Mike Feder: Good evening. This is Toward a Meaningful Life. I’m Mike Feder and I’m here with Rabbi Simon Jacobson. Tonight the subject of the programs is modern miracles; miracles in the modern world. Let me start right off. First, let me tell the listeners that there is a chapter in your book Toward a Meaningful Life on miracles. It is chapter 29 in the book and you can read it…we’ll talk about that a little later.
Okay, when people think of miracles they automatically think of something ancient, antique, something that happened a long time ago, something biblical. In all the holy scriptures of all religions there are these divine interventions, which I presume are usually beneficial.
Let’s take one example so we can start right off. The typical miracles that people think of when they think of the Bible is G-d parting the Red Sea for Moses and the Hebrews who just came out of Egypt. G-d also stopped the sun in its course outside of Jericho for Joshua. And throughout all religions there are these kinds of things.
But two questions come to mind right off: what exactly is a miracle, and is there any such thing in the modern world?
Simon Jacobson: And how do we address the skeptic who says, “Hey, come on. Miracles just don’t happen. And if they ever did happen, when did they stop happening?” And perhaps there wasn’t a miracle that they experienced in the Bible, it was simply some event that can today be explained away with nature.
I’m just adding questions to the pot.
Feder: Some scientific phenomena explains all of this…
Jacobson: Very legitimate questions. Let me begin with a question of my own, if I may, that almost precedes all these questions. When we were discussing doing this topic, I had mixed feelings because in a way the topics we’ve been addressing previously have been very personal—people dealing with their struggles in life—and dealing with a topic like miracles in some way, for me, particularly when this radio show is entitled “Meaningful Life,” which is about adding meaning and relevance to our lives…
You know, I deal with people every day and I see, including myself of course, the struggles that people are grappling with, whether it’s issues of abuse, issues of marital strife, barely making ends meet financially, psychological peace of mind… So in a way I always feel like when we’re dealing with a topic it should always be brought to the issues that we are struggling with. And I abhor, almost, going off on some academic tangent where you have a purely intellectual discussion (even if it’s a nice discussion). I always like to bring that personal side to it.
On the other hand, I think miracles can be addressed that way as well.
Feder: That’s something I’d like to hear, because it does seem abstract.
Jacobson: And my focus, our focus, should be on what it means to us today. Even if someone says, “Yes, the sea can part. Great. Does that help me? If the sea parts, does that help me at home? Does it help me dealing with my spouse, my children, making a living?” So I’d like to connect it and integrate it with our own issues and that way we can focus the subject of miracles into a meaningful experience.
Feder: I guess that also would define, in the course of the explanation, what a miracle is, right?
Jacobson: Right. Now, as you stated, most religions base some of their “divine revelations” on the concept of a miracle. And since G-d performed a miracle at some point in history it’s almost a demonstration of G-d’s power. The Bible does say that in Egypt, one of the reasons or intentions of the miracles—the Ten Plagues, a suspension of nature—was to demonstrate G-d’s power to the Egyptians who refused to accept G-d’s will.
Feder: Or that there is a G-d at all.
Jacobson: Right. And religion often, or at least in some people’s minds, is based on that principle: that a miracle occurred so there must be a G-d, or at least there must be a G-d who intervenes in our lives.
So I want to correct that understanding—at least from the understanding of where I come from, from a Torah or a Jewish perspective. G-d’s existence is not proven through miracles, because if you want to deny G-d, you can deny a miracle as well by explaining it away through natural occurrences, and most importantly, for a mature adult, the approach should not be that, “Oh, I see a miracle, so suddenly I’m going to change my entire life.”
I’d like to know that if the Atlantic Ocean suddenly parted in a miraculous way, do you think millions of people would suddenly embrace morality and ethics and just become better people and say, “Yes, I’m responsible to G-d because G-d showed me the ocean parting?”
I highly doubt it. And, as a matter of fact, I’d like to address a skeptic by playing a skeptic. I believe that people reject G-d, and therefore by extension miracles (or at least question them) not because they haven’t seen a miracle or because they may not believe in them, or they could explain everything with science, I think people are extremely uncomfortable and uneasy with having a personal G-d in their lives, because it means real responsibility.
I rarely meet the person who academically denies G-d’s existence. There’s always something else…because G-d always has implications. In other words, if you accept that there’s a G-d in your life, that means you have to live up to a calling that’s higher than your own. And I would submit (I can’t prove this because anyone could say, “No, I’m ready to accept any truth…”) but I speak for myself as well that we are all objective as far as our comfort zones will allow us. I’m not suggesting that people don’t search for truth, and there are certain truths that emerge, often, unfortunately, when we’re broken through trauma in our lives. When we lose our security we suddenly wake up. Even then not always.
So I would say that just to discuss this in an academic way is a good way to play mind games, but I don’t what practical benefit it has. In my book Toward a Meaningful Life in chapter 29 it says, “Miracles are a good way of looking at not whether you believe in a miracle, but whether you accept an intervention of G-d in your personal life.” I think that’s really the issue more than whether or not there’s an actual miracle.
