Parshas Va’eira – Belief in Miracles

Despite all the miracles we witnessed in Mitzrayim and despite all the great signs and wonders we saw, the Rambam in hilchos Yesodei Ha’torah perek 8, states that if someone’s belief in a novi is based only on the miracles he performed, then his heart is filled with skepticism or doubt.

Even the best of miracles is not reason enough for us to believe in him. Miracles are vulnerable to the interference of man. Great magicians can be very persuasive with their ingenious and clever magic tricks.

Should one believe in the power of the Egyptian magicians because they could turn a stick into a snake or turn water into blood? No matter how amazing and supernatural the performance seems, it is not infallible. There may always be an explanation that man, with his present knowledge, is unable to explain. Miracles alone can provide no definite proof as to the reliability of its performer. There is always the possibility that the supposed miracle was actually performed by G-D in order to test our faith and belief (see Parshas R’ei) as the posuk says …if a Novi arises… and he preforms a sign or a miracle… do not listen to him…

Imagine for a moment that Moshe Rabbeinu would pull out a magic box and show it to Pharaoh. By looking into this magic box, Pharaoh would be able to see and hear all that’s happening anywhere in the world. Surely Pharaoh and all his sorcerers and magicians would stare wild-eyed at such a box. They would stand in awe at its amazing magical powers. They may even decide that this box has godly powers and turn it into an avodah zoroh. All of Egypt would soon be bowing down to this amazing godly box that hears all and sees all. Yet these avodah zoroh boxes are all too common nowadays and can be found in most houses. We may not bow down to them, but we certainly worship them with great intensity.

Let’s just imagine this scenario. The New York Times carries banner headlines, “Father Cunningham predicts that a powerful earthquake will hit Los Angeles the next day.” Indeed the very next day there’s an earthquake in L.A. and, sure enough, to the utter amazement of millions and in front of the television cameras, we see all the buildings and highways falling apart!. You can be sure Father Cunningham will suddenly be swamped by millions of admirers and believers as the news of his unbelievable prediction is flashed around the world.

A few weeks go by, and once again Father Cunningham says that he had a prophesy from god that at precisely 10:00 AM the next morning there will be a major earthquake in the New York area. One can imagine that there will be a massive pandemonium as thousands quickly lock their shops and take the first flight out of New York. The highways will be flooded with thousands of cars trying to flee the city before disaster strikes. Despite all the denials from top scientists that such an earthquake will take place, and despite all efforts on the part of politicians and the government to calm people’s fears, the massive exodus of people who don’t want to take the chance or risk would be frightful. It would be chaos. All pandemonium would break loose! By the way, what would you do?

Lo and behold, just as Father Cunningham had predicted, precisely at 10 the next morning, a loud rumbling is heard, and all the buildings begin to shake. The earthquake measures .5 on the Richter scale, and Boruch Hashem causes only minor damage. Now Father Cunningham is interviewed on every channel. His fame instantly spreads throughout the world. He’s the world’s most famous celebrity. Of course, he claims to have heavenly visions and humbly doesn’t take credit for himself. His claims his powers come from Yoska Y’S’V. He, of course, preaches the faith of the Gospel and tries to convince everyone that yoska is the true saviour. Can you imagine the millions of people that would rally to his cry? Who knows how many Jews would chas v’sholom fall victim to his teachings?

Let’s just take it a little further. Two months later this same Father Cunningham predicts a terrible hailstorm that would wreak havoc across the USA, causing destruction of historic proportions. Or perhaps he’d forecast an invasion of bacteria that would damage all the crops across the country. Or perhaps he would predict the coming of a new and dangerous type of virus that would cause death to millions. Certainly his forecasts would cause fear and panic throughout the world. Can you imagine what would happen if they would actually come true? What would happen if he would also use his great oratory and persuasive powers to make people believe in his religion and promise them salvation if they pray and serve his god?

But this is impossible you say! It just can’t happen. His predictions can’t come true. Well, then you’re wrong. Just take a look into Parshas Rei- “The sign or wonder will actually come true!”

