Did a Great Miracle Happen There?

When the results of the senatorial election in Alabama came in on this past Tuesday night, many Jews posted celebrations of "a great miracle happened there" (in Alabama) on social media. Indeed it seemed miraculous to many that a democrat (and a progressive one at that) could carry a deeply red state and upset a conservative evangelical candidate. Others argued that despite the victory, the 1.5% gap that prevented an accused sexual predator from assuming a senatorial office was too small. Many felt that the decision to choose propriety over party should have been even more clear with a far larger spread between the two candidates. One particularly interesting comment I read, from a rabbinical colleague of mine, was that this wasn't a miracle at all. This upset happened, not because of some Divine intervention, but because of the hard work of hundreds of volunteers, and the large turnout of African-American voters. In response, another colleague posted that while some miracles seem to come from "above" many others are deeply rooted in our actions on the ground. In fact, if you look at many of the miracles in the Torah - they almost all involve some action from the people. When the sea splits it is Moses who raises his staff before the waters part. Before the manna falls from heaven, the people cry out for Divine intervention to feed their hunger.

Judaism sees human beings as partners with God. Rashi, the 11th century commentator, offers a beautiful teaching when Moses asks God why he has to walk around to each tent to count the children if God could just tell him how many there are. Rashi explains that God says, "you do your part and I'll do Mine." We are all taught that the miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil lasted for eight days but what if this isn't the true miracle? When the Maccabees found only a small amount of oil, that they knew wouldn't be enough, they could have just thrown up their hands and said, "forget it. There isn't enough. What's the point?" But they didn't. Instead they had faith that if they did their part - God would do God's. Perhaps the real miracle of Hanukkah is that the Maccabees lit the menorah at all. Then and only then, did God extend the miracle, that they had started on that first day, for seven more days. The reason we can believe in miracles is not because we have faith in a supernatural Being that is going to change the course of history for us but because we have the power, the courage and the moral fortitude to change the course of history ourselves. A great miracle did happen there - and we made it happen.

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