There was a real skeptic who came to one of my classes and he said, “So tell me. Tzaddikim, righteous people like Moses, could they fly?” His question was obviously meant to poke fun. So I told him, “I’ve never seen a tzaddik, a G-dly person, fly, but frankly, for a person like that, it’s as miraculous to walk on this earth as it is to fly.”
Existence itself is a miracle. Birth is a miracle. The fact that we breathe is a miracle. If you just look at the odds of one mutant cell, being born with one mutant cell, G-d forbid, and what kind of havoc that wreaks, the odds of billions and billions of cells working in coordination together…is that any less a miracle than the sea parting?
I would submit that it’s a greater miracle. Because the parting of the sea is out there in nature, it doesn’t affect you and me right here. The fact that you walk into a hospital, and G-d forbid, you see someone struggling to breathe makes you appreciate the miracle of health. Or you see children born not in the healthiest way, you can ask a doctor and he’ll tell you, “Well, it was one mutant cell out of billions. And that was it. It happened.”
I would submit that the fact that healthy children are born, though it happens every day, thank G-d, does not make it any less miraculous. And one of the quotes that I use in the book is the Baal Shem Tov’s quote, which I think is as powerful as it gets, he says: “The difference between a miracle and a natural occurrence is only frequency.”
If the sun were to rise once in our lifetimes, you’d have media crews and photographers coming to look at this astonishing phenomenon. (Look, we just saw people’s fascination with the solar eclipse). It would be like a miracle. But since the sun rises every morning, we get accustomed to it. Human beings needs a new rush of excitement.
So I like to look at miracles as: what does it really do to you? If you can see the extraordinary within the ordinary, if you’re able to appreciate every flutter of a butterfly’s wings, every breath a human being takes, the magnificence and sheer synchronicity of nature itself, if you can appreciate it and it makes you a person who is in awe of this bigger thing called nature, or G-d, that there’s a higher force at work and it makes you a better person because you see you’re just one component in a larger composition of music, then that means that the miracle has affected you and has made you into a different type of person.
If someone says to me, “I believe in miracles. I’m a very religious person,” but in no way do you find harmony in their own life (they may be abusive or obnoxious, etc.) so then their statement is just an academic statement. What do you mean, you believe in miracles? Do you believe that G-d intervenes in your life? Do you believe that every moment you have to be responsible?
So the words “I believe in miracles” is a very abstract term.
Feder: Yet throughout history, people of every sort on every place on the earth have always seemed to need some type of demonstration, from time to time, of the power of the unseen. It’s almost like it’s human nature in a way, isn’t it?
Jacobson: I think so. And let’s put it this way. From a Jewish mystical perspective, it does discuss the concept of a supernatural miracle. You see, I’ve directed the conversation to more of recognizing the supernatural within the natural, but just because nature is a perpetual continuation of habit, so to speak, doesn’t make it less miraculous.
However, as a wake-up call, in Jewish mysticism, it does discuss the idea of a sheer miracle that actually suspends or supercedes nature, but not as a common statement. As a matter of fact, when it comes to miracles that suspend nature, the Talmud states that G-d does not perform miracles everyday.
Feder: The big shows.
Jacobson: The big shows so to speak. And G-d doesn’t do supernatural miracles without a reason. It’s not just a common occurrence. Because in a way, G-d bound Himself to the system, the structure, and in a way created a partnership with us humans. It’s up to us to be wise and recognize that we shouldn’t become bound and limited by the structure ourselves but we should realize that there’s more to it.
So from time to time in history, according to Torah thinking and Jewish belief, there will be a spectacular event that will demonstrate that there is, so to speak, a voice from another place, with the goal being for us to recognize the Divine hand in our regular daily lives, seeing that it’s not so regular.
Now that does require faith, yes, it requires faith that at one point in history the sea parted. I can’t prove that here on air. I have no empirical proof for it. It’s an event that happened and once it happened it was over. So that requires faith. But my point is that faith is not based on the miracle. Should someone say to me, “You know, I believe in G-d but I don’t believe in that miracle,” I think, fine, I’m not going to get into an argument. I don’t see it as one of the Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith that you have to accept the parting of the sea. But if you do accept that there’s a G-d, what difficulties would you have in believing that the G-d who created nature should suspend it? It shouldn’t be that impossible.
I do agree that you don’t just have to blindly believe everu miracle claim. Someone will say, “Well, a miracle just happened to me yesterday, a completely supernatural thing, no one else saw it but me.” I too would tend to be skeptical and say, “Maybe it wasn’t a miracle, maybe it was your imagination.” But not because I deny conceptually the possibility. I just know that human beings can sometimes believe what they want to believe.
But I do accept the Biblical truth, and for me it’s not a question… if there wasn’t a parting of the sea, G-d could have intervened some other way. So I think it’s more of a holistic approach in relationship with G-d, with understanding life in a deeper way.
