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Miracles and the Paradox of Art

Miracles and the Paradox of Art

Part 3 of a series on Nature and Miracles

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It’s All A Miracle

Mother Nature is a coverup. It’s 100% authored, directed, engineered and powered by Elokim Unincorporated. Every moment, everything appears out of nowhere, miraculously. For those of you who believe miracles are absurd, dangerous, and a threat to the entire endeavor of science, Nature, it turns out, is nothing more than consistent miracles.

The problem is, you get used to the way things work, and begin to believe that all your interactions are with a closed system that’s just there because it’s just there. That this is all there is. You start confusing the show with reality.

So, along comes a miracle of the inconsistent variety. Maybe even an open miracle, shifting the most fundamental parameters of nature. Or better, a hidden one, dressed up as though it were perfectly natural.

Like one of those situations where things don’t look good. At all. And whatever direction you take only confirms to you that there is just no way out. To which everyone else nods their heads. Especially the experts. At which point the totally unexpected occurs, life flies for a moment on eagles’ wings, and you find yourself in a place better than you could have ever prayed for. You know you didn’t make this happen. You know there’s no one here on earth who could have orchestrated it. So you look up to the heavens and say, “G‑d, I love you!”

A miracle is when a door opens and suddenly you find yourself in interaction with the Director of the show.

Whatever door just opened, you find yourself in interaction with the Director of the show. Which means you just discovered that this is a show. And that there is a Director. And that you are a character in this show. Okay, you have (limited) freedom within the script—so maybe it’s a game, and there’s a Programmer (who is also the User), and you are a sentient sprite. Whichever way, everything now changes.

Is that good change or bad change? Definitely, very good change. Because now your current existence is no longer just a natural consequence. Existence is a deliberate, voluntary act that does not have to be. Nothing has to be. Everything could be otherwise. It’s only this way because there’s a purpose in it being this way that it’s this way. Knowing it’s a show means you’re in constant contact with the Director of the show.

Knowing it’s a show just means knowing it all from a higher context. Context provides a possibility of direction, purpose and meaning—all of which could not be if this was just a place that just is because it just is. The universe, life, and the science of it all becomes a whole lot more amazing. It becomes actually worth taking care of.

In other words, a miracle comes to demonstrate that nature is also miraculous. Like Moses keeps telling Pharaoh, “So that you will know that the earth belongs to G‑d.”1

So, is Mother Nature a total fake? Only if you take her at face value. You need to know her deeply. Nature, we said in the last installment, is a modality of G‑d. G‑d as He is Elokim, in restraint and disciplined, so that He can get a real world. In that sense, Nature is real. So, science is real.

Miracles don’t make science irrelevant. They give science meaning.2

Miracles Versus Miracles

Now, if this is the purpose of a miracle, what would be the best way for the Director/Programmer/User to pull it off?

Should He shout, “Cut! Turn up the lights!”? Should he hack the game and make super-weird things occur?

Well, that would certainly shake your sense of reality. And it would tell you that He’s got a huge amount of power. But it doesn’t give you a sense that He’s running the show. Because it means that the only way He can get His way is by breaking the rules.

If, on the other hand, the Director/Programmer/User interacts with you within the system and through the system, directing it in every which way without breaking a thing, answering your prayers through means you would never have expected, responding to your behavior in the most surprising ways, and yet all within the realm of the natural world—then you know that, hey, He is truly the Master of All Things. He is the Master even as the things are running.

Indeed, the more pedestrian the miracle, the more impressive.

Indeed, the more pedestrian the miracle, the more impressive. The weird and the wonderful have their “wow” factor, but then life switches back to its normal humdrum, and you submit once again to the predictability of everyday life. It’s when you see that nature doesn’t lose a beat to perform the supernatural that you begin to seek its Master under every rock and behind every circumstance. It’s these seamless interweaves of miracle and nature, impossible and possible, Creator and creation that get G‑d what He’s really out for—that get G‑d down to earth.

Playing by the Rules

The difference in G‑d-consciousness that results from the two experiences is chasmic. For a true-life example, take the story of the spies whom Moses sent to tour the Promised Land.3

© Ahuva Klein. Note: Artistic rendition; may not be an accurate representation.
© Ahuva Klein. Note: Artistic rendition; may not be an accurate representation.

Moses chose brave, righteous and wise men for the job. Yet, out of twelve spies, ten came back thoroughly discouraged. “We can’t conquer this land,” they argued. “The people that inhabit it are stronger than us.”4

Given the story background, this is a very peculiar argument. These were men who had witnessed ten plagues in Egypt and an entire cavalry of Egyptians sunk in the Sea of Reeds, and who ate manna for breakfast and dinner. Egypt was the superpower of the ancient world. The balkanized Canaanite hinterland was chopped liver in comparison. If G‑d could make miracles in Egypt and in the Sinai Peninsula, what’s stopping Him from doing the same a little further northeast?

Nothing. Problem was, the spies had written off open miracles from the get-go. After all, they had been told to spy out the land. Which meant—in their minds—that the land was to be conquered by natural means. No plagues, no sea-splitting, no heavenly bread. Just lots of dirty warfare, human hard work and natural consequences. And if so, there simply was no way this was going to work.5

A thousand years later, a small band of Maccabees picked up their swords in revolt against the monstrous Greek war machine. They didn’t expect open miracles—and they didn’t win by open miracles. Neither did they expect that they would turn out stronger than their enemy. They simply knew that the same G‑d who created the world was still in control of it, and that He would grant them victory in whatever way He chose.

They are His rules, so He can get whatever He wants out of them.

The spies sent by Moses knew a G‑d who had created the universe and could toss all the rules aside at whim. But the Maccabees knew a G‑d for whom rules do not need to be tossed aside—because they present no obstacle to begin with. They are His rules, created by His will. And so, He can get whatever He wants out of them.

As it turns out, the best way to demonstrate what an amazing instrument G‑d has in nature, its spectacular plasticity in His hands, its versatility to perform His bidding without missing a beat—open miracles are a letdown. Hidden, intra-natural miracles are the winner.

(That’s one way of looking at it. As I’m sure you expect, in a later installment I’ll present how open miracles win hands down. Both are true—depends what you’re looking for.)

Miracles on Six Strings

That’s one way of looking at miracles and nature—that miracles are there for the sake of nature, to provide nature a frame, a context. The other way is the reverse: That nature is there for the sake of miracles. It’s nothing more than a stage upon which miracles can occur.

And what’s the point of the miracle? The same as any great work of art: To express the ineffable.

Think of nature—of all the universe—as a wonderful musical instrument. Why would a Master Craftsman craft such an instrument? To prove that He can make an amazing instrument? To demonstrate His mastery over it?

Or, perhaps so that He can express that which could otherwise have no expression.

It’s an enigma, after all—one that has perplexed the philosophers for as long as they have been philosophizing: Why would an infinite, perfect oneness care to create a tightly bounded, fractured, material world? The philosopher is confounded, but the musician understands: G‑d crafted an instrument for the music of His soul.

What drives the human soul to create music? Or any art, for that matter?

Deep beneath the bedrock of human consciousness runs an undercurrent of knowingness, a torrent of emotions, red-hot magma highly pressurized by the strata that lie above. Until it finds a crack and then bursts as a geyser into our awareness, as a ceaseless stream of words, of images, of voices, colors and sounds.

Yet the origin itself remains unfathomed. As deep as we can dive into the well of our emotions and ideas, as far as we can journey back through the channel through which they emerged into our consciousness, we have no entry into their womb to see how and why these articulations of the soul were formed.

I am a musician. This is what I do: Rather than reach within, I reach outside of myself, hugging a delicate hunk of rosewood and mahogany so that I may squeeze that boundless rapture through the confines of three and a half octaves spread over six measured strings, much as a mighty river might be forced through the narrow sluices of a concrete dam, submitting to the tyranny of harmony and meter that I can only manipulate but never change, seeking every way possible for those fingers I have disciplined over many decades to break beyond the tortuous bounds of my instrument, much as a stream desperately seeks its many paths scurrying around the rocks and trees, literally straitjacketing a raging human soul into a small wooden box—

—and a being previously unknown emerges. I hear my own music, and it speaks to me of that which I had never been aware of. It tells me who I am. And I say, “Where on earth did that come from?”

