I’ve written so many times about miracles. Miracles that happened to me, mostly. Miracles like the time I had a near death experience. The time I prayed to meet the cop I blamed for the death of my friend… and then did. The time the dead leader of the Chabad Hasidic movement convinced me to devote myself to writing.
Those are just a few of the stories that happened to me. And of course, there are so many stories that surround us at all times. Chabadniks love to tell stories of the Rebbe, stories that still continue to happen. Miracles happen to people in every religion, with any belief system…
For Jews, miracles have an even more powerful level of importance. It was specifically through miracles that we were released from Egypt. The plagues, the splitting of the sea, manna falling from the sky… the story that defines us, that we mention in our prayers every day, that we spend a week celebrating… it’s all about miracles.
I guess that’s why I always figured the miracles in my life would have a sort of boundless energy, the kind of energy that would fuel my religious observance for my entire life.
After all, when you believe that you died and that G-d spat you back out because you had more to live for, and a year later you were connected to religious Judaism, wouldn’t you consider that pretty important? If the reason you wrote is because the Rebbe directly to you when you needed it most, wouldn’t that stick with you?
I guess that’s why it surprised me so much that those stories, and the countless others I haven’t shared here, weren’t enough at times to keep me going.
There was the time I practically went off the derech (left the path of orthodox Judaism). How on earth was that possible? How on earth could someone who felt like he practically met G-d face to face, who had experienced so many things he felt to be incontrovertible proof (at least to himself, if not to others) that G-d was real, that Judaism was real, that the beliefs he had chosen had validity and importance?
This always bothered me, even as I returned to the path I had chosen. It seemed so bizarre that I had experienced these powerful things so directly and yet they held no power over me as I grew, changed, and evolved.
It felt as if I had once seen a powerful movie, but was moved only at the time, was convinced by it only then, and that somehow, upon looking back, I could acknowledge the reality of what had happened without the meaning.
It reminded me of the way the Jews, after just experiencing the biggest miracles they had ever and would ever experience in recorded history, turned around and built an idol and started worshipping it. It makes no sense! How could they do something so stupid?
And yet, I lived it. I was that stupid.
And that’s what I’ve come to realize in my life: that miracles aren’t enough. Miracles are a fine launching-off point to religious observance and certainly for simple belief, but they aren’t substantial in and of themselves.
One of the fascinating things about the miracles in Egypt is that, while we speak about them with such reverence and excitement, the truth is that they aren’t the core of the story. They are, if anything, the ornaments that decorate something much deeper.
The Exodus is the living metaphor of what it means to be a Jew. It’s a blueprint for our existence and our relationship with G-d. And as such, we study it, we learn it, we plunge into it for what what we can learn from it. The miracles become the way we understand the deeper truths of G-d, become the way we understand our role in this world, become access points for Truth.
And so, maybe it isn’t stupidity that makes us abandon miracles as the basis of our belief so quickly. Maybe the Jews weren’t that dumb for giving up so quickly. Maybe you and I, we aren’t so foolish for needing more than miracles to give us a grounding in spirituality.
That’s why these proofs that the “scientific” folks (I use that term loosely, and, to be more specific, I mean anti-theists) want from us for our beliefs, that they demand as a basis for any choice for belief in G-d is ultimately an incredibly shallow request. Because even if G-d revealed himself here and now, and we could see spirituality and G-dliness as if they were physical things… that wouldn’t be enough.
We’re all starving for something deeper… we’re starving for real truth. Not proofs. Not evidence. We want beliefs that give our life meaning. We want to access something bigger than ourselves and then to explore, delve, and root around that something.
Because truth is beyond miracles. It’s beyond proofs. It’s beyond evidence, science, incredible stories, and anything else people shallowly use as crutches to pretend they have access to what we’re all starving for: a connection and a relationship with the Ultimate Reality we call G-d.