I hate that phrase. What does it even mean? Most people probably have their own definition of a “miracle,” but before I look it up, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the way I hear the word used is this: something unexpected, even impossible, that happened because of divine intervention. Now, to dictionary.com to see what they say…
So I was pretty close. An event we don’t understand, a little something from God’s goodie bag. Like a dead person rising from the grave, terminal cancer disappearing, or the parting of the Red Sea in order for some harrassed Hebrews to escape to 40 years of wandering and kvetching. Miracles make great stories.
The idea of miracles is so powerful that we pray for them, very seriously indeed, when a loved one is sick or the bank is about to foreclose or we need it to rain to save the crops… please please please please. We’re asking, so we must believe someone is listening and can grant the wish for a miracle. Either it really can happen, or praying gives us something to do while waiting for the other outcome, like pushing the button that lets us cross the street sooner. The light will eventually change, but it makes us feel powerful to bang on that button.
When I was studying for conversion to Judaism, part of the drill was to go around to all the synagogues in town to hear their rabbis speak. At the time, the leader of the local Orthodox shul was the well-respected Hasidic – and Chabad – rebbe, Zalman Posner. He spoke very eloquently for about an hour, then took questions. One brave soul asked, “Rabbi, can you define a miracle?” The wise, old teacher looked at the man and said, gently, “It’s all a miracle.”
Sit with that a second. It’s all a miracle. If that’s true, then to say that one thing or the other is a “miracle” implies that the rest of it must not be. The Divine Presence didn’t fashion the universe to work in a certain way unless or until the right people pray correctly for something or are just lucky enough that the big guy in the sky happens to be paying attention to some human dilemma or other and decides to fix it.
Now, I’m not a Hasid in any way, shape or form, but I do admire their reverence and awe, joy and wonder in the simple fact of being here. Oh, sure, they pray – a lot, and for very specific things. No harm in asking. I’ve attended many a prayer service and even made a minyan at 6:42 in the morning at the Conservative shul for about two years. Since I’m a liberal, skeptical, Spinoza type of Jew, why do I bother? To help other people pray. That’s it. That’s all. I have never asked for one thing for myself, ever. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be in a bad enough jam that I do it: please God just this one thing… please… If nothing else, it will give me something to do when there is nothing to be done.
Another famous Hasid, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, kol hakavod and z”l, said this about prayer: pray with your feet. In other words, if you want something to happen, you have to get up and go do something. He marched with Dr. King in Selma to have an effect in the civil rights movement. He dared tell President Kennedy that nobody who treated black people like this country was treating them could call himself a person of faith. He stuck his neck out. He got busy. He prayed as if it were up to God, but he acted as if it were up to him.
If we all did that, now that would be a miracle.