D’var Torah: August 13, 2015

Dear Friends,

…Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…

Of course, we associate the words with Fiddler, love, and Motel the Tailor. Or… we could ask the ponderous question, “What of miracles, after all?”

To which we read in this week’s Torah portion (Re’eh, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17), “If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner, who gives you a sign or a portent…do not heed the words of that prophet or dream-diviner…” (Deut. 13:2, 4)

Torah consistently preaches against following the words of false prophets, yet, what of miracles, the currency of the false-prophet? Are miracles offensive by nature? After all, wasn’t our escape from Pharaoh due to the waters “miraculously” parting? Didn’t Moses and Aaron conduct signs and portents – miracles – when demonstrating God’s will and turning the Egyptian waters to red?

Over the years, I have taught that Jewish teachings assert that a miracle is not something contrary to nature – a four-headed horse – but a miracle is that which conforms directly to nature – the sun rising each morning, or the majesty of a birth. Thus, a Jewish understanding of a miracle is awareness of how wonderful is the normative world, not how one can contravene that normal. The Torah’s charge to reject the assertions of a dream-teller or a miracle-maker is a reminder to stay to the true and empirical.

A thousand years ago, the great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, asserted the same. In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides taught,”…a miracle cannot prove that which is impossible; it is useful only as a confirmation of that which is possible.”

Which brings us back to Motel the Tailor… the wonder and the miracle is not that two lovers might meet, but that two lovers should absolutely meet. Such is the normative order of the world. That which is possible… is the miracle!

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Douglas Kohn