Feder: It’s interesting that you should say “life in a deeper way” because it’s something that I’ve been thinking about. I’ll explain with a small experience I had that may seem superficial. When I was a kid—I grew up in a skeptical family, a sort of religious family—I thought I’d give this G-d business one try. I was about ten years old and I went out onto the front lawn one day near a tree we had there and I said, “I’ll believe in G-d if when I wake up tomorrow morning there is a box of Oreo cookies sitting there by magic (I don’t mean to be facetious or anything) at the bottom of the tree.”
So I came out the next morning, and of course there was nothing there, and I said, “That’s it, there was no miracle,” do you know what I mean? All of which to say that it seems as if it almost requires an evolution—a growing up—to really understand what you’re trying to say because most children are taught in almost all religions about these big shows and not always the way you’re describing it.
Jacobson: And I’ll take it a step beyond. I think insecure religion is built on promising children or adults that a miracle is going to happen if you do so and so.
Feder: If you pray…
Jacobson: Because it’s like relying on something outside of yourself. Now prayer in Judaism and religion in general is clearly the ability to intervene. You pray if, G-d forbid, someone is ill in the hospital or suffering in some other way, you pray to G-d to intervene. And though the destiny may state one way, we ask G-d to please change destiny.
Jacobson: Yes. We ask for a miracle. So that is a basis in religion…
Feder: So you can pray for a miracle.
Jacobson: You can pray for a miracle, you can pray that destiny should change. But I remember a very sad story with a Mrs. Waxman in Israel a few years ago when her son, an Israeli soldier, was taken hostage by some Hamas terrorists. She is a religious woman and she was praying—and of course the entire nation was praying with her—that her son should survive. Now the army did storm the place but they came in a minute late and unfortunately he was killed in the process.
So afterwards, some of the skeptical journalists—and Israeli journalists can be quite harsh—said to her, “So what happened to your prayers?” I mean, how they can ask such a question to a mother who just lost a son is beyond me (that too is a miracle in the other extreme) but they did, and she answered with that type of dignity and majesty that you see in a person of true, mature faith. She said, “We prayed and we asked G-d, and G-d answered. He said no.”
In other words, faith means that you can expect, and you can hope, and pray and even demand of G-d to do a miracle, but faith also means it doesn’t always work the way you have it planned. And it’s not dependent on your comfort zone. In other words, “I’ll accept G-d if I get my Oreo cookies…” I’m not criticizing you…
Feder: I was ten years old.
Jacobson: No, of course, I don’t mean it that way. We all do it in different ways, it’s human nature. But my point is that faith is a deeper, mature experience as you pointed out. It’s more than that, like the story I tell in Toward a Meaningful Life in this chapter that there were three gentlemen sitting near a fireplace on a winter evening and they were each telling their miracle stories. This one said, “Let me tell you about my Rebbe, my great master…I had very little money and my Rebbe suggested that I invested it somewhere and a miracle happened and I made money beyond anyone’s expectations in a totally losing proposition. I made a lot of money.”
Then another fellow said, “Well, I had a child who was ill and the doctors had given up hope and my master, my Rabbi gave me a blessing and prayed and my child healed miraculously to the amazement of all the doctors around.”
And the third chassid, the third student said, “Well, here’s mine. I had a lot of money and I had a suggestion to invest it somewhere and my Rabbi said I should invest it and I lost it all. My investment went bad.”
So they said, “So what’s the miracle?”
He said, “The miracle was that I remained dedicated to my master. That it didn’t shake my faith.” The point is, it’s a human tendency to depend like a crutch on a miracle or some kind of intervention and that is definitely part of faith in G-d. But faith in G-d is not exclusively determined by that, because then you’re dealing with a relationship that is uneven; G-d is the great giver and you don’t take any responsibility.
There is a famous story that most people know and whenever I tell it everyone says, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that,” in some version or another, about this town that was being flooded and all the townspeople were escaping. There was one guy, a man of faith, who refused to leave with the trucks going out and he said, “No. G-d will save me.” And the water’s rising, it’s coming in through the door. The man goes up to his roof and people come by in a boat and tell him to get aboard but he’s not going anywhere and he says, “No. G-d will save me.”
And the helicopter comes around, once, twice, and drops the ladder, and he won’t grab the ladder because he’s waiting for G-d to intervene. Finally it’s his last chance and he refuses any rescue attempt. Of course, he drowns and comes storming into the heavenly courts and says, “I was the only man of faith; everyone else escaped. They used all kinds of natural means but I waited for your intervention and me you let down. What kind of response is that to a man of deep faith such as mine?”
And the voice came back and said, “My dear friend. I tried saving you three times. I sent a truck, a boat and a helicopter and you just refused.”
Feder: Yeah, I heard a version of that story.
Jacobson: In other words, intervention doesn’t always happen in the way we expect it.
