All I Need Is A Miracle
And He shall raise a banner to the nations,
And He shall gather the nethermost of Israel,
And the scattered ones of Judah, He shall gather
From the four corners of the earth
This week’s parsha is divided almost exactly in half between miracle and mundane. On the one hand we have one of the most dramatic events in all of Jewish history. Kriat Yam Suf – the splitting of the sea – not only makes for great cinema action, but more importantly, has become one of the most dramatic events in our history that is recalled every day in the morning prayer service.
One can only imagine the amazing spectacle it must have been and we would fully expect it to be so moving that it would transform anyone who was witness to it. However that did not seem to happen for immediately afterwards we read of a more mundane side to the liberation from Egypt.
We hear a familiar refrain from the Jewish people – complaints. And not your garden variety kvetching, but our specialty, the thing we like to whine about the most. Yes, you guessed it – food. And granted that they
may have been justified on occasion for voicing their concerns, such as when they could not find water for a few days. Nevertheless this obsession with the every-day and ordinary becomes an incessant issue that stands in stark contrast to the spiritual awakening that the Jewish people just experienced at this overwhelming miracle.
While it is true that it may have been difficult to provide for the daily needs of such a large crowd, you would think that after witnessing the ten plagues and its postscript, the splitting of the sea, that the Israelites would have displayed a little bit more patience and faith in God, Moshe and Aaron. But the fact that they do not drives home a crucial lesson in life and is very telling of human nature.
People like to think that if some sort of dramatic event occurred in their lives then it would change everything. If they won the lotto, if a miracle happened to them, if they had prophecy or knew someone who did, everything would change and life would be so much more amazing. Every moment would become magical and the everyday drudgery would be a thing of the past. Comes along this week’s parsha to give us the sad news: It won’t.
Change can never come from an exterior, no matter how powerful it may be. Let’s face it, there is no greater drama than witnessing a huge body of water behaving in the very opposite of its essence and not “taking the shape of its container” (the definition of a liquid according to my old Biology teacher) but rather standing upright as two walls on each side while a nation of millions walk through the middle. Yet even this unbelievable experience did not pull the Jewish people from their collective grumbling over not being able to get a good bagel in this town.
The transformative effects of miracles are short-lived and, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. Yeah… sorry to disappoint you. The reason for this is that one’s life is never changed from being acted upon by an external event no matter how intense or dramatic it may be. One’s life can only be transformed if he or she is part of something that is ongoing, personal and inward, not temporary and external.
And in fact, if you are looking for miracles and that is your thing, then in our day and age we have a more powerful miracle in our midst that should be more impactful than any biblical one. While we seek some epiphany to alter our life there is actually a greater opportunity right in front of our noses, something that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the UK, terms the Epiphany of History.
If you were to live next door to the prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah or even Moshe and he foretold that, in the future the Jewish people would be scattered to the four corners of the earth and that God would bring us back to the very same land from which we were exiled – you most likely would shrug your shoulders and react, “OK… whatever”. But we, who are fortunate to live at this vantage point of history, have a whole different appreciation of this unique phenomenon. And a unique phenomenon it is.
Anyone who has studied history knows that nations throughout time immemorial come and go. And indeed, when a people loses all its normative definitions of nationhood such as government, a common language, an ideology, a military and most importantly their homeland – it is only a matter of time before it is flung onto the trash heap of bygone nations of the past, and disappears forever. The one and only exception to this rule is the Jewish people. Only once have the normal laws that define nations and their ability to continue, been suspended. And indeed this has been noted by many, including non-Jewish leaders and thinkers as illustrated in the description of the film made from the book, The Jew in the Lotus:
In 1990, eight Jewish delegates were invited to Dharamsala, India, to meet with the Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of Tibet. The Tibetans had lost their land and temples to China, their religious leader was in exile, and now they feared they would lose their identity as a people as well. Conscious of the parallels to Jewish history, the Dalai Lama asked the Jews for help: “Tell me the secret of Jewish spiritual survival in exile.”
The Dalai Lama, Mark Twain, Tolstoy, Pascal and many others had an appreciation of the miraculous nature of our continued existence. They understood this even though many of them did not live to see the fulfillment of the most oft-cited prophecy in action – the ingathering of our people from the four corners of the globe returning to Israel after 2,000 years in exile. Something we see with our own eyes and get to experience on a daily basis.
Witnessing an earth-shattering miracle may not have any great life-changing results as it certainly didn’t for the Jewish nation thousands of years ago. But a simple trip to Israel, or playing a role in our rich and diverse history and people, most certainly will. Watching the seas part before your eyes may be fun and have an impact for an hour or so, but being an active part of our people will last a lifetime and very well change you forever. And as you read this, I am happy to tell you that I am presently in that miracle, in the Land of Israel. Come join me and it will change your life forever as well.
I thought I was being cool
Yeah, I thought I was being strong
But it’s always the same old story
You never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…
All I need is a miracle, all I need is you
All I need is a miracle, all I need is you
-Mike & The Mechanics