Passover 5777

D'var Torah

Miracles remain the hardest concept for moderns to accept. That the laws of nature could be violated willy-nilly is unfathomable today. Take the case of the youngster who explained to his inquiring father that in Hebrew School they learned that when the Israelites approached the Reed Sea they massed their tanks against the Egyptian army while their air force pinned the enemy down until they could launch a nuclear missile that wiped out the Egyptians. Rather astounded by this explanation, the father expressed to his son some doubt that was what he really learned. “I know,” said the child, “but if I told you what they taught me in Hebrew School you would never believe me!”


Given our reluctance to accept the unbelievable, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev’s insight is especially helpful. This eighteenth century Hasidic master ponders why it is that on Hanukkah and Purim we add the “Al HaNissim” paragraph in our prayers but on Passover we do not. Surely, he asks rhetorically, acknowledging the miracles God performed for ancestors during days gone by and even in our own day is equally appropriate on Passover! Not so, writes Rabbi Levi Yitzhak is his Torah commentary (Kedushat Levi, Mikketz). The miracles that occurred on Hanukkah and Purim are qualitatively different from those performed around the time of the first Passover.


The miracles of Hanukkah and Purim were God directed by human effected miracles. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the few over the many. Maccabean forces were able to overcome the better-equipped and better-trained Syrian Greek forces. This was truly miraculous, but human beings achieved the victory. Similarly, that the Jews of the Persian Empire were saved when Haman’s plot was thwarted could only be ascribed to divine intervention. But, again, human beings – specifically, Mordechai and Esther – were responsible. Passover is different.


God alone performed the miracles connected with Passover with Moses and Aaron his agents. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak explains: miracles that mainly involved human performance are remembered through “Al HaNisim.” Miracles that are the outcome of Divine intervention alone are not.


While Rabbi Levi Yitzhak intended to explain how the miracles of Passover are different from all other miracles, he simultaneously teaches that all miracles are judged through the eyes of the believer.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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