Feder: So it doesn’t have to happen with all kinds of lights, and phenomena…
Jacobson: Cecil B. De Mille style. No, it doesn’t need to be sensational. It can be, but as I said, faith in G-d means anything can happen. But more often than not, miracles happen to us and we don’t even pay attention.
Feder: If I get up tomorrow morning and I feel okay, and my wife is feeling okay, and we had a nice sleep and we have our breakfast and we get the food there and we digest it and we go to work and we have a good day. That’s a miracle, right?
Jacobson: Don’t you have any greater expectations?!
Feder: No, actually, I don’t! That’s my idea of a great life.
Jacobson: Well, some people would call that damage control…
Feder: No really, I should look around me and say that this is all working and it’s a miracle that it actually works that way. I mean, anything could go wrong.
Jacobson: I’d like to rephrase it somewhat, because it sounds a little bit like people would say that’s resignation.
Jacobson: I think a part of it. If your appreciation of that translates into your becoming a better person and saying “Tomorrow I want to do it better,” I would agree with that. But I would not like to say that today’s a miracle and tomorrow let’s just hope that it’s as good as this and… that’s almost like a fatalistic approach where you almost have a fear of things not working and you thank G-d that it did.
Feder: So it’s like seeing everything in the negative almost.
Jacobson: Yes. But some of it is correct. I’ll use a Midrash. The Midrash is one of the oral interpretations in Torah thought. King David writes in the conclusion of his book of Psalms, which is a beautiful book of prayer, how he turns to G-d in his (King David’s) need. His last verse is, “Every soul praises G-d.” And it repeats the word soul twice, “Every soul and soul.” The Midrash explains this verse in Psalms: “What’s the emphasis and why does it use the word “soul” twice?”
Interestingly, the word “soul” in Hebrew (neshamah) comes from the same root and has the same pronounciation as the word “nishimah” which means breath. And the Midrash says that “Every breath I take (every breath and breath) I praise G-d.” So it’s not just that souls are praising G-d, it’s the appreciation that every breath is a precious miracle and has value.
In that sense, yes, if a day goes by and things went relatively well (there are no disasters—but it’s not just that there are no disasters, it’s just that things went well) then G-d deserves praise, but not because G-d is waiting for our praise but it should be for ourselves: the appreciation that we have for the gift of life, and as I said, the understanding that we have to do something with it. It’s not just enough that we acknowledge it, we have to do something with that breath. What did you do with all those breaths that were given to you.
Feder: So a miracle is not only a Divine gift, there’s also a responsibility attached to it?
Jacobson: Of course, definitely. As a matter of fact, in Jewish law we acknowledge a miracle by making a special blessing. And a special blessing doesn’t just mean that we pay lip service to it, it means an awareness that lifts you up to another place. Actually the word for miracle in Hebrew, nes, always means a flag, as in the verse, “A raised flag on the mountains.” It’s a process that’s meant to lift your spirit and lift you to a greater place with the intention that even if it’s a spectacular or a sensational event, you become transformed.
Feder: Okay, let’s take a break here to identify who we are and then we’ll move on. You are listening to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and this is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder and we’re here every Sunday night on WEVD, 1050AM in New York City from 6-7pm, talking about issues that we hope are inspiring to you. We’re talking about miracles and what they are; what they are in everyday life, and we’ll have some more questions, too.
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Now, just following up on something you said before: a miracle, is that something that’s always—as people usually believe—something good or benevolent or uplifting? And you just said that the uplifting aspect is an integral part of it. Yet before you mentioned that the plagues in Egypt were miracles: I suppose that’s because they were good for one particular group of people—but they weren’t so good for a lot of other people. I mean, miracles are not always good, are they?
Jacobson: No. The definition of a miracle is essentially an intervention. It can be a positive one or it can be a negative one.
Feder: Oh, so it’s not always a benevolent thing.
Jacobson: No, not necessarily. There’s always a message in it; there’s always something that we can learn from. But we find in history there have been negative types of miracles.
I do want to add something to what we were discussing earlier. In a way, today, the fact that we have science allows us to have a deeper appreciation of G-d and miracles of nature. In the 19th century w a great battle raged between science and religion where the new science claimed that we now have a natural explanation for all these primitive beliefs that once were understood as being some type of G-d’s intervention or even the solar eclipse… you read how this was seen as a terrifying experience and different civilizations and cultures had prayers and they did all kinds of things in order to deal with that bad omen, or good omen, or whatever it was. The same with other natural disasters—earthquakes and volcanoes—and science, so to speak, came and said no, these are natural events that can be predicted, we can understand them, we know it’s part of the solar system, the same is true with earthquakes and volcanoes. But today we have a much more sophisticated appreciation of nature and science where I would submit that we don’t have to see G-d and science as diametrically opposed. Just because we have a scientific and natural explanation for events doesn’t mean that there isn’t a miracle involved.
A miracle doesn’t mean that you can’t predict it. A miracle can mean that the way G-d set up the system is that there are, from time to time, events that wake us up. A wake-up call doesn’t have to mean that it’s a shocking experience that nobody predicted.
