdote suggests different. (4)

The Talmud speaks of an unfortunate man who lost his wife shortly after she gave birth to a healthy son. The widower was not only bereaved, but impoverished. He had no money to provide for his infant. He certainly couldn’t afford the fortune it would take to hire a nursemaid for his son. Desperate with worry he prayed for a miracle. Shortly thereafter the man grew mammary glands and nursed his own son.

Many marveled over the piety of this man in whose merit the laws of nature were suspended. But the Talmudic sage Abaye was unimpressed. Woe, unto this man, said Abaye, on whose behalf the natural order was overturned.

Over the years many rabbis have worked to understand Abaye’s opinion. Allow me to share one such commentary with you. (5)

G-d established the natural order and He prefers to leave it unchanged. G-d performs miracles that suspend the law of nature for only one reason – to prove His might or even His very existence to humanity. A believer doesn’t require a miracle to believe in G-d, a believer sees the natural order as a continuous string of miracles put in place by G-d. Skeptics and doubters require empirical proof of an unseen and unfelt deity that rules over the natural system. It is for these people that G-d intervenes at times with miracles. (6)

The desperate plight of the father and widower could have been resolved without contravening the natural order. He could have found employment, discovered a treasure or received financial relief from charitable hearts and caring souls. That G-d found it necessary to overturn the laws of nature to offer him relief indicated to Abaye that this man was lacking in faith and required a miracle to fortify it. Woe unto this man, said Abaye, for whose lack of faith G-d found it necessary to do something distasteful – overturn the law of nature.

Mature Believers

We can now understand why the miracle of the Jordan River is not celebrated by our people. When our ancestors were liberated from Egypt, ferried across the Reed Sea, given the Ten Commandments and nurtured for forty years in a desert they were in relative national infancy. Their faith in G-d had not yet matured and could not withstand the challenge of test. It is no surprise that G-d saved them from their troubles time and again via miraculous intervention. This was G-d’s way of nurturing their faith and proving to them that He does in fact exist.

They could have rebelled against Egypt and fought their way out. They could have traded with local tribes and procured provisions for their forty year journey; they could have found ships and crossed the Reed Sea via natural means. But G-d didn’t opt for the natural option precisely because He wanted to prove His existence to them and demonstrate His involvement in the affairs of life.

However, when they reached the Jordan, forty years after their exodus from Egypt, forty years of studying a Torah that G-d taught directly to Moses and gave them at Sinai and after being treated to a steady diet of miracles for forty years one would have hoped that Jews had accepted G-d’s existence and mastery over nature as a matter of faith even if He hadn’t split the Jordan for them

Had they chopped down trees and built a bridge would they have doubted the existence of G-d merely because they were forced to help themselves across the river? One would have hoped not. Yet G-d performed a miracle. Not an itty bitty one, but an awesome dramatic miracle. This gives us pause and makes us wonder. Did we really need our faith reinforced at that point? The answer is obviously yes, but we cannot possibly be expected to take pride in this sad fact and certainly not to celebrate it. (7)

Reflection

People often say, if only G-d would perform a miracle I would believe in Him. After all, He performed them in Biblical times, why doesn’t G-d make miracles anymore?

Quite apart from the fact that G-d is constantly performing miracles that we aren’t even aware of – in fact our national existence is itself a miracle – we might suggest that G-d doesn’t perform dramatic, mind-blowing miracles today because He doesn’t need to. We don’t require a miracle to believe in Him. With three-thousand years of Torah and Jewish history G-d has total confidence in our capacity to accept Him wholly and unreservedly with a miracle or without.

Indeed, let us prove Him right.

Footnotes

  1. When David Ben Gurion appeared before the Peel Commission in 1937, he was asked what right a Polish born Jew has to Israel. He replied, ““300 years ago, there came to the New World a boat, and its name was the Mayflower. The Mayflower’s landing on Plymouth Rock was one of the great historical events in the history of England and in the history of America. But I would like to ask any Englishman sitting here on the commission, what day did the Mayflower leave port? What date was it? I’d like to ask the Americans: do they know what date the Mayflower left port in England? How many people were on the boat? Who were their leaders? What kind of food did they eat on the boat?
    “More than 3300 years ago, long before the Mayflower, our people left Egypt, and every Jew in the world, wherever he is, knows what day they left. And he knows what food they ate. And we still eat that food every anniversary. And we know who our leader was. And we sit down and tell the story to our children and grandchildren in order to guarantee that it will never be forgotten. And we say our two slogans: ‘Now we may be enslaved, but next year, we’ll be a free people.”
  2. That is the seventh day of Passover. In fact there at one time there was an entire book of holidays, nearly every miracle was enshrined in one form or another by a festival. The sages were forced to abolish these holidays (and fast days to commemorate tragic events) for they were simply too numerous.
  3. See Joshua 3 and Babylonian Talmud, Sotah: 34a.
  4. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 53b.
  5. This insight was offered by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Drash Moshe in the section on Pesach. For other approaches see Chiddushei Aggados Maharal and Ben Yehoyada on Shabbat 56b.
  6. It remains for us to explain why the Talmud is replete with miraculous anecdotes that occurred to people of great merit. Rabbi Feinstein suggests that miracles occur for two classes of people. Those who are lacking in faith as discussed in this essay and those whose faith in so completely unassailable as to regard the natural and supernatural in the same light. For such people it matters not whether their salvation comes naturally or supernaturally and G-d chooses the most expedient path. Ben Yehoyada cited in footnote 6 developed a different approach.
  7. Perhaps the most succinct way to put it is thusly. The miracles immediately following the Exodus indicated G-d’s love for us. They also fortified our faith, but at that stage it wasn’t shameful to require faith fortification. But forty years later such miracles bespeak not only G-d’s continuing love, but our appalling lack of faith in return. No wonder we don’t broadcast this miracle or celebrate it on an annual basis.
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