Monday, April 10, 2006

What are Miracles? - A few thoughts.

Rambam in his commentary to Mishna 5:5 in Avos states:

“As I mentioned in the eighth chapter, the sages do not believe that there is periodic change of the Divine will. Rather at the beginning of the fashioning of the phenomena, He instituted into nature that through them there would be fashioned all that would be fashioned. Whether the phenomena which would be fashioned would be frequent, namely, a natural phenomenon, or would be an infrequent change, namely a sign, they are all equal. Therefore they said that (at twilight) on the sixth day He instituted into the nature of the earth that Korach and his company would sink (into it), and concerning the well, that it would bring forth water, and concerning the donkey, that it would speak and similarly for the rest. Should you ask if all miraculous events are in reality natural phenomena, why were these ten particularized? Know that they were not particularized to teach us that they were the only miracles that were in reality natural phenomena. The Mishna is only teaching us that only these were created at dusk while the other miracles were instilled into nature at the time of their original creation. For example, on the second day, when the waters were separated, they had it in their nature so that the Sea of Suf should split for Moshe, the Yarden for Yehoshua and so for Eliyohu and Elisha, and on the fourth day, when the sun was created, it had in its nature that it should stop at a certain time when Yehoshua spoke to it and the same applies for all the other miracles. These ten received this natural ability at dusk”

Rambam starts by referring us to his Shemona Perakim which is the introduction to the tractate Avos, where he explains that we do not believe that God’s actively changes things all the time.

"As I understand the Mutakillimun they disagree on this point and say that the will is constantly needed in everything at all times. That is not our belief. For we believe that the will was present during the six days of Creation, and that all things always behave according to their nature as it says “Only that shall happen which has happened only that shall occur which has occurred; there is nothing new under the sun”. Therefore the Rabbis found it necessary to say that all the miracles that already happened, that will happen in the future as promised, and that are irregular, all were willed during the first six days of creation. Those things had in their original nature the novel behavior that occurred later, at a set time, and when that happened at a fortuitous time, people perceived them as if they were willed now. That is not so. Our Rabbis expanded on this in Midrash Kohelet and in other places. They also stated “the world acts according to its custom”.

Reading Rambam carefully one comes away with several ideas:
1. In complete contrast to what is generally accepted nowadays in the Frum community, Rambam tells us that HKBH does not bring about constant change because that would imply a lack in foresight. HKBH is perfect and His deeds are perfect, change would connote imperfection, a need for adjustments. When He created the world, all that could happen was foreseen by Him and nature contained in itself the ability to autonomously take care of itself, whatever should develop. At creation HKBH instilled in the nature of water that when certain conditions are met it will change directions and flow upward,
2. Furthermore the time of that occurrence was preset. It is up to man to know nature well enough to be able to predict when that will occur. (Of course this issue has much depth to it as it touches on God’s omniscience and the randomness of the universe – but that has been discussed many times on my blog).
3. A miracle is a natural event that is perceived by man as miraculous when it is rare.

If we extrapolate this idea to the plagues in Egypt, they were natural occurrences that Moshe Rabbeinu was able to take advantage of because of his being so well attuned to HKBH’s world. Lest I be accused of reading things into Rambam and thus Kefirah, let me point to Teshuvas Harashba, #234 of the 4th Chelek, where he discusses Ma’amad Har Sinai. Rashba argues that until the Har Sinai event, the people were not totally convinced about Moshe’s prophecy and its genuineness. I paraphrase: Our parents learned that they should not believe in anything until proven without any doubt. For, even after HKBH made the great miracles in Egypt, extricating them from there, there still was a doubt in their mind. For everything that happened in Egypt it could be possible that they were natural events. Even when they experienced the splitting of the sea, after at first believing in Moshe, they again returned to their skepticism. They said to themselves that “Ulay Moshe levad shehoyo chochom mikol ho’odom umikol mi shekodmo yoda la’asos kein” - It is possible that Moshe’s wisdom and knowledge allowed him to take advantage of natural situations. Rashba then at length goes into explaining why the Har Sinai event was different and proved Moshe’s legitimacy. Obviously Rashba was aware of Rambam’s understanding and not only accepted it, but also agreed with it.

I find these ideas exhilarating. Everything is in man’s hands. He can choose to try and understand the world he lives in, seek out its Creator, understand His way of running it and take control of his own destiny by partaking in HKBH’s world. Unlike the rest of creation man does not have to be a victim of circumstances but can take his destiny into his own hands. Moshe did that when he chose to go into the sea, trusting his insight that it would split, instead of submitting to the Egyptians.

No comments:

Post a Comment