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February 7, 2020 10:28 am

For Jews, Every Breath and Every Act Is a Miracle

avatar by Moshe Pitchon


Moses Breaking the Tables of the Law (1659), by Rembrandt. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Talk about the Exodus from Egypt, and the first thing that comes to mind is the “miracle” — the splitting of the sea that allowed the children of Israel to cross on dry land.

Popular minds calls these kinds of seeming intrusions in the natural order of events “miracles.” And, though the TaNaKh clearly intends to report that something unexpected happened at the “Sea of Reeds,” Israel’s foundational literature does not speak of a miracle. Its concern is not so much with what happened, but the reaction it was intended to cause.

For the TaNaKh, the “wondrous” — the word it uses to refer to the positive unforeseen — is a sign intended to call attention beyond what it is being seen or experienced.

The deliverance at the sea, wrote Bible professor Brevard S. Childs, “was affected by a combination of the wonderful and the ordinary. The waters were split by the rod of Moses, but a strong wind blew all night and laid bare the sea bed. The waters stood up as a mighty wall to the left and the right, and yet the Egyptians were drowned when the sea returned to its normal channels … it was the mud of the sea bottom which clogged the wheels of the heavy chariots.”

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“There never was a time when the event was only understood as ordinary, nor was there a time when the supernatural absorbed the natural. But Israel saw the mighty hand of God at work in both the ordinary and the wonderful,” adds Childs.

For Israel, there are not “everyday” matters; nothing in the world is unspectacular. There are no entitlements; everything begs not to be taken for granted. This acknowledgment is expressed with the feeling of gratitude, something conventionally expressed as bowing down, bending the knee.

The Hebrew word for the knee is “berech,” and from there the word “beracha,” awkwardly translated as “blessing.” Every day waking up in the morning, every morsel of food eaten, has the Jew pronounce a beracha. Every passage in life, from birth to death, every recovering from illness or accident, has a Jew pronounce a beracha

To paraphrase Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Jews do not keep their faith because of the miracles they experience. It is their faith that leads them to interpret their life as miraculous.

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