“Blessed are the cracked,” said master philosopher Groucho Marx, “for they let in the light.”1

Perhaps it was from Groucho that Leonard Cohen received the inspiration for his poem:

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”2

Both got it right. Reality is full of cracks. If it weren’t, life would be dark, ugly, and certainly no fun, much like living inside a dumb, impersonal machine. It’s the cracks in the system that make life worth living.

We call those cracks miracles. And they are everywhere.

What sort of miracles? You’re probably thinking of the open miracles—those in-your-face gashes in nature’s otherwise tidy, patterned wallpaper. Miracles like those that occurred at the time of the Exodus, or those performed by Elisha the prophet. Water turns to blood, dirt to lice, a sea into dry land, and the dead return to life. Rivers of light pour in through massive fissures in the wall from a higher world that is oblivious to the protocols of how things are supposed to work down here.3

But these open miracles, writes Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman4 (“the Ramban,” 13th century), are not an end in themselves. After all, why would a Creator build neat, tidy walls only to demolish them? Rather, the entire point of open miracles is so that afterward we should look into the wonders of our own lives and say, “I recognize these. These, too, are miracles.”

Hidden Miracles

Ramban calls these everyday wonders hidden miracles—those segments of life’s story when water remains water, dirt remains dirt, and the dead remain lying still, when every pattern of nature goes on singing its same old song and all the players on the stage keep fastidiously in character—yet, when all is said and done and properly in place, something wondrous and unexpected has emerged. Something that looks suspiciously deliberate and sneakily invasive. G‑d sneaked in when nobody was looking, and we still can’t find the crack.

Every day, miracles befall a person as great as the miracles of the Exodus.

That’s the story of Purim, for example. It’s also the story of the victory of the Maccabees. Ask any Israeli general, and he can tell you many more. It’s the ongoing story of the survival of the Jewish people.

Ramban points out that the divine reward and punishment promised in the Torah are precisely this: promises that nature will provide miracles. “If you will follow in My statutes…I will cause the rain to fall in its season…” Clouds will cover the sky, rain will fall and water the earth to let the crops grow and flourish…but not due to the rhythms of nature playing out their script. Rather, nature will do its natural thing through divine intervention. A.k.a., a miracle.

He insists that these hidden miracles occur to each of us every day. So often, he says, that there is really nothing natural about our lives. We only appear to be interacting with the cause and effect of the natural world, but in truth, our lives are a nonstop relationship with a Creator who transcends all causes.

The Midrash says the same: “Every day, miracles befall a person as great as the miracles of the Exodus.”5 Which is why, three times a day, we say thank you, G‑d, for “Your miracles every day with us, and Your wonders and favors at every moment, evening, morning and afternoon.”6

Tiny cracks everywhere, like microscopic silicon fibers in the ceiling, walls and floor, streaming in endless light from beyond the system.

Seamless Cracks and Relationships

We can call these hidden miracles intra-natural miracles, because they are weaved seamlessly into the system. But they are miracles nonetheless, because they do not belong at all to the system—or to any system. They are part of a relationship, and you don’t have a relationship with a system. You have a relationship with a being that is free to choose, and therefore chooses to love, chooses to love you, and chooses to await your love in return. The ultimate relationship, then, is with the ultimate free being, the One who chose that there should be any being at all.

You don’t have a relationship with a system

And yet, He chooses to enter this relationship (most of the time) on our territory, masquerading in a costume of natural causes, playing with us a sort of hide-and-seek in the playroom of our everyday world.

Which explains why these miracles are often even more concealed than those of Purim, Chanukah and the Six-Day War. In those cases, all but the most stubborn cynic cannot help but realize this was not business as usual, that the natural order was only a flimsy disguise for a very supernatural event. Yes, such miracles happen in our own lives as well. But not as often as the greatest form of miracles, the most mysterious and the most intimate, the sort about which the rabbis say, “Even the person saved by the miracle doesn’t recognize that a miracle just occurred.”7 The kind where G‑d is so intimately involved in your life that you don’t even notice Him there.

The rabbis give examples of such miracles—of people getting out of bed just in time to avoid the bite of a poisonous snake,8 walking away just on time to avoid the collapse of an overhead rock,9 stubbing their toe and kvetching and cursing about it as though something terrible just happened, when in truth the stubbed toe saved this person from a fateful boat ride.10

A Jew opens a business and prays for success. Does he expect G‑d to drop money from the ceiling? No, he expects the market to work as markets work, customers to come the way customers come, and through all these means, G‑d will grant him whopping success. He expects G‑d to be there, within natural causes, performing miracles, because, after all, G‑d is everywhere.11

A Lonely G‑d

About these hidden, intra-natural miracles, the Psalmist sings, “To the One who makes miracles all alone, for His kindness is forever.”12 All alone, because only the One who performs them knows that about them.

No one else knows, because no one else gets it: A boundless G‑d getting whatever He wants within the tight bounds of natural order. It’s too great a paradox, impossible to resolve, so it just slips by unnoticed.

Will He remain forever lonely? Will nobody ever get it?

No, there’s hope. The prophet tells us of a time yet to come (may it be sooner than we can imagine) about which G‑d promises, “As the days when you left Egypt, so I will show them miracles.”13 What sort of miracles? Obviously, the ones that we need to be shown to know that they are miracles. That’s why it says, “show them,” not “make for them.” But if they are miracles, why do we need them shown to us?

Now, we call them fortunate coincidences. Then, they will totally blow us away.

It must be, writes the Tzemach Tzedek14 (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, 1789–1866), that this is speaking of those surreptitious miracles that are continuously slipping through the cracks to brighten up our world. The ones that are now imperceptible, but then will be staring us in the face. The ones that now we call “fortunate coincidences” (if we notice them at all), but then will totally blow us away. The exodus from Egypt will look like a birthday party magic show in comparison.15

That’s why, concerning the miracles of messianic times, G‑d is reported to say, “The miracles I will make for the children won’t be like the miracles I made for their ancestors. For their ancestors, I consulted with My heavenly court. But for the children, I will do the miracles all alone.”16

Why all alone? Because no heavenly court can figure out how to crack the system without disturbing it whatsoever. That’s G‑d’s territory alone. It is His masterwork, that in which His absolute uniqueness is most evident—if only someone would realize the evidence.17

What’s so special about these intra-natural miracles that G‑d must perform alone? And if only G‑d knows about them, and no laws of nature are violated by them, in what way are they miracles to begin with?

To answer that, we have to answer a more fundamental question: What makes one event a miraculous one, and another natural? Doesn’t G‑d direct all that happens? You can’t have cracks unless there’s first a wall to have cracks in. But for G‑d, are there really any walls?

We need to do some miracology 101. Basically, the study of cracks in the wall. Which is just what is planned for part two of this series, G‑d willing—and with a few more miracles.