From the Rabbi - February 2011 Print
Dear Friends:

During January, we read a series of selections from the Torah about miraculous events.  First, there were the plagues in Egypt.  Then came the remarkable escape, culminating in the splitting of the Reed Sea.  Finally, the Israelites assembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where they witnessed thunder and lightning and a fearsome sound and light show as the Deity descended upon the top of the mountain.

One of the questions that I am often asked, especially around this time of the liturgical year, is: “Why doesn’t God do miracles today like God used to do in the Bible?”  I want to answer that question.

On Tuesday morning, January 11, I climbed onto a gurney at Methodist Hospital in Houston, received an anesthetic from a young woman doctor who looked to be about sixteen years of age but who was impressively competent and spent two hours undergoing back surgery to remove calcium spurs that had been pressing on my back’s nerves.  By mid-afternoon, I was out of bed and walking without a limp and with no more pain than that associated with a long incision.  Any of you who have seen me hobble around during the last six months will immediately recognize that the change was little short of miraculous.  My recovery has proceeded without interruption, and I am enjoying the luxury of being able to stride forward with my right leg as I did in years past.

Some people might say: “That’s no miracle.  It’s just medicine at work.”  Maybe they are right, but from the vantage of the person who has gone through successful surgery and can now move with ease, it sure seems like a miracle.  Miracles, like beauty, are probably in the eye of the beholder.

Today, many people are skeptical and cynical.  I take an opposite view.  One of the greatest assets a human being can have is a well-developed sense of wonder.  The ability to say “WOW” in the presence of some remarkable event; the willingness to suspend judgmentalism and react openly and enthusiastically to what another person does; the skill to open one’s eyes and ears and perceive that there may, indeed, be burning bushes all over the place (if only we were aware of them) – these are the crucial components of the person who recognizes miracles in today’s world.

Once you open yourself to a sense of wonder and awe. I suspect you’ll find it easy to discover the miraculous in even everyday existence.  Let me give you one example.  There are multiple billions of cells in a cubic centimeter of human flesh.  (If you’re having trouble with metrics, just think that there are around 15.6 cubic centimeters in a cubic inch.  How many billions would that be?)

The process of cell division called mytosis begins when a single ovum and a single sperm join together.  They are undifferentiated cells, but somehow, during pregnancy, they split multiple times and some of the split-offs become kidneys, some hair, some bone, some blood, some all the other parts of the eventual human being.  I know that this is somehow controlled by the DNA in each cell, but no doctor has ever fully explained to me how this directed cell division happens in such a predictable and orderly fashion, much less why it happens.  Yes, it’s part of the natural process of the universe, but to my wondrous eyes it’s a miracle.  When I see a newborn child, the only legitimate response I can make is “WOW.”

Here’s a second example.  The drive to preserve ourselves is paramount among the drives of the human organism; we are structured to fight for our own survival.  A key element, then, in the use and allocation of all the resources available to us should logically be that we use what we have to protect ourselves and to enhance our own personal existence.  And yet over and over again we see our fellow human beings giving to others, doing for others, sacrificing their own selfish interests on behalf of someone else.  There is something remarkable about altruism and selflessness.  It flows completely against the more natural impulse to hoard and sequester what we have for our own use.  When I see another human being subordinating self-interest to the needs of others, I can only think in terms of a huge “WOW.”  This flow against the normal expectations of human nature seems to me little short of miraculous.

I don’t suppose I’m going to go out to Cole Park and wait for God to split the Bay so I can walk over to Ingleside.  But maybe God has become a bit more subtle and nuanced; maybe God expects us to take a little more responsibility in spotting miracles in today’s world.  All I can tell you is that every time I turn around, I am confronted with events and personalities in the world that strike me as so remarkable that they seem miraculous.

Besides, I much prefer being a “cockeyed optimist” and taking a positive approach to the world in which I live than being cynical, skeptical, pessimistic and negative.  If you want to live that way, it’s OK with me, but try, just for fun, looking around, saying “WOW” and enjoying the grandeur of the miracles that surround us every day.

                       Sincerely yours,
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi