A Certain Kind of Miracle

Posted on December 3, 2021 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

When the children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt, the Torah describes a moment when they found themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army, which was gaining on them from behind, and the Sea of Reeds, which was before them. Not knowing what else to do, the people cried out to God, and Moses assured them that God would defeat the Egyptians. But God rebuked Moses for this, saying, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the people to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15)

A midrash says that the Israelites began to argue about who would lead the way into the sea because no one wanted to go first. At that moment, we are told, Nachshon ben Amminadav leapt into sea, and only when the water was up to his nostrils did the sea part.

I share this story because it teaches us something about the Jewish view of miracles. David Ben Gurion famously said that “in Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” To know the Jewish story is to know that miracles do happen. There is simply no other reasonable explanation for the survival of the Jewish people and the extraordinary rebirth of the Jewish nation after 2,000 years of dispersion. Yes, we Jews believe in miracles, but we believe especially in miracles of a certain kind — the kind that involve a leap of action.

The earliest descriptions of Chanukah do not relate the miracle of the oil that was sufficient for one day but lasted for eight; they describe a different kind of miracle — a miracle of the human spirit. The miracle of a few brave and determined Jewish people who refused to endure the tyranny of their oppressors and, defying the odds, achieved victory. Like Nachshon, their forebear, they took a leap of action and found themselves capable of something extraordinary.

Even the story of the little jar of oil involves a miracle of the human spirit. Finding themselves with only enough sanctified oil to last for one day, Judah and his followers might have foregone lighting the menorah entirely or waited until a new supply of oil could be procured. As we know, they didn’t wait. They did what they could when they could as an act of faith that the light would be sustained.

To be a people of faith means to act in this world with faith in our God-given ability to shape the course of our lives and of history, to make a difference, to bring redemption, and to do miraculous things. It means to believe in ourselves and each other as instruments of God’s goodness and God’s grace. It means to be God’s partners in effecting tikkun olam — perfecting the world that God has entrusted to us and has called us to repair through acts of justice, kindness, compassion, creativity, and ingenuity.

We need a miracle to get us out of the challenging circumstances in which we find ourselves right now. This miracle not come from prayer (though we need that very much to sustain and strengthen us), but in our power to perform. We need a Maccabee miracle. A Nachshon miracle. We need a miracle of the human spirit that leads to a leap of action that will heal our souls, our society, and our world.

May God give us the strength and the courage of Nachshon and the Maccabees to be brave and bold, so that we may be and embody the change we hope and pray will come.

Chanukah sameach and Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck