Miracles: Obvious and Hidden


Parashat Mikketz, Genesis 41:1-44:17

by Rabbi Isaac Roussel, Congregation Zera Avraham

Nachmanides says there are two types of miracles; Nes Nigleh, the obvious miracle, and Nes Nistar, the hidden miracle. The quintessential obvious miracle is Pesach. God causes the ten plagues, splits the Red Sea, and reveals the Torah with great fanfare at Sinai. The quintessential hidden miracle is Purim. God is not even mentioned in the Purim story; he works silently behind the scenes to affect his will.

Joseph’s story, which we are reading right now, is an example of a hidden miracle. God accomplishes his will to teach Joseph humility, and prepares him through many trials to become the leader that he was meant to be. Hanukkah is an example of both. In the story of Hanukkah, God works behind the scenes through Mattathias and his sons, but then we have the open and obvious miracle of the oil.

Yeshua’s arrival is a mix of both as well. For most people, it was just the birth of a son to a humble couple from Nazareth. A few people saw the miracle, though. Shimon and Hannah at the Temple, the shepherds who saw an angelic host, and the magi from the east know that something is up. But Yeshua’s second coming will be an obvious miracle in the extreme. He will arrive in the sky with a heavenly host at his heels, bringing judgment upon a sinful world!

These days, while obvious miracles do occasionally happen, for the most part miracles are of the hidden variety; a person suddenly recovers from an illness for no apparent reason, another has a financial windfall just as it was needed. An elderly friend of mine told me a story about when she was a young single mother raising her children alone. They were very poor. One morning she realized that she had nothing to feed the kids for breakfast. She prayed and trusted. Suddenly there was a knock at her door and a neighbor was holding two boxes of cereal. She said that her kids didn’t like it and was wondering if my friend could use them! Many miracles like this happen every day; we just don’t hear much about them.

As Jews, our job is to constantly seek the hidden miracles in life. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel encouraged everyone to live in “radical amazement.” He said, “One of the goals of the Jewish way of living is to experience commonplace deeds as spiritual adventures, to feel the hidden love and wisdom in all things.”

The siddur guides us toward this goal. First thing in the morning when we awake, we recite the Modeh Ani, thanking God for the miracle of having another day. We recite Psalm 145, which recounts wonder and praise at Hashem’s provisions. Before we recite the Shema, we say “In his goodness he renews daily and constantly the work of Creation.” In the Amidah, we say during the Modim, “We thank you and recount your praise, for our lives which are entrusted to your care, for our souls which are in your charge, for your miracles which are daily with us, for your continual wonders and favors, evening, morning, and noon.” And in the Birkat Hamazon we say, “He nourishes and sustains all, and benefits all and he prepares food for all of his creatures which he has created.”

All of these are a recognition of hidden miracles that are with us daily.

Creation itself is a hidden miracle. Many look at it and see nothing but the result of randomness. Others see God’s hand. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said that the world, “is a symphony we do not hear, a magnificent spectacle concealed from our eyes—so we see just a world. That is all there is to the world: concealment. Rip away the concealment and there is only Miracle.”

The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

Going back to the Ramban, he wrote, “Hidden miracles are the basis for the entire Torah. A man has no share in the Torah, unless he believes that all things and all events in the life of the individual as well as in the life of society are miracles.”

We can read of Joseph’s experiences and think the ancient writers saw God there when he wasn’t. We can read the Hanukkah story and simply conclude that a ragtag group of underdogs won the war by sheer luck and circumstance. We can also read the story of our daily lives and miss the miracles. But our vocation is to see the Nisim Nistarim, the hidden miracles, every day. May we train our hearts and minds to do so! May we see the hidden “Hanukkah light” at the core of everything. May our siddurim be our guide in this pursuit.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Hanukkah Sameach!

Russ Resnik