Wild Cherry in the 1970’s proclaimed, “I believe in Miracles…”. Jefferson Starship lament, “If only you believed in miracles, so would I”. Many of us have driven up behind a car displaying the bumper sticker, “Expect A Miracle”. Very optimistic and positive. Except that in Judaism, we don’t.
That may surprise a lot of people considering that we have two festivals, Hanukkah and Purim, that are based on miracles. We are also coming up on Passover that embodies some very fantastic occurrences, the Ten Plagues, that broke the back of Pharaoh, so to speak, and convinced him to let our people go. Not soon after that did a whole sea split in half and the ground harden so we could “pass through in safety.” Even in our thrice-daily prayers during the “Amidah”, we thank Hashem for our daily miracles.
And yet we’re not supposed to believe or expect a miracle. Why? This was the answer the sages had when people asked why our greatest sages, Rabbi Akiva for one, was murdered by the Romans. Here was a great rabbi who lived and studied Torah and yet there was no miracle to save him.
The answer is that, as you would expect, Hashem works in ways that we can not fathom. As we proclaim during the spiritual New Year, it is determined among other things, who shall live and who shall die. Each and every person has their own path and sometimes, in order to fulfill our destinies, we meet with unfortunate situations. We can go crazy wondering why, but the bottom line is that we just have to live our lives as best as we can and just prepare for contingencies.
And that’s really the answer. Living life and preparing for contingencies. In fact, consider this as advice for living: hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
So why do people go around in life expecting or wanting or hoping for miracles? Why is the lottery so popular? Why do some people gamble and buy penny stocks?
The answer is that they want a quick fix. They want an answer to their prayers that will solve all their problems and they can live happily ever after. People want miracles to solve their problems.
Now this is not to discourage or demean anyone; we all live with hope. But if you’ve noticed, Jews are among the most industrious people in world. We have won more than our share of Nobel prizes. We are disproportionately represented in the professions. Some of us have done very well working hard and building businesses and business empires (like Hollywood, for example). This may be just because we don’t expect miracles.
When you don’t expect a miracle, you work hard to make sure that your needs are met. When you don’t expect a miracle, you take steps to prepare for contingencies. When you don’t expect a miracle, you live your life to expect the unexpected. Then if and when those extraordinary circumstances present themselves, you don’t need a miracle because you are all set.
Part of living life is setting goals and evaluating your current situation. It is knowing where you’re at in life, where you want to go, and setting a path to get there. Some people are more focused on planning than others.
Most of it involves organizing your resources. It is having a realistic appraisal of what can happen and what you need to have and do in order to meet any challenge. It also means acquiring skills or resources that may not have just in case.
So what is this really about? Let’s face it. Some people live above their means and when a financial disaster occurs, they are completely unprepared. Some people have a job they don’t like and feel like they’re meant for something better, but they spend a lot of their time waiting for “their ship to come in.” It typically doesn’t.
Maybe this is why our people have been successful. Not only do what not expect a miracle, we typically expect a disaster. Many times we live our lives waiting for the next hammer to drop. So we live our lives in a state of readiness.
The point of this has not been to criticize hope. Rather it has been about avoiding unnecessary stress in life that can be very devastating. While we thank Hashem for the miracles wrought every day, we also thank HaShem for providing for our daily needs and leading us on our life’s path.