How the Rabbis Viewed Miracles: Preordained at Creation

The biblical miracles are unquestionably accepted by the sages of the Talmud; that they contradict the natural order of nature is explained by the fact that they were preordained and provided for — even as unnatural acts — in the act of creation.

R. Johanan said: God made a condition with the sea that it would part before the Children of Israel... R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: [God made a condition ]not with the sea alone, but with whatever God created on the six days of creation... God commanded heaven and earth that they should be silent before Moses; the sun and moon that they should stand still before Joshua; the ravens that they should feed Elijah; the fire that it should not harm Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; the lions that they injure not Daniel; the heavens that they should open to the voice of Ezekiel; and the fish that it should cast up Jonah' "[1]

Ground swallowing Korach
Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah's people and all their possessions. (Numbers 16:30-32)

Another passage emphasizes this idea even more strongly. When God commands Moses to lift up his staff and part the Red Sea, Moses argues with God that it would involve a breach of his own act of creation, God answers him, "You have not read the beginning of the Torah... I made a condition at the time"; only then did Moses heed the divine behest.[2]

  • In the same vein, the Mishnah enumerates ten things which were created on the eve of the Sabbath following six days of creation,, "between the suns," i.e., at twilight.[3]
  • The mouth of the earth [that opened up to swallow Korah]
  • The mouth of the well that opened in the rock at the command of Moses and supplied Israel with water in the wilderness
  • The mouth of the ass which spoke to Balaam
  • The rainbow which demonstrates God's promise not to repeat the flood
  • The manna from heaven
  • The rod wherewith Moses worked wonders
  • The mythical worm, Shamir, creature employed for splitting stones for the construction of the Temple
  • The shape of the written characters (which appeared on the walls in Belshazzar's palace)
  • The letter (sent by Elijah posthumously to Jehoram)
  • The Tablets of Stone on which the Decalogue was engraved
  • And some say the destructive forces [that afflict mankind], the grave of Moses [the location of which is unknown] , the ram of Abraham ….[4]

Although the Talmud is replete with stories and legends of miracles wrought for its worthies [5] it is generally accepted that the age of miracles has ceased, because "they were performed for those who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sanctification of the Name, and we are not worthy of having miracles performed for us."[6] The ten minor miracles listed as having happened in the time of the Temple, include particularly mundane miracles: that no person was ever bitten by a snake or scorpion in Jerusalem, that there was always accommodation to be found in Jerusalem (during the pilgrim festivals), and that rain never extinguished the altar fire.[7]


[1] Genesis Rabbah 5:45 [back]
[2] Exodus Rabbah 21:6 [back]
[3] Ethics of the Fathers, Pirkei Avot 5:6 [back]
[4] Ethics of the Fathers, Pirkei Avot 5:6 [back] (Num. 16:30-32; Numbers 21:16-18; Num. 22:28; Gen. 9:13-17; Ex. 16:14; Ex. 4:5,17; Ex. 32:16; Deut. 34:5; Gen. 22:13)
[5] especially TB Ta'anit 21-25 [back]
[6] TB Berachot 20a; TB Ta'anit 18b; TB Sanhedrin 94b [back]
[7] Ethics of the Fathers, Pirkei Avot 5:5 [back]

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