For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

Believing in Miracles

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“For the miracles, and the salvation, and the mighty acts, and the victories, and the battles which You performed for our fathers in those days, in this time.”

One Erev Shabbat, Rabbi Chanina found his daughter crying because she had used vinegar instead of oil to light the Shabbat candles, not realizing her mistake until after sunset when it was too late to fix the matter. Rabbi Chanina responded to her calmly, saying, “Don’t worry; the One who commanded oil to burn will command vinegar to burn.” And, indeed, the candles burned for the entire duration of Shabbat, and were even used as light for the Havdalah ceremony. (Ta’anit 25a)

This story illustrates to us that G-d has the power to make the impossible possible. Although G-d usually chooses not to transcend the laws of nature, we must realize that from G-d’s perspective it is no more difficult to change nature than it is to create it.

The human psyche is impressed with the novelty of the “supernatural”, while the impeccable consistency of nature leaves a person unfazed. However, Rabbi Shneur Zalman from Ladi explains that, in reality, the design and the complexity of nature, which G-d brings into being from utter nothingness, is a far greater act than the momentary suspension of its rules. For the latter is merely the influencing of forces that already exist. Accordingly Rabbi Dessler explains that the process we call “nature” is in truth miracles that we have become used to.

Relying on Miracles

The above story of Rabbi Chanina and his daughter seems to contradict a well-known saying of our Sages in Tractate Pesachim (64b) that “we don’t rely on miracles.” In fact, one’s merits can even be deducted for having a miracle performed for him. (Shabbat 32a) The resolution to this apparent contradiction can be understood as follows:

One who believes that miracles are difficult should not rely on them. Someone with faith in G-d’s total control of the world will realize that there is no difference between miracle and nature. G-d’s “speech” brought all things into being and continues to maintain all existence. “Nature” appears to be natural only due to our dim eye that cannot perceive the essence of this continuing creative process.

Therefore, just as G-d’s word causes oil to burn, G-d can choose to say “Let vinegar burn.” Whoever realizes this, as did Rabbi Chanina, is not relying on miracles, because to him miracles and nature are identical; the only difference is that what we call “miracles” occur less frequently. Thus, there is such a thing as a circumstance that a person may find himself in that is beyond hope. One must not give up on prayer, for G-d has the power to save us from anything.

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