The same occurs to the storywriter, compressing his fantasies into ordered sentences marching by the dictates of intelligible syntax; to the poet enslaving himself to the rigid structure of a sonnet; to the artist choosing a palette by which he must transform kinetic life into static colors and shapes upon a two-dimensional canvas; or with any other medium of expression. “From where do these words come?” the author so often asks himself, astonished again and again, as though some higher being had channeled itself through their art.

In the struggle for opposites to harmonize as one, the artist discovers his own core being.

Who is that higher being? It is that silent origin of all thoughts and emotion, of all pleasure and pain, that which sits at the very core. In boundless emotion, it could not be known. In ordered symmetry, it would be completely lost. But in a struggle for two such opposites to harmonize as one, in that burst of creativity that ruptures the barrier between the bounded and the boundless, there that quintessence mysteriously emerges, an epiphenomenon of paradox.

This is the essence of art and beauty: Unbounded chaos is messy, even ugly. Bounded, perfect symmetry is dull. In beauty, the two combine in ways that mesmerize the human imagination, pointing higher and yet higher to that which transcends chaos and symmetry, the finite and the infinite, being and not being. To create art is to point beyond the bounds of reason at that which can neither be envisioned nor known.

The Universe As an Instrument

Now apply that to the Maker of All Things, who plays His music upon this universe He has crafted. He Himself is beyond being, so that the highest consciousness is nothing more than an emanation of His light, without substance, incapable of penetrating the mystery of its Origin.

So this Master Musician embraces a vacuous, finite space-time-consciousness, establishing within it a set order, bounds, parameters and rules. Creatures of many discrete sizes and shapes, which are assigned behaviors that cannot be crossed. This will be His instrument, His palette, the stage for His art. But it is not yet His music.

His music, His great art, occurs at that point of rupture when Creator and creation meet in utter war and love and struggle and resolution and dissonance, and all the impossibilities of an Infinite G‑d within a finite world.

That is a miracle: When He appears in your world in a mode by which He is speaking to you neither from the heavens above nor from your own soul within, in an experience which can be called neither spiritual nor truly physical, in which He is neither a presence nor an absence. Rather, at the intersection of all these opposites and more, the impossible unfolds. And G‑d is found in the impossible.

When is this symphony, this masterpiece of art, in its most exquisite form?

If an open miracle should occur, the instruments are barely extant—they are ignored as fictions, their limitations temporarily discarded. It is in the hidden miracle, clothed within the guise of nature, that you and your Creator come into true interaction, He as the musician, you and your world as the instrument; He as the artist, the nature of your world as His palette; He as a poet, your daily life as the meter and rhyme.

Systems do not answer prayers. Systems do not care to reward good deeds or accept your remorse over the past. This is not “the universe” responding, but the unbounded Master of All Things. You have escaped the universe.

You have escaped the universe, the system, all bounds and limitations, but you are still within them all. For it is no longer a system. It is a divine song.6

FOOTNOTES
1. Exodus 9:29. See also 8:18. There are many similar instances.
2. For a discussion of how miracles do not interfere with the predictability of science, see Rabbi Yehuda Loewe of Prague, Gevurot Hashem, second preface.
3. Numbers 13–14.
4. Numbers 13:31.
5. See Likkutei Sichot, vol. 4, p. 1044.
6. On all the above, see the Rebbe’s maamar Kimei Tzeit’cha 5712, as well as the other maamarim referenced in the first installment of this series.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription.
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Discussion (18)
July 11, 2013
G-d and the Holocaust
It would be a hollow cost if we did not question meaning in the aftermath of what was unspeakable terror, horrific loss. And so we question the ultimate Author and Authority. Divine Providence should be telling us something. G-d was perfectly able to lead us down the garden path knowing the circumlocutions of a story Only G-d could write. Everything Will Be Illuminated is not just the title of a book.

