Pointing Light to Miracles

Without miracles, we might come to believe that the laws of physics define reality. Once we witness the inexplicable, we see that there is a higher reality. And then we look back at physics and say, “This too is a miracle.” The miracle of a small flask of oil burning for eight days was this sort of miracle.

Then there are those small miracles that occur every day. Those acts of synchronicity we call ‘coincidence’ because, in them, G-d prefers to remain anonymous. But when we open our eyes and hearts, we see there is truly no place void of this wondrous, unlimited G-d. These were the sort of miracles the Maccabees saw in their battles against the mighty Greek army.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Chanukah Miracles”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

God is not a scientific problem, and scientific methods are not capable of solving it. The reason why scientific methods are often thought to be capable of solving it is the success of their application in positive sciences. The fallacy involved in this analogy is that of treating God as if He were a phenomenon within the order of nature. The truth, however, is that the problem of God is not only related to phenomena within nature but to nature itself; not only to concepts within thinking but to thinking itself. It is a problem that refers to what surpasses nature, so what lies beyond all things and all concepts. (page 102)

The object of science is to explain the processes of nature. (page 104)

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
As quoted in Searching by Ineffable Light

Chanukah, or any time when we see or hear of God’s miracles, forces us to try and understand the nature and character of God’s activity in the world we experience. 21st century western thought is almost wholly focused on the observable, the measurable, the quantifiable. We are dazzled by the possibility of discovering the Higgs Boson particle and what it would mean about our understanding of the universe. We are hopeful that our latest probe to Mars will show us definitive proof that the red planet once harbored life. We are astounded that we might actually be able to detect other Earth-like planets in the galaxy.

We are so amazed with our own seeming “miracles” that there is hardly room left in our world for the miracles of God.

For me, the short definition of a miracle is an event that we can observe in our universe that defies the working laws of said-universe. It is an event that has its origins outside our four-dimensional realm but that intrudes in that realm to make itself known to us. In fact, the point of a miracle is to make God known to us.

Jesus performed many “signs and wonders”, not to dazzle the crowds like some traveling magician, but to show that he was from God. Miracles also sometimes result in directly helping others, such as curing illnesses and healing injuries (see Matthew 11:1-6 as an example). Miracles are one of the ways that God makes Himself known to us. But while they seemed plentiful in the Bible, they are all too rare (and too well “explained” by scientific means, supposedly) in the present age. Even those miracles of the past are subject to significant “armchair quarterbacking” these days, as far as what natural phenomena “could” have caused such supposed miracles. The modern world wants no part in the supernatural, probably because it takes away from the wonder of man (and no wonder so many people give Tim Tebow a hard time for making his faith public on national television in front of millions of sports fans).

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who I quoted above, doesn’t believe that science has the right tools to examine the miracles of God let alone God Himself. This sounds like a cop out to secular people who want independent validation of the existence of God before believing. But while demanding evidence of the reality of the Divine, these secular folks are confident such validation will not be forthcoming, thus “proving” that they’re right.

But miracles aren’t about proof, they’re about faith.

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. –Matthew 12:38-40

I mentioned in yesterday’s meditation that part of the purpose of lighting the menorah during Chanukah is to declare the miracles of God. This is an act of faith as well as tradition, since we were not there to witness the miracle. Given the cynicism most people bear for the wonders of God, it’s also a miracle that anyone comes to faith, since to do so goes against the majority of rational human beings and the “idol” of popular opinion.

Faith is a miracle. Publicly demonstrating faith is a miracle, too. It just doesn’t seem “supernatural”.

I periodically get notices from AskNoah.org which is an organization dedicated to the support of Gentile Noahides. I just got an email pointing me to an article about the proper way for a Noahide to light the menorah. Lest you think it’s unusual for Jews to encourage non-Jews to celebrate Chanukah, the advice comes with caveats.

