Oh well. I didn’t win the Powerball jackpot. No one else from our community won either. The three winning tickets were purchased in California, Florida and Tennessee. So, there won’t be some unexpected windfall for synagogue. I guess I have to stop imagining all the things that we could have done with the money. There will be no “miracle.”
The truth is that our tradition tells us not to rely on miracles. The Talmud specifically teaches: “One should never put oneself in a dangerous situation and say, ‘A miracle will save me.’ Perhaps the miracle will not come (BT Shabbat 32a).”
Perhaps, that helps to explain why the Israelites were so reluctant to believe Moshe that God was going take them out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. After all, their pleas and cries had gone unanswered for so long. Perhaps that also helps to explain the hardening of the Pharaoh’s heart. After all, he must have been accustomed to controlling his world with little regard for the threats made by others.
But, then, God did it. God sent the ten plagues. God split the Reed Sea. God provided water and manna. It was not just one miracle. It was MANY.
So, which is it? Do we wait for the miracle or not?
The Torah itself gives us an answer in this week’s Torah portion. After reading about the last three plagues and the very first Passover, we might be tempted to think that we should expect miracles to save us at our darkest moments. However, the Torah portion concludes by giving us the tradition of tefillin (phylacteries).
What are tefillin? They are two small boxes with words of Torah in them. We place one box on our arm next to our heart and we place the other between our eyes next to our brains. It is a vivid, physical reminder that when we incorporate the words of the Torah into our lives, we find that God resides in our minds, in our hearts and in our hands. We have the power to do God’s work right here on Earth.
Whether it’s providing shelter to five families in need (as we are doing this week) or attending a candlelight vigil with people of other religions and races (as we can do this coming Sunday). Whether it’s donating blood (community blood drive this Monday) or joining with neighbors of other faiths to be good stewards of the earth. We have the power to do God’s work right here on Earth. We can perform miracles.
So, it might have been nice to win that Powerball jackpot, but we can still do a lot to transform our community and the world around us. We have that power.