The Torah tells us clearly that we should not allow ourselves to be misled by any heavenly signs or miracles a prophet will present if his purpose is to convince you to follow an avodah zoroh. We must not listen to him. His signs and miracles are meaningless. They are just being done in order to test us as the posuk states: “Do not listen to the voice of the prophet… because I am testing you.

-It’s all being done in order to test our love for Hashem.

But why you ask? Wasn’t this what Moshe did? Didn’t the yidden listen to him on account of the great miracles he performed?

The answer is an emphatic NO! Miracles within themselves can be no definite proof as to the authenticity of its maker.

Our emunah in Moshe was first confirmed when we all stood on Har Sinai and every one of us – men, women, and children – heard and saw with our very own eyes and ears as Hashem spoke to Moshe.

Hashem told Moshe that the proof that he would be accepted as the true novi for eternity would first come when they would gather around Har Sinai and hear as He spoke to him. And this, by the way, is the difference between our religious belief and l’havdil the belief of all other people. Their belief is all based on the credibility of only one person who claims to be G-D’s messenger and claims to have had revelations. Many of them in fact have even performed miracles. However, if they contradict our Holy Torah given to us by Moshe then it is all meaningless.

Our emunah is based on personal witness. Every one of Klal Yisroel stood at Har Sinai and witnessed the giving of the Torah on his very own. It is all based on first-hand knowledge. This was transmitted from father to son until our present day. It is not a belief based upon the claim of one single individual who was able to perform miracles. Therefore, any novi that will even out-perform the miracles of Moshe but contradict his teachings is unacceptable. His miracles are only meant to test our own love of Hashem.

Just imagine that a hundred people tell you that your friend Yossel was in Chicago yesterday, but you yourself were with him in his house in New York all day. Would you accept their testimony? Of course not. No matter how truthful they may sound, no mater how many proofs they may bring, and no matter how many they are – it’s a contradiction to what you’ve seen with your very own eyes. You’ll never accept what they say. So too, we can never accept a person who claims to contradict our Torah, no matter what his proof.

Actually, we do find that the yidden did believe in Moshe even before matan torah. We also find previously that Hashem assured Moshe that the yidden would believe in him. However, this belief was not confirmed positively until Mattan Torah. Let me give you an example.

You’re sitting in a dark room when you suddenly hear footsteps. By the way it sounds you believe that it must be a person walking around in the room. Then you feel something touching you. Now you positively believe that there’s someone there in the room with you. Of course, there is still the very remote possibility that it’s only your imagination playing tricks on you. Or perhaps it’s not a person but a dog walking around. However, when the lights go on and you see a person in the room, then you know for sure – without the slightest doubt – that what you believed in before is definitely true. At Mattan Torah the lights went on. The heavens opened up. Now their previous belief was confirmed for ever after!

My father once told me a most interesting “vort” that he heard from his Rebbi in the name of the Holy Rishiner. I later also heard it from the Skulener Rebbe ztl who repeated it. He said that there would come a time before the coming of Moshiach that a miraculous fire would come down from heaven. Yet this fire would be brought down by those who wish to use it in order to contradict the truth and the authenticity of the Torah. Many people will be fooled into believing these false messiahs. They will fall victim to their great miracles that the false messiahs will be able to perform. They will find their true belief shattered.

Only very few true believers will be able to maintain their belief, despite all the proofs and miracles to the contrary. This, he said, will be our final nisoyon -test-before the coming of Moshiach.

The time may once come when all the scientists in the world will bring undisputable proof that the Torah is wrong. They will show us undeniable experiments that will seemingly contradict the Torah’s teachings. However, all this will be to no avail. Our strong belief will not be swayed in the slightest, despite all their proofs and claims. For nothing can contradict our belief that moshe is true and his Torah is true.

Please note: In order to fully understand the above essay, I recommend that you carefully study the eighth perek in the Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei Ha’Torah. Also see Chumash Parshas R’ei.

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