So a solar eclipse can have a message to it. It can wake us up to the appreciation and understanding of the solar system, the solar movement, the lunar movement, and in Jewish mysticism there’s much discussion about solar and lunar energy. It’s no different from recognizing special providence, or Divine providence in our daily activities. So there are events that have that power.
You know, I was thinking just today, you walk in the streets here in New York City, or for that matter anywhere, and just the sheer volume of cellular phones, radio, television stations, beepers, pagers….You think, who would ever imagine that in this space, the street here, there are millions of waves and, of course, once in a while we have interference, but it’s miraculous. And who would think that space would allow for so much communication going on? And I’m not talking about wired phones, I’m talking about wireless communications.
Feder: Just the very fact that the atoms and molecules allow for all these things…
Jacobson: And on the subatomic level you have so much flowing and dynamic energy, and the fact that so many people are communicating with each other. We have learnt to manipulate nature itself, all the way to the sub-atomic level.
If someone had suggested today’s technological innovations a hundred years ago, they would have thought, that’s a miracle. It’s ludicrous.
Feder: Or telephones, or the subway, or any of those things.
Jacobson: Exactly. You read the predictions at the end of the last century, the end of the 1800’s… someone resigned from his position at the patent office of the United States because he said, “Everything that could be discovered, has been discovered.”
All major inventions! (This was in 1897 before Einstein, before the computer, before the automobile, before the airplane) I mean if you think back, it’s almost the other way around. All the greatest inventions happened after that, not to take away from those that preceded. But I’m not counting. No one would make such a prediction now because it would be ridiculous. We have no idea what nature still holds.
And you just look at how much we understand about our own human bodies. The best doctors will tell you that even though they know more than they ever did about medicine and the human body—I’m not even getting into the human brain—they still are only touching the tip of the iceberg.
Feder: So people generally, even scientists perhaps, are more accepting than they used to be of the fact that miracles could occur at any time in any way, right?
Jacobson: And they may not even call them miracles in the same sense. They’ll say, nature is a miracle, or nature contains the potential for all kinds of miracles. Again, does this prove G-d’s existence? I think proof of G-d’s existence is dependent on other factors. Nothing proves G-d’s existence if you don’t want it to.
I’m not discussing this in the context of proof, I’m discussing it in the sense that once you believe in a higher reality, nature and the mysteries of life demonstrate that there’s something more, call it as you wish.
Feder: You know, these battles (the end of the 1800’s in the 19th century) never stop. I mean, I think the biggest battle that was left over in the 20th century, the most famous one, is the Scopes Monkey Trial…
Jacobson: Which ended up being a hoax, I believe.
Feder: No, no. This was a real trial that took place in Tennessee, where Clarence Darrow pitted himself against William Jennings Bryant. Bryant believed in the literal word of the Bible, in other words, that there was no such thing as scientific evolution. Bryant’s stand was that the world was created in seven days, all that kind of thing. There was this tremendous battle, which really came out sort of equal in the end finally. Did you ever see the movie “Inherit the Wind?” It’s a wonderful explanation of this. But now we go back, and three or four days ago a Kansas school board, influenced by fundamentalists out there, decided that on the reading list there will no longer be any books about evolution or Darwin’s evolutionary theory. They will not be put on the reading list, which is as much to say as they are not going to be taught.
So in other words, in a lot of places in the world what’s called fundamentalism is recapturing this sort of anti-scientific attitude, saying that only these “big miracles” that the entire world was created in seven days, are to be taught to our children. So are you suggesting that both things can exist side by side, that both things can be taught? Is that the idea?
Jacobson: Well I’m not going to comment per se about evolution which is a theory, and acknowledged by scientists as such, but generally speaking, scientific truths cannot contradict Divine truths. Because one G-d created the entire universe. Both the natural and the supernatural. So no way can a supernatural event contradict the laws of nature that G-d Himself put into place.
I see nature as being Divine for that reason. When a scientist searches for truth for the laws of nature. When Einstein discovered his theories. When any scientist or physicist today discovers different elements of nature and learns to manipulate them, they essentially have uncovered new dimensions of G-d’s mind, from my perspective.
Now G-d’s mind manifests itself in several ways. One way is in the mysterious and awesome laws of nature, and another way is perhaps from time to time in an event that may suspend nature, for instance, no scientist would have a problem if he or she witnessed a miracle that could not be explained.
I know many scientists who would say, “That’s true. But that does not mean that the laws of nature that G-d put in place are not accurate?” The answer is: Once in a while G-d Himself may choose to intervene; it does not in any way weaken the consistency and reliance on nature. Because the Torah itself encourages and commands the use of natural means. Interestingly, from a purely observant perspective, one who observes Torah law and who believes in G-d and believes in the parting of the Sea, and believes that all these events happened, the same Torah says that when you’re ill, go to a doctor. The same Torah respects science and the laws of nature and the fact that we have to do what’s necessary in nature. It’s not like we should live our lives thinking “Okay, maybe today there will be a miracle.” There’s a certain system that G-d put in place and respect for that system is equally important as respect for a miracle.
