A Jewish View of Miracles: Parashah Beshalach

But the Israelites marched through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. (Exod. 14:29)

One of the major themes contained in this week’s Torah portion is the seemingly miraculous parting of the Yam Suf—Sea of Reeds or Red Sea—enabling the Israelites to escape from their Egyptian pursuers.

In the view of the rabbis, miracles were not interruptions of nature’s laws. At Creation, God had provided for them in advance as a part of the cosmic plan. To pray for a miracle would be wrong because God has already determined when miracles are to appear; they are not a product of human pleading.

While this attempt to preserve the verity of the story while avoiding the problem of capricious intervention into nature by God reflects a resourceful effort, it does not really resolve the inherent dilemma, for the same argument could be brought to justify any miracle described in any belief system. The sophisticated modern mind will view the miracles described in the Bible not as facts of history but as imaginative attempts by the early Israelites to account for what had befallen them. In the case of the Red Sea crossing, the memory of Israel’s enslavement was too vivid to be fanciful while the events surrounding how they managed to escape became blurred over the centuries. The people’s escape to the wilderness, their assumption of the responsibilities of Torah, and their entrance into the Promised Land were the realities of Israel’s historic consciousness. How this all came about is still cloaked in the obscurities of history.

The real miracle is that an oppressed people emerged from Egyptian bondage to develop a profound conscience and a spiritual heritage of such grandeur that it provides the foundation of most of the Western world’s spiritual life. Miracle, in this sense, is not divine intervention into the natural course of events but the transformation of ordinary experience into a vision of glory. Whenever human beings exhibit the kind of courage and selflessness as did the heroic rescuers following the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and the countless numbers of unsung heroes who risked their lives daily in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and all the bygone wars in defense of freedom, testify that the miraculous is always possible.

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