Do miracles happen nowadays? This question is particularly relevant in the dangerous and challenging times in which we live. The Tanach (Bible) has many accounts of miraculous events. But do miracles happen now?

In the view of our Sages - of course they do! This too is the experience of many individuals. However, this having been said, we must also take into account the Jewish idea that there are different kinds of miracle.

On one level, Nature itself has a miraculous aspect to it. A special sunset, the blossoming of a flower or the birth of a child can be seen as beautiful and wondrous events which reveal G‑d as the Author and Guide of Creation. Yet as we know, the sun will also set beautifully tomorrow. It is part of the Divinely ordained pattern of life, as are the flower blossom and childbirth.

Another level is when natural events happen in the right way and at the right time, as part of a more inward, spiritual pattern within Creation. The Jewish victory against the Syrian-Greeks celebrated on Chanukah is such a miracle. The Greek armies were large, well trained and powerful. It was a miracle that a small group of dedicated Jews, the Maccabees, were able to conquer them.

Today too, the survival of Israel from 1948 to the present likewise has a miraculous quality. Yes, we have dedicated soldiers and know how to make and use sophisticated weapons. Yet we have few if any friends and face an enormous and wealthy foe.

A third level is when the event altogether transcends the pattern of Nature. The Chanukah miracle of the oil is in this category. Olive oil which was sufficient only for one day, in fact burned for eight days, long enough to obtain fresh oil. This had the effect of an extra level of revelation of the Divine. It was a kind of spiritual reward for the dedication of the small group of Jews who were determined that Judaism could survive, despite all odds.

Our Torah portion presents us with an interesting combination of these last two categories. It was quite natural that sometimes there would be years of plenty and at other times years of famine. However, the fact that Pharaoh should have disturbing dreams which signaled this, and that Joseph was able to see their meaning, brings an element of the supernatural into the story.

Further, Joseph's presence in Egypt was on account of the dreams he himself had, as told in last week's Torah portion. These dreams had aroused his brothers' jealousy, till they captured him and sold him as a slave. In the end, Joseph's dreams also turned out to foretell the future. The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out an interesting distinction between the dreams of Joseph and those of Pharaoh.1 Pharaoh was passive, an observer, watching seven thin cows devour seven fat cows, or seven blighted ears of corn devour seven healthy ears. By contrast in Joseph's first dream he and his brothers were working in the fields. An effort was being made. Then Joseph's second dream concerned a more exalted plane of existence: the sun, moon and stars.

What does this teach us? That in order for the Jew to carry out his or her special function in the universe, effort is needed: Jewish effort. The Divine response to that effort is revelation of ever-higher spiritual levels, including the wonders and miracles which are so fully part of our personal lives and the ongoing history of our people.