In the sixties, the Rebbe met with a group of Jewish college students. One of them unabashedly told the Rebbe that he had heard that the Rebbe was capable of performing miracles, and asked the Rebbe if it was true.

The Rebbe replied that our world is one link in an intricate system of spiritual reality. Everything that happens in our world comes from — and is influenced by — the spiritual potential of the higher realms. When a Jew connects the Divine spark in his own being with G‑d through sincere prayer, the study of the Torah, and the observance of the mitzvos, he can arouse influences that bring about change in a manner that cannot be calculated. This is what we mean by working a miracle. This is not the prerogative of only one Jew, but of every Jew.

As the students were preparing to leave, the Rebbe asked them to join him in the performance of a miracle. “Let us,” the Rebbe said, “add more Torah and mitzvos to our lives and influence the people around us to take similar steps, and let us do this in a manner that could not possibly have been calculated beforehand. Let this be our miracle.”

Parshas Re’eh

This week’s Torah reading speaks of a false prophet performing miraculous acts. Why is he given this power? The verse explains: “G‑d, your L‑rd, is testing you to know whether you love G‑d.” The wording of the verse sheds light on an important issue. Frequently, we speak of “tests of faith,” situations that challenge our belief system.

What lies at the core of these tests? The word מנסה, translated as “is testing,” can also be rendered as “is raising you up.” G‑d sets up each test and challenge to bring a person to a higher state of knowing and loving G‑d.

Nothing happens by accident. Everything is controlled and directed by Divine providence. Moreover, that providence is all-inclusive, encompassing every facet of our existence.

G‑d’s providence is purposeful. He is directing our progress with the intent that each one of us realize our individual G‑dly nature, and in doing so, encourage the expression of the G‑dly core that lies at the heart of every person and every object which we encounter.

This may not appear easy, particularly when in the throes of the tests and challenges we spoke of previously. But we must appreciate that these are also from G‑d.

Why do we consider them challenges? Because they don’t follow the logical pattern dictated by our minds. “If G‑d really wanted the world — or me as a person — to appreciate Him,” we often think, “He would do things the way I think is right.”

But that’s the point. The way G‑d thinks is not the way we think. Our minds are limited in nature. G‑d is infinite and therefore He is not confined to our limited scope.

There are events that don’t fit our limited conception of what ought to be. Therefore we perceive them as challenges. But in G‑d’s eyes, these are expressions of a higher order. His intent in exposing us to them is to “lift us up,” to enable us to step beyond the mortal conception of reality, confident that when this happens, we will know Him and love Him on a deeper level.

Looking to the Horizon

There is a difference of opinion between two of Judaism’s great Sages, Maimonides and Raavad (Rav Avraham ben David). Maimonides states: “One should not entertain the notion that in the era of Mashiach any element of the natural order will be nullified, or that there will be any innovation in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern.... Our Sages taught: ‘There will be no difference between the current age and the era of Mashiach except [our emancipation from] subjugation to the gentile kingdoms.’”

Raavad differs and cites prophecies from Scripture and from the Talmud which appear to indicate that there will be miracles. Maimonides, in anticipation of those objections, explains that the prophecies to which Raavad alludes are analogies and metaphors for striking, but natural events; for example, the establishment of peace between Israel and the gentile nations. The commentaries argue back and forth concerning the issue, advancing supports and rebuttals of both positions.

In light of some of the changes taking place within our lives at present, we can introduce a possible resolution that preserves both perspectives. To cite a personal example: I remember the first time I saw a fax machine. As I watched the document emerge from the machine, I blurted out: “A miracle!” Indeed, there are many of these types of miracles happening today. Some, like the fax machine, are really pretty straightforward, but others represent transitions that can truly be seen as miraculous.

To return the subject to its Rabbinic framework: One of the prophecies Raavad cites as proof of his position is: “I will remove wild beasts from the land.” Our Sages offer the interpretation that the beasts of prey will lose their predatory tendencies, as Isaiah declares: “A wolf will lie down with the lamb.”

An obvious miracle. And yet after having mapped the human genome, is it so far-removed to think that we will be able to identify the gene that causes a lion or a wolf to prey, and breed out that tendency from the species? I don’t mean to oversimplify the issue, but far greater modifications in nature based on the manipulation of DNA have been proposed — and these by businessman seeking profits, not by scientists exploring theories.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, 21st-century life is beginning to look like science fiction. We have cloned mammals and isolated telomerase which can be used to establish stable, immortalized human cell chains which can undergo multiple rounds of genetic engineering.

Nanotechnology, where the very structure of atoms is manipulated, is already being applied in industry. And today’s breakthroughs are nowhere near what we will see in the not too distant future.

Are these miracles? Yes and no. From the vantage point of 100 — perhaps even 25 — years ago, they most definitely are. But according to today’s perspective, this is not a “nullification of the natural order.” What was once considered miraculous and beyond man’s reach is now natural.

This fusion of the miraculous and the natural shows us something of what the era of the Redemption will be. Since G‑d’s essence will be revealed within our world, there will be a redefinition of material existence. The material form will remain, but it