What is a Miracle?

I thought I would share a summary of my talk on miracles this past shabbat.

"Our initial definition of a miracle usually is something like what was described in the Torah portion "Bo" - the plagues in Egypt and the impending exodus. A miracle is an event that is supernatural, that is clearly unique, rarely occurs, and is meant to redeem a people. If that is the definition then a prayer that we recite three times a day seems to mean something else.

"Toward the end of the "amidah" - the prayer recited silently while standing - includes a prayer expressing gratitude. Among the things we say thank you to God are the "miracles that attend us daily" (translation found in our Sim Shalom prayer book). If miracles are unique and rarely occur then how can we thank God for miracles that happen all the time?

"Clearly the rabbis who authored that prayer understood miracles differently. They understood that life itself is miraculous. The fact that the world exists and that the laws of nature allow us to stay rooted to the ground is miraculous. And when something goes wrong - as with the tragic death of the young man from Olney whose family used to be members of our shul, Alex Popek - we only recognize more how tenuous and miraculous life itself is.

"Therefore we learn that miracles are around us every day. That lesson leads us then to understand what kind of attitude we should have toward life itself. We tend to take life for granted. We even tend to think that we have a modicum of control over our lives too. If so then we tend to be arrogant and think we deserve the good things that happen in our life. Instead, by reciting this prayer three times a day we hammer home the point that life does not follow our command but rather God's. We owe our existence to God's miraculous creative powers. That lesson leads us to be humble rather than arrogant.

"Humility in the presence of God's awesome power instills in us the lesson that no matter our station in life, all human beings are equal, all human beings are dependent on one another, all human beings should be grateful to God. Humility leads to respect and justice and if we maintain that attitude in our lives then that would be truly miraculous!"