If you are a Noahide who is observant of the 7 Noahide Commandments, you may be interested in lighting Hanukkah candles. If so, you can buy or make a menorah lamp for yourself (very easy), or you can usually obtain one from your local Chabad Center. If your intention is to publicize the Divine miracles of Hanukkah, and thereby educate and remind your family and others about the greatness of G-d, the candle lighting may be done in the correct manner according to the Jewish custom – but without saying the Jewish blessings when lighting the candles. (For non-Jews, those would be false statements said in G-d’s Name, G-d forbid, because they testify that the person lighting the candles is commanded to “kindle the lights of Hanukkah”, and that G-d did those miracles for “our fathers”.) There are alternative readings and Psalms that a Noahide can say when lighting Hanukkah candles, and we have posted some suggestions below.

Thus, it is proper for a non-Jew to light the Chanukah menorah if “your intention is to publicize the Divine miracles of Hanukkah, and thereby educate and remind your family and others about the greatness of G-d” but only if you do so “without saying the Jewish blessings when lighting the candles”. This may sound restrictive, especially to those Gentiles who consider themselves “Messianic” and “grafted in” to the root of Israel, but while there are Christian applications to Chanukah, we must not lose sight of the primarily Jewish applications.

I was reminded of this when reading various commentaries on Siman 672 that I receive from Mishna Berura Yomi. The laws and halachah relative to the Birkat Kohenim (Priestly Blessing) recited during a synagogue service are delineated in these particular commentaries. One of the obvious pieces of information presented is that this blessing should only be recited by a Kohen. Yet, I’ve heard this blessing (in English) recited by Pastors (non-Jews) at the end of church services, and I’ve heard this blessing said by Gentiles in “Messianic” worship. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve delivered this blessing myself many times in my previous congregation (since I’m not Jewish let alone a Kohen).

Miracles, faith, and worship are funny things. They all open certain doors but not the doors we think might be open. Lighting a menorah doesn’t make a Gentile person Jewish or the direct recipient of miracles or messages meant by God for Jews. Chanukah candle lighting also doesn’t open up the world of Jewish worship to Christians in the same way that this door is available to Jewish people. We must be cautious to make sure we are walking the right path.

On the other hand, there is a level where God’s presence and miracles are available to everyone. A Noahide, and I believe a Christian, may light the menorah if the purpose is to announce God’s miracles and their faith in God, particularly if their faith is not based on miracles. The blessing of the Birkat Kohenim in Hebrew is beautiful to hear and a tremendous reminder of God’s providence to the Children of Israel, even if you are not a Jew. Asher at the Lev Echad blog reminds us that even though we are all unique individuals and belong to unique and distinct people groups, we all have a common foundation.

This Mishnaic excerpt provides the quintessential response to anyone who claims that certain types of people are superior or inferior to others. Since all people descend from the same person, we are all related. There is no moral justification for dividing people based upon race or prominence or wealth. All of creation can be traced back to one God, and all of humanity can be traced back to one person. The very word for people in Hebrew is bnei adam (lit. children of Adam) – a subtle reminder that we all descend from one man, the first human ever created by God.

Perhaps God’s greatest miracle is the human race after all, not because we are so terrific and so accomplished (though He gave us the ability to perform terrific acts of accomplishment), but because we can learn to love each other, to recognize that unique as we are, we were created in a common image (Genesis 1:26), and out of that image, we can learn to love Him who has loved us first.

“Therefore was a single man created, to teach us that whoever takes a single life it is as though he destroyed an entire world, and whoever saves a single life it is as though he saved an entire world. It is also meant to foster peace between people, because no one can boast to his neighbor: ‘My ancestor was greater than your ancestor.'” –Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5

Though the intent of this Mishnaic quote, which I borrowed from Asher’s blog, is to reference Adam, the first man, in my personal faith, I choose to interpret it as illuminating another man who Christians call the “light of the world;” a man who has shown us that we can also be a light pointing to miracles.

Addendum: This doesn’t have anything to do with today’s “meditation”, but I happened across an interesting looking web resource called Halachipedia. It’s where “Halachah meets Wiki”. Enjoy.

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