Our Torah begins with the words “In the beginning, God created.” We read of how on each day God creates something new and unique. Suddenly out of nothing, darkness and unformed void, there was a world, a well-ordered system with day and night, animals and human beings. The Torah’s description of the entirety of creation is summarized in 31 short verses. However, as the Ramban notes, the process of creation cannot be comprehended just from the biblical text. The Torah thus begins by teaching us that we should never think that we can understand fully how the world functions. Although scientists and academics have tried to explain the complex process of creation, there still remains aspects of our world that we cannot fully explain. The order and functioning of the world we live in can be described only as a miracle.
What exactly is a miracle? In today’s world, where medical technology can keep people alive in situations in which a generation ago there would have been no hope, where we can create weapons of mass destruction, or where Chicago Cubs could play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series, is it possible that we have ceased to think of anything as truly miraculous? The dictionary defines miracle as an event in the natural order of the world, but out of its established order, possible only by the intervention of divine power. However, it also claims that a miracle is any wonderful or amazing fact or event. Thus, the order in our world, the fact that the sun rises each day or that our bodies function as an intricate system, are daily reoccurring miracles recognized by our tradition by prayers that daily and specifically thank God for the continued pattern of nature and the correct functioning of our bodies.
A miracle, then, is really a matter of perception, of appreciating all the truly wondrous creations in the world, and recognizing them as miraculous. For example, in the Harry Potter books so many fantastic things happen that very few things seem impossible. In such fantastic literature, like in many of our favorite childhood stories, miracles do not arouse wonder. They are expected, and thus are not miracles at all. Much in the same way, many of us stop appreciating the miracles of nature that are all around us.
In this week’s Torah portion, Bereshit, something happens that emphasizes the miracles of nature, of creation. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden. They are no longer part of an idyllic, perfect world. Rather, they must suffer, experience pain, and work for their survival. Following their expulsion, they realize the beauty, the sheer miracle of the world.
Miracles certainly are not limited to the Bible. Neither are they necessarily actions initiated by divine power alone. Even in the Bible, miracles such as the bringing forth of water from a rock depict God and humankind as partners in the performance of miracles.
Within the past century, the world has been witness to some truly astonishing feats, which must be called miracles and yet were brought about by human action. There are countless stories of human survival in times when the odds said survival was an impossibility. Today, doctors through the power of modern medicine perform “miracles” on a daily basis — procedures not even imagined a generation ago. Although creation occurred in six days, we have the responsibility to continue God’s work and to strive constantly to improve our world no matter how difficult it may seem. We need to always remember how miraculous our God-given power to innovate is!
A miracle is a miracle simply because it is not wholly explainable. The tendency in modern times is to regard an extraordinary event as a miracle because it appears to diverge from the laws of nature. Miracles, however, also are present in the natural order of the world. They happen. We should appreciate and be thankful for the many miracles all around us, both the miracles of nature and the miracles that are a divergence from nature. For as Emily Dickinson said: “to hear an oriole sing may be a common thing or may be divine.” As we celebrate the beginning of our Torah once again, let us open our eyes to fully see all the miracles that surround us.