Feder: So now we have a deeper, or maybe a better word is a clearer understanding of what a miracle really might be, but, you know, a lot of people look at the Scriptures and the Holy Books and it says, “G-d created the world and everything in it in seven days”…
Jacobson: Six actually. On the seventh, He rested.
Feder: Okay, so in six days He created absolutely everything that ever was and that you could ever see. Now, I wouldn’t want to put you on the spot here or anything like that, but a lot of people say, “That was a great miracle.” It confuses you sometimes.
Jacobson: I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t see that as a great miracle at all in a way. Because if you believe in G-d, He could have done it in one minute. Creation is creation. Only a Creator can create existence. If he can’t do it in six days, he won’t be able to do it in 6 thousand days. If you don’t believe in G-d, then what do you need, 6,000 days? I mean, what difference does it make?
Feder: Well maybe I’m wandering far afield here but it’s an interesting conversation, why is it in the Bible that it took six days? Where did that come from? Why didn’t it say, “And then in the course of billions of years, G-d in His wisdom…”
Jacobson: Well, remember, the Torah (the Bible) accepts itself as truth. You’re asking a question, if that’s the truth, it tells you the way it was.You’re speaking from a skeptical point of view…
Feder: I guess so…
Jacobson: Well, if you’re a skeptic, then don’t cite the Bible. The Bible is predicated on belief—the belief that G-d created…the first verse in the Bible is “G-d created heaven and earth” and now we will tell you, with documentation, how it happened. So if it would have happened in thirty days, that’s how it would have been related.
Feder: So we either believe it or don’t believe it, right?
Jacobson: It’s not an ultimatum, because a person can say, “I believe in growth, pace by pace. Study the Bible, embrace what you can, and grow with that.” Frankly, even from a skeptical point of view, I don’t see what the problem is with six days. As I said, what I think the bigger problem is, are you responsible to G-d?
Now on a mystical level, six has a very deep significance: why it was six and not ten and not thirty. But it’s not because it had to be six. G-d could have chosen to create the universe in a billion years or whatever it may take, but I feel that’s going off somewhat on a tangent. By the way, I don’t feel on the spot at all, but I do feel that topics like this require some introduction or else it sounds radical. I mean, I don’t mind if you try to corner me and say, “Okay, is there some miracle…” I don’t believe that the Jew’s belief and faith in the Torah in any way is radical to the point where someone listening to that will say, “I can’t accept that.”
I think when people say I can’t accept that they’re really responding to the way it was presented to them, where perhaps religion is based on miracles, and I’ve made that very clear that that’s not the basis of it.
I think the relationship with G-d is much more mature and more profound than just a miracle, as I mentioned with the story with Mrs. Waxman. And I think that the real question, the real issue that should be addressed, is what kind of relationship do you have, and can you have a relationship? And miracles extend from that. The fact is that there are people who have that deep faith in G-d and an awareness of a higher reality, it helps them in their personal lives, it makes sense of life, it helps you understand nature not just as this merciless flow of habit. Everything has its deeper meaning and purpose, and a miracle for a person like that, who’s divinely aware, would be when you walk in the street, you recognize the miracles that are happening. There are messages: the people you meet, the places you travel to.
Feder: So this almost anticipates another question I had. What state of mind should a person, or would a person be in to be prepared to understand this deeper understanding? Is it necessary to have humility, in other words, or can you hurry a miracle? How can you walk around in the world and hold yourself to see these things?
Jacobson: Good question. You know, physical reality, as we experience it, is like the tip of the iceberg. It’s the surface level. From a mystical perspective, a Torah perspective, there are forces at work beneath the surface, beneath the tip of the iceberg. Just like in human nature, there are subconscious forces that inform and affect our conscious expressions.
So a person cries and tears come out of their eyes; it means that some deeper feelings have welled up inside of them. An outburst or eruption of anger may be a result of repressed resentment or repressed forces at work from childhood on.
To take that a step further, look at an eruption of a volcano and rain falling on the street as similar to teardrops and anger eruption; not in the literal sense but in a metaphorical sense that there’s more going on than meets the eye. And essentially, when you understand that our material, physical reality is somewhat like the tip of the iceberg or like the glove, where the hand inside the glove is a spiritual reality that creates a channel, a bridge, between the two worlds, and when you create that bridge you essentially have the power to perform a miracle.
Feder: A person can perform a miracle?
Jacobson: Yes. Each of us. Or, let’s put it this way. We can open ourselves up to the channel of energy that allows that physical reality to be changed.
Feder: In other words, we don’t usually create or perform a miracle, we sort of allow ourselves to be a vessel for it, or a channel for it.
Jacobson: You can put it that way. So as I said, true faith in G-d, a true belief in a spiritual reality that transcends our physical one is only a step away from accepting that the spiritual reality can affect our physical one. And when we can accept that, the physical reality changes.
