Do Miracles Change Us?

by Chana Klein

Have you ever made a life change as a result of experiencing a miracle? I used to think that if only I could have a miracle happen, then I would be able to make the changes I felt I needed. I believed that when a person experienced a miracle, it changed him or her forever.

In the 1980's I began studying Torah and felt inspired by the power of God and the miracles He performed for our people. I also wondered at how the people in the Torah respond to the many miracles that they are privy to? Does it change their lives forever? Does it show them that God is clearly there for them and so now they can't go back to old behaviors? That is what I would have expected.

But then I found a different take on the effect that miracles have on a person. How did these miracles really affect Bnai Yisroel? I will explain some of these miracles and will then tell one of my own miracle stories and the effect that had on my own functioning.

In the Parshat Ki-tissa, Bnei Yisroel had just witnessed great miracles in Egypt and had been redeemed by God Himself. They experienced the Divine Revelation at Sinai where they actually heard God's voice proclaim "I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt." They experienced the Red Sea parting. But after all that, they still they created a Golden Calf. Why? How could they do that after seeing so many miracles?

Rashi says it was the Erev Rav. But the Eirev Rav experienced the miracles also. Why didn't it change them?

In Parshat Korach, there is the miracle of the earth opening up and swallowing the people who publicly criticize Moses and Aaron. (Korath, Dathan and Aviram and their followers) Then there were 250 more rebels killed by fire or plague, another miracle. The entire community witnessed this gruesome scene. Did that change the minds and the hearts of the people who rebelled, at least those who were still alive? Did it do anything to change others who watched in horror?

In the same parsha, we have another miracle when Moses commanded each of the tribe leaders to put their staff in the sanctuary and the only staff to sprout blossoms and almonds was the staff of Aaron. Did that change the people? They continued to complain about their living conditions so apparently not.

Then there was Manna being sent to feed the Israelites and there was the miracle of water flowing from a rock when Moses struck it.

With all of these overt miracles experienced, all of them even hearing the voice of G-d, why didn't they all become prophets? How after all that, could they have created an idol?

The story of Eliyahu's (Elijah) confrontation with Ahav and Jezabel in Kings I: Ch 18 is also very revealing and a bit shocking to me about the nature of our response to miracles.

Eliyahu had been hunted down by King Ahab. Finally, Eliyahu appeared before Ahav. He asked for an audience with all of the Israelites in which he challenged four hundred and fifty prophets of Ba'al and four hundred prophets of Ashera to prove whose god is the true God - Hashem or Ba'al.

Eliyahu had the prophets of Baal prepare a bull to sacrifice and he prepared one as well on a different alter. There was one alter for Hashem and another for Baal. Eliyahu declared in front of all of Israel that the bull that gets burned by a Heavenly fire would prove who was the true G-d. If the bull on the alter to Ba'al burned, then Baal is the true G-d of Israel. If the bull on Eliyahu's alter burned , then the true God is Hashem.

First it was the turn of the prophets of Ba'al. They called to Ba'al over and over, from morning to noon. They even cut themselves up with blood gushing all over the place. No response. Nothing happened. Eliyahu teased them, telling them to try harder, shout louder, and suggested that that maybe Ba'al is on a trip or maybe he is sleeping.

Then it was Eliyahu's turn. Eliyahu first threw four jars of water all over the wood on the alter. He repeated the water douse three different times until the place was drenched. Then he prayed to G-d to not to let the people of Israel down. In response, a fire from Heaven came down and consumed not only the sacrifice of Eliyahu, but the wood, the stones, the earth and the water that was in the trench as well.

When the people saw this, they called out "The Lord alone is God; the Lord alone is God." The people saw the miracle and declared that Hashem is God and Baal is not. They believed.

Ahab then went home and told Jezabel who promptly sent a messenger to Eliyahu saying that she can't kill him today (because today the people believe.) But by the same time tomorrow the miracle will have worn off and then she will kill Eliyahu.

Why didn't Eliyahu figure that she can't do anything because the people saw the miracle of the fire? After all, the people now believe. But no, Eliyahu understood that miracles don't change people and so he chose to run for his life.

So can people really change and if so how is that done?

I realize now that the answer is that that revelations and miracles do not change a person. True changes come only through a slow trudge of working on oneself.

I experienced the effect or rather the lack of that when I was suffering with a food addiction. I had prayed very often for a miracle to relieve me of the obsession. It did not happen.

But I did have miracles - like the night that I decided to cheat on my food plan. I went to the local ice cream Shoppe to get some ice cream. When I walked in, I saw posters on the walls of all kinds of ice cream combinations and treats and there was no turning back. I decided to start with the one that looked like an ice cream sundae. I gave my order and the man I gave it to told me that he ran out of ice cream. Ugh!! Is this a message from G-d to help me stick to my diet, I wondered. Just the same, that was not going to stop me.

So I took myself over to the pizza place. As I walked in the door, the smell of the anticipated pizza that I imagined would soon be going into my mouth made me think of nothing else ten that I had to have the pizza. What a disappointment when the pizza man told me that the oven broke about 15-minutes ago and so there would not be anymore pizza tonight.

I gulped in a kind of astonishment. God is really stopping me from eating what I should not. What else could it be? This was a miracle created just for me to keep me abstinent from compulsive overeating. God caused the stores that specialized in those treats to run out of the food they specialize in. I was in awe of it the personal attention from God and of the miraculous nature of the whole scene. In other words, I knew these were miracles. But did they change me? Not one bit. The next day, even though I really appreciated the miracle, I still ate what I should not.

So what did change me? Obviously, I have been relieved of that obsession for many years. How did that actually happen?

I achieved that through hard work on myself. I worked a 12 step programs everyday for 17 years. That led me to studying spiritual writings and eventually led me to studying Torah. I was so moved by its wisdom that I studied Torah for between 6 to 10 hours each day for over 20 years. Doing all of that work of internalizing the Torah writings changed me without my even being aware of that happening; I found myself not overeating anymore, not even wanting to, and never did again. All of that inner work did for me what lots of miracles could not.

I became clear to me that only through a laborious process of working on ourselves can we change our insides. Those changes become permanent and even eternal when they are the result of work we have done rather than when they come from a Heavenly gift in the form of a miracle.

Rabbi Weinberg taught that the Meshech Chochma said that we really cannot change our character. We try and try and try. God sees how hard we try and then he it changes it for us.

The fact that God has to see how hard we try is the inner work. Then, that He changes it for us is the miracle. But that comes only after we do the Avodah (the work.) Avodah must precede any real change.

All of the miracles one sees will not change a person unless those miracles are accompanied by diligent inner work. In this age of everything instant, drudgery, going slowly, may be considered an undesirable way to do things. But it is in fact the slow trudge, the drudgery, the assiduousness, that brings us to where we strive to be.

So, pray for a miracle. Why not?

But know too that inner change is totally possible through our own perseverance and intention.

May we each feel empowered that we can produce the changes we want.

I wish us all the ability to see what needs to be done and the strength and focus to do it.

To your success.......

copyright Chana Klein 2009


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