Religion & Beliefs

Miracles in the 21st Century

Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters, is guest blogging this week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers.  Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and his book is a defense of religion meant to … Read More

By / December 16, 2008

Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters, is guest blogging this week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers.  Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and his book is a defense of religion meant to appeal to the non-religious.

When my younger brother was my little brother, he opened the door for Elijah each year at the Passover seder.  When he did, my older brother walked in.  The next year the dog ran in; the next year a broom, leaned against the door, fell in.  A good time was had by all except, perhaps, my younger brother.  Actually, he is a great sport.

Here is the point, however.  The next year, we did nothing.  Because now he was too old to believe that Elijah might actually come through the door so the joke had lost its point.  So much of what we take for granted – miracles, redemption, the certainty of prayers answered – simply passes away with maturity that we look at our emptying hands and wonder what is left?

It is almost Hanukkah.  Did the oil burn?  Does it matter?  After all, for the Creator of the universe to make oil last for eight days is hardly a shattering phenomenon; it is more on the order of an inventive housewife making the bit of hamburger meat stretch through the week.  Admirable, to be sure, but miraculous?

So we reorient our sense of the miracle.  Here is another version of what the miracle might mean, and how faith can matter:  British Rabbi Hugo Gryn tells story of being in a concentration camp in 1944.  At a certain point in winter he relates, "My father took me and some friends to a corner in the barracks.  Announcing it was eve of Hanukkah, he produced a small clay bowl and began to light a wick immersed in his precious, but now melted margarine ration.  Before he could recite the blessing I protested at his waste of food.  He looked at me, then the lamp, and finally said ‘You and I have seen that it is possible to live up to three weeks without food.  We once lived almost three days without water.  But you cannot live properly for three minutes without hope.’"

Is that a miracle?  Not if your definition is a breaking of the natural order.

In growing we start to look at what miraculous means, what our history and tradition mean, with different eyes.  I am tempted to say "with grown-up eyes."  There is a childishness to the theology that always accuses God when the world will not cooperate with us.  Tomorrow, how this theology got shaped in my life through my wife’s cancer, and my own bout with both a brain tumor and lymphoma.  No long stories of disease, I promise.  No unsubtle pleas for sympathy. 

OK, maybe a little.

Rabbi David Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week.  Stay tuned.