Crossing the Red Sea and other miracles

On the seventh day after the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites came to the Red Sea. A great wind blew from the East, the waters parted, and the Israelites were able to walk through on dry land. The Egyptians who pursued them were all drowned. On the seventh day of Pesach, the Torah reading is about this moment in Jewish history.


There was no biblical word for miracles. There were words such as “wonders” (niflaot) or “signs” (otot). The word for miracle in the Talmud was most commonly “ness”.


It was taken for granted in biblical times that miracles can and do occur. Miracles were not thought of as a suspension of natural law before the rise of modern science. A miracle was an extraordinary event which, because it was so different from the normal course of events, provided evidence of G-d’s direct intervention in history.


The Rambam believed that miracles were predetermined at the time of creation and therefore did not indicate a change in G-d’s will or wisdom. The difference between the act of nature and the miracle is a difference between the regular and the unique, although the unique is also governed by its own laws. The Rambam explained that in the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea, the nature of the water was not changed but was affected by another natural force, the wind.


 For Rabbi SR Hirsch, it was not the miraculous incident itself that was important but its educational value. In the Biblical period, G-d revealed Himself to Israel by means of miracles in order to demonstrate that He was above nature and that nature was not omnipotent – an idea which the Israelites had acquired in Egypt. According to Hirsch, the continuing existence of the Jewish people is an ongoing miracle.


Heschl (in “G-d in Search of Man”, published 1959) used terms such as “the legacy of wonder” attributed to biblical figures and events. He wrote “what stirred their souls was neither the hidden nor the apparent, but the hidden in the apparent; not the order, but the mystery of the order that prevails in the universe”.


Daily prayer (Modim in the Amida) thanks G-d for “His miracles which are daily with us, His wonders and benefits which are wrought at all times, evening, morning, and night”.


To say that there is something miraculous about the existence of the State of Israel, would be to refer to the events leading to its formation and to its ongoing development and thriving, despite the obstacles and external threats. The building of the State has required faith, despite setbacks, and determination despite losses. The challenge of the education system today is to continue to address the issues involved in Jewish history, the events and the consequences, so that future generations will continue to have faith in their ability and in the purpose of maintaining Israel’s existence.

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