There is a story that happened with me personally—but there are many similar stories—that doctors gave up hope on a certain woman I knew. But her faith, her optimism, the strength of her family just allowed her to fight through it. And she came through it and the doctors said that it was a miracle. Let’s use that word.
What does the miracle mean? Not like the parting of the sea, but basically by the laws of nature as they understood them, and medical interventions, it should not have happened. The odds were against it. The cancer was too far gone, or whatever it may be.
My response to that is that the spiritual channel opened up and sent energy into the physical reality and it just changed the course. Of course you can explain it away as a skeptic that of course it’s never 100% and there’s always a chance, etc. That’s true. But it happens to be that this was a person of faith and optimism.
But as I said, every miracle can be dismissed if you’re a skeptic. But if you’re not, if you look at it, so don’t call it a miracle, call it “her faith, her optimism.” Something affected her immune system that gave her that power. I see that as a spiritual reality affecting the physical reality.
Feder: So she became a sort of reception station for the broadcast of a miracle.
Jacobson: Exactly. Had she resigned herself and accepted the fate that the doctors had decreed upon her and given up, she may have closed herself up from getting energy from another place.
A simple example would be, you can have a limb that has been atrophied or has been paralyzed, and you begin to exercise it. Blood starts flowing and energy starts flowing into it and you’ve seen people who have really suffered handicaps that have gotten beyond it because they had the faith.
I’m just using it as an example. It means that there are resources of energy in the human system, both physical and spiritual systems, and if we tap those reservoirs, new channels of energy can be accessed.
However, I must qualify this by saying that after all is said and done, we do not know G-d’s mysterious ways and His plan for each of us.
Feder: Well you know there are people in the world, probably in every religion, I guess, called faith healers. Everybody knows about these people, you can see them on TV. A famous one is named Benny Hin and they get on TV and people come up in the hundreds or thousands and they have everything wrong with them and he just touches them and they’re healed.
Jacobson: I, being a natural skeptic of my own…
Feder: Wait a minute. I’m supposed to be the skeptic here. What’s my role then? Do I have anything left to do here?
Jacobson: You’re the believer, the seeker. I think each of us has both personalities, Mr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I’ve seen you in the most noble ways saying statements of faith that I would challenge. I don’t do that because I don’t want to play your role, but I think intelligent healthy people have times of both. I think you once asked me on the radio if I’ve ever had a crisis of faith. And I remember smiling to myself at the time thinking, “What, he thinks a guy with a yarmulke is a completely pious person who never has temptations, challenges, evil inclinations, nothing?” And I responded, “Every moment of my life I have a crisis of faith.” Why? Because how could you not have a crisis of faith when you believe in G-d and you see innocent people suffering.
It’s a constant challenge. I always talk to my skeptical friends, people who claim that they’re atheists (I don’t believe that there’s such a thing called an atheist—but we’ll discuss that on another show) but I once challenged one of them, “Tell me, you think it’s more difficult to be a person of faith or an atheist?” So of course they said, “An atheist. When you have faith it’s a crutch, it’s easy, you just explain everything away with G-d.”
I completely disagree. A person of faith has to constantly reconcile a good G-d with all the harsh realities of life. An atheist can say, “Eh. Why expect justice? Why expect good? Why expect innocent people not to suffer if there’s no G-d anyway?”
So I don’t know which is the cop-out. The point I want to make right now is that being a skeptic somewhat, when I hear a story like the faith healer, the first question I ask is, is this real, is it people’s perception? Not that I conceptually believe that it’s impossible, I believe it’s clearly possible, but there are enough con artists to challenge it.
But if it could be proved, I don’t even want empirical proof, if there’s enough to testify to it—so I’m not surprised that there’s a possibility for people who have an ability to open up a spiritual channel to a physical one, but I would first rule out all other options, that it isn’t sleight of hand, it isn’t some type of giving people what they want to believe, you know, that type of thing, a set-up, but conceptually, I have no doubt that it’s a possibility, and as I’ve stated, I often hear and see stories, whether it’s medical miracles or others, that are clearly miracles. I believe that if you ask most Americans, except a certain part of the media, most Americans believe in miracles, and more importantly, believe that miracles happen to them.
Is that folly? Is it their naivete?
Feder: And you mean these everyday miracles too, right?
Jacobson: I don’t know if it’s everyday, but once in a while. I would love even to have some caller share with us something of that nature. But they have to be ready for you, and even me, to challenge them.
Feder: Oh, you mean for someone to report that a miracle actually happened to them?
Jacobson: A miracle or for that matter any conscious experience of Divine Providence. I’m sure there are listeners who can share experiences of that nature.
Feder: Well we do have a few minutes left before the end of the show, but if anybody out there has had such an experience and wants to share it with us, our number is 212-244 1050, although I know most people like to keep those things to themselves, but if anybody wants to tell us about them…
I guess I’ve had a few miracles in my life that I could report, too.
