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Home » Chukat, Israel

Chukat: Miracles

Submitted by on July 12, 2016 – 12:58 pmNo Comment | 3,058 views

Two Wars

Why don’t we see miracles in our time similar to the miracles our ancestors saw in Biblical times? I would think that if G-d were to show his hand today, it would inspire billions to believe in Him. He did this back then, why not again?

To answer this question, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the eighteenth century Chief Rabbi of Prague,[1] pointed out that there were occasions in Biblical times when Jews could have used a miracle, but no miracle occurred. We read about one such example in the book of Numbers.[2]

As Moses and the Jews neared the end of their forty year trek across the desert, they prepared to enter Israel. Moses had already been told that he would not enter the Holy Land, but he was committed to bring his people to the Jordan River. The problem was that several mighty nations sat between the desert and the river that refused to allow the Jews passage.

Moses appealed for permission to pass through, but the armies of Amor and Bashan mobilized to block their way. G-d appeared to Moses and told him not to fear. The mighty armies and fortresses of these countries would fall to the Jews. Indeed, the Torah describes the wholesale victory of the Jewish people “there was not a populated city that the Jews did not take.”[3] Every hamlet, town and village, every city, region and province fell to the advancing Jews.

A relatively unknown force of Jewish fighters utterly trounced the world’s finest armies. A remarkable victory that was not accompanied by a single supernatural miracle. No seas split and no walls tumbled. It was a matter of a small lean army defeating a smart powerful one on fair and natural terms.

This story demonstrates that G-d is perfectly capable of saving us or helping us without resorting to miraculous feats. He merely manipulates events in patterns favorable to us. Small armies are sometimes victorious even without a miracle and that was the case here.

This sets us to wondering. If Moses was able to win his wars without miracles, why were miracles necessary for Joshua to conquer Israel? Would the Jews have lost the battle of Jericho if the walls had not crumbled miraculously? It would have been a harder battle, but if Moses won his battles, surely Joshua could have been victorious too.

This led Rabbi Landau to conclude that supernatural miracles are not performed to save the righteous. They can be saved by events we might define as coincidence without resorting to the miraculous. G-d performs miracles to make a statement. There was a statement that needed to be made about Joshua’s war that did not need to be made about Moses’ wars.

Jewish Right to A Jewish Land

G-d had promised the land of Israel many times to the Jewish ancestors. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses all received assurances from G-d that the land would be given to their children. But these prophecies were private events that no one else was privy to. These prophets shared their prophecy with others, but skeptics and deniers were free to disbelieve.

When Joshua marched his armies into Israel, it seemed to all appearances, like a war of conquest. Jews needed a place to live and Israel was desirable. Notwithstanding the rights of the local residents, Joshua marched in and took it. The right of conquest was certainly respected in those days, but if the world assumed that this was the only claim Jews had to Israel, they would have missed the entire point.

G-d performed miracles during this war to make the point that it was His wish that Jews be given the Holy Land. This was not a normal war, where to the victor go the spoils. This was a Divinely ordained campaign in which the creator gave this slice of earth to the Jews. No one could later argue that Jews have a moral obligation to return the land to its original owners as this title was granted by G-d.

Such miracles were not necessary for Moses’ war because indeed that war was not designed by G-d to give land to the Jews. That war could have been avoided had those nations granted the Jews free passage. It was only because they mobilized against the Jews that G-d gave Moses permission to fight back. There was no need to make a statement about this war. It was what it purported to be. A nation defending itself against attack and winning the war. These lands fell to the Jews by right of conquest, not by Divine promise. It was a conquest promised in advance by G-d, but that is all it was.

Miracles Today

I don’t think it is a stretch to extend this argument into our days. We don’t see awe inspiring miracles in our day. Seas don’t split and bread doesn’t fall from heaven. Fortresses don’t crumble and firstborns don’t die. But the truth is that we also don’t need to hear these statements anymore. These statements were all made in the past and there is no need to repeat them.

G-d Almighty has said all that needed to be said and has no need to repeat Himself. On the contrary, if G-d were to repeat Himself even once, we would expect Him to repeat His statements regularly. We would form the impression that G-d must prove Himself regularly to us or we are entitled to deny His existence. As if G-d’s statements have a statute of limitation or a Renew Before date – if they are not repeated, meaning renewed, every given number of years, they have expired.

G-d does not need to come back to us again and again to prove that He exists and that He exercises control. If we choose to believe in Him, we have ample proof in the miracles from the past. If we choose not to believe we would find a way out even if miracles were to occur in the present. Even if we were to believe in the present, we would find a way to make these proofs expire in the future.

The upshot is this. We don’t need miracles to believe in G-d today. What we need is to put our belief to work in the form of Torah and Mitzvot. With all the miracles of the past and with the tradition handed down to us by our forbearers we have all the proof we need. Going forward we make a choice on whether to believe or not. If we choose to believe, we are fortunate. If we choose not to believe, it is not for a lack of miracles. No miracle can reinforce a faith we choose not to have.


[1] Rabbi Landau’s commentary is printed in Noda Biyehudah Al Hatorah on Numbers 21: 21-31

[2] Chapter 21.

[3] Deuteronomy 2: 4.