WHAT IS A MIRACLE? by Rabbi Baruch Cohon

When Abraham and Sarah learn that Sarah will bear a child, we read in Genesis 17-18, they both laugh. Abraham wipes the smile off his face, and asks Divine consideration for Ishmael, his son with Hagar.  But Sarah considers the whole idea impossible: “Can a woman of 90 bear a child?  My husband is old too.”  But she finds out soon enough that, as the Torah reminds us, nothing is impossible for G-d, and she bears a normal son at the normal time.  They name him Isaac – Yitzkhak in Hebrew, from the root word tza-khak: laugh!  They celebrate each occasion in their only son‘s growth, even the day he is weaned.   As many parents can observe, every normal birth is a kind of miracle.

So what is a miracle?  One definition describes a miracle as “something that happens that we could not expect to happen.”  Questionable definition, that.  Could easily include a surprise disaster.  So let’s limit our definition to positive results that looked impossible, or even improbable. 

Did you ever experience a miracle?  I did.  I don’t usually tell sea stories in these blogs but as long as we are exploring miracles, I’ll tell mine.  In World War II, I served on a Navy minesweeper, the smallest class of sweepers, a 136-foot wooden ship powered by a diesel engine with twin propellers (“screws” we called them) under the fantail.  We were crossing the Gulf of Alaska one night in 1945 when we sailed into a typhoon.  60-foot swells hoisted us to the top, with both screws out of the water and generating vibrations that felt as if every nail would pop out of that hull.  Then a minute later, down we would plunge to the bottom of the wave, with angry water breaking over the flying bridge.  The helmsmen fought those savage waves desperately.   I don’t know how many hours high winds and heavy currents buffeted that little ship, but I know one thing: there were no atheists on board that night.  We were all praying for a miracle.  And our prayers were answered.  We weathered the storm.  We all lived to tell the tale.

A narrow escape is one kind of miracle.  Finding your bashert – your one-and-only – is another kind. And becoming the parents of a normal healthy baby is a third.  That is why our daily prayers include an expression of thanks to G-d for nisekho sheb’khol yom imanu – “Your miracles that are with us every day.”

Enjoy yours – and appreciate it!


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