Jacobson: But as I said, it’s not so much what we call it, whether we call it by the name miracle, it really comes down to what you do with it and how it reflects on your general relationship with other people, with G-d, and so on. If there was a miracle healer that was actually proven to be so, I would like to see that the people whom he touched and affected actually went away being better human beings.
I think a miracle, perhaps the greatest miracle of all, is when a human being goes against the grain of his or her own selfish nature and helps other people. That’s a miracle.
Feder: Well we do have a few calls. We’ll see if they have reports or maybe some skepticism. Who knows what. Stanley, go ahead, you’re on the air.
Caller: I’m actually agnostic and I really don’t believe in miracles. I have a Master’s Degree in Divinity but that was a long time ago. Unfortunately I lost my faith in G-d. My sister is an anesthesiologist, an MD, and she is an atheist, and she deals with human life every day. She could kill people with one slip of a switch.
Feder: Well, what caused your loss of faith?
Caller: I just observed human life and realized that a lot of people… I do see the suffering, like in Turkey, for example. I should be there. I’m a registered nurse. I would willingly go and try to help them. I mean 50,000 people dying. That’s a serious number.
Feder: So basically you’re just feeling kind of lost, right?
Caller: Well I’m going to see a shrink tomorrow, but there was a miracle today, I think. They pulled a 55-year-old woman out of a building in Turkey…
Feder: So you do see that as a miracle, so there are miracles… Okay. Thank you for calling, okay Josh, you’re on the air.
Caller: I’d like to comment on the Scopes Trial that Rabbi Jacobson said he thought was a hoax. He probably was thinking of the case of Piltdown man where they found some fossils in 1908 and they put it on their chart of the natural development of man. But in 1950, after a lot of tests, they discovered that it was a hoax, and then the person who perpetrated it actually admitted to it.
Feder: So Josh, did you ever encounter a miracle in your life?
Caller: Well, yes, I see Divine intervention all the time.
Feder: Thank you for that. John, you’re on the air.
Caller: I just want to say that I personally do believe, and I’ve had miracles in my life. A recent one is that the doctors had diagnosed my granddaughter with MS and we prayed and prayed, my wife and I, and the whole family prayed. We took her back to the doctors and they took all the X-rays and MRI’s and they asked what we had done with her in the last couple of weeks and we said that we just prayed, and they said that whatever we did, it worked. They couldn’t believe it. They took MRI’s and CAT scans 3 times and said she was fine and there are no problems.
So I do believe.
Feder: Well that is uplifting to hear.
Caller: I’ve always believed. I’ve never lost my faith. I’m a Christian, but I’ve never lost my faith. You know, you see bad things, and there will be an answer for those bad things. But you also see a lot of really good things that you could say only G-d could have done this. Only G-d could have stepped in and done this.
Feder: Well, I’m happy for you to hear that.
Caller: Yes, we were thrilled. My children, they teeter. They’re still young as I like to say. And they saw us praying and joined in and I said really, you have to believe. And if you don’t have a cure or if there isn’t something there, there’s still going to be an answer and you have to depend on faith.
Feder: Well, we’re going to have to unfortunately cut this a little bit short cause we’re at the end of the program.
Jacobson: I appreciate that. That’s very uplifting to hear. And I wish John and all others miracles of that nature.
Feder: Well, in the miracle of radio, bringing you all this information, it still must come to an end. Miracles come and go and they reappear. So let me just say that you can call us at 1-800-363-2646. You can email us at email@example.com, and go to our website at www.meaningfullife.com to download transcripts of this radio program.
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To help bring you the miracle of tonight’s program, our underwriters have been Stefan Stux, Jeff Rudy and Mark Fisher.
We have a few minutes left. Any last words to say on miracles.
Jacobson: There are no last words. The last call from John tells it all in some ways. It’s how you look at things and how you see things. Some of us do fall back to an agnostic or atheistic position, which I think is more of a comfort zone or even fear, but I believe that the greatest gift of all is to be able to see the miracles in your daily life, that when you wake up in the morning and you look at your children and your family and you look at your own health, acknowledging that, when you go to work or when you travel, you meet new people, there are miracles happening, there are messages, there are answers to your questions, there are solutions to dilemmas, and by opening yourself up to that deeper spiritual reality allows that channel to come through.
So a miracle may pass you and you may have your eyes closed. Or you may not have allowed yourself to experience it. So if anything I would say to our listeners: keep your eyes open, your ears open, and your spirit open. You do not know whom you may meet, and what kind of message you’ll get if you listen.
The worst scenario, even for a skeptic, is that you may learn something new, experience something new, and if you want to write it off as something that just happened, fine. So be it. Sometimes we don’t acknowledge it as a miracle, so we see it as a natural event.
Feder: Okay, thank you again. We’ll be back next week talking about the entertainment industry. Entertainment in America: Are we amusing ourselves to death?
Thanks again for your wisdom and your enlightenment.
Jacobson: Thank you Mike and it’s always a pleasure.