Commentary on Faith and Miracles

Haggadah Section: Commentary / Readings

Taken from an excerpt by Harold M Schulweis

Faith and Miracles

Faith is a way of seeing and a way of responding to what we see.  The idea of the miraculous that excludes human action and reaction to events, like that of prayer that excludes the worshiper from the petitions, overlooks the divine presence within nature and humanity. 

Rabbi Akiba is challenged by the pagan I=Tineus Rufus: “Whose deeds are greater, those of G-d or man?” Akiba replies. “Greater are the deeds of man.”  The pagan is surprised by Akiba’s humanistic response.  To provide evidence for his assertion, Rabbi Akiba brings forth sheaves of what and loves of cakes.  Akiba asks, “Which are superior?” Unarguably, the loaves of cakes excel (Midrash Tanchuma Tazriah, 19:5). 

Akiba’s demonstration was not to raise man to G-d’s expense but to point out the wrongheadedness of Tineus Rufus’s split thinking—either G-d or man.  Rabbi Akiba’s intention is to inform Rufus about the cooperative relationship between G-d and man.  Akiba’s sheaves of wheat represent the givenness of G-d through seed, water, soil and sun, which men did not create.  The cakes, on the other hand, represent the human transformation of which is potential into actuality. 

Akiba calls attention to the daily sign-miracles.  Normal “miraculous” events are transactions between that over which we have little control and that which we have a measure of control.  It marks a partnership between the given and transformed. 

Healing points to the human, as well as to that which is beyond human powers.  Curing is a cooperative venture between self and Other.  Who, having undergone surgery, is blind to the “sign” of healing?

The philosopher Moredchai M. Kaplan used the ordinary phenomenon of children’s growth as illustrative of this worldly “signs.”  What accounts for children’s growth? Clearly, it relies on the human care of the self, proper nutrition, exercise and sleep.  The human contribution is necessary, but not sufficient.  There is something beyond that accounts for the normal mystery of human growth.  The collaboration of human and nonhuman energies is a factor that enters the miracle of growth. 

Sign-miracles entail the appropriate cooperation of the will, intelligence, and care, which themselves are manifestations of the divine and the potentialities given for us to transform.

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