This is the neverending story and THIS STORY is about Love. How do I know? I am standing in the garden and G-d is in the wings.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
July 9, 2013
Tragic events
Rabbi Zalman Posner posited that perhaps the reason Hashem allowed the Holocaust was to show mankind the consequences of forgetting who is in charge. You see, up to that time from the mid 19th century or so, philosophers and "humanitarians" came to believe that the morality which was a direct product of His direction was no more than a function of the general nature of man. Posner suspects Hashem wanted them to see what this meant; for an object lesson is far more convincing than any discussion.

Similarly, many note the decline in the quality of leadership in the USA since 1963. Indeed, from a traditional constitution interpretation view, such may be the case; but 1963 is also the year that not one religious organisation objected to the suit filed with the Supreme Court intended to outlaw prayer in public school. Perhaps He considered that the USA had decided that it didn't need His help, so be it.

We acted similarly on a few occasions and that got us extended stays in exile.
Doug Schulek-Miller
May 23, 2013
For Anonymous in World asking about the Director of the show
That is why I added this sentence:

"Okay, you have (limited) freedom within the script—so maybe it’s a game, and there’s a Programmer (who is also the User), and you are a sentient sprite. "

A sentient sprite could do a lot of damage, even with only limited freedom.
Tzvi Freeman
May 23, 2013
Answered prayers
This, I understand. Especially when my words seem to ricochet with such alacrity that only a foolishly stubborn woman hiding in life's seams could ignore the obvious and loving answers. This, I understand. And that's miraculous enough for me.
Glad I persisted in reading this series on miracles, though it seemed far beyond my understanding. You were right; I needed to view it from many angles. Suddenly one reflected back to me. Thank you. .
Naomi
Englewood , New Jersey
valleychabad.org
May 22, 2013
Tzvi: In your scenario Heshen is the Director of the show. There are those who would then say, "Therefore, Hashem directed the show known as, The Holocaust." Do you have a brief comment on that?
Anonymous
world
May 22, 2013
Artists and our Spirituality
I guess we are all artists with our spirituality..

Thank you for sharing this.
Eugina Giovanna Herrera
New York City, New York
May 22, 2013
On Rules
As I have discovered with English, as I get better at following its rules, the rules become helpful, and maybe even exciting. However, as a youth these rules were extremely hard to learn, and perhaps seemed to be confining. I think the same is true with Gd. I believe that because He is the expert, He finds the design of His creation helpful, even methodical in making His will not just easier to express, but also more beautiful, and majestic, as He needs not violate anything that He has created prior in order to express His genius.
Craig Hamilton
Sandwich, MA
May 8, 2013
Queretaro sounds a lot like Guitar
I like it that music is part of the writing and discussion. To play a musical instrument is a wonderful gift. If I envy anything it is musicians. Being an observer is to enjoy but to fully immerse by making music is something else! It could be said we all make music being divinely tuned but I would love so much to really play!
ruth housman
marshfield, ma
May 8, 2013
Thank You, Rabbi
Thank you so much for responding to my question about the left-handed look of the guitar. Part of the miracle for me was that it looks left-handed in the photo. Having grown up a Beatles fan (and also listening to Jimi Hendrix and Herman's Hermits), I have "known" left-handed guitarists. I do know one now--he wants me to teach him to play. It is so cool for me that the guitar looks left-handed (pick guard on top) in this photo because the timing is so wonderful ... your article is so interesting ... I want to share it with my friend. Thanks again.
Missie
Atlanta
May 7, 2013
It's a rap
I am perceiving how all the small activities of life, mine and yours, echo a greater story. For example I am waiting for a non profit called More Than Words to pick up thirty plus boxes of donated books. 'Parting is such sweet sorrow'. I know that there are mirroring connects that run up and down ALL creation. Open books resemble birds in flight and as words of wisdom and love take flight so it is the light within will speed us all home. Express yourself with Love. Whizdom. Every move I make not only mirrors but I share the wonder. That is my One Drive and this story is proof G-d is in the wings. Pure Shakespeare!
ruth elise housman
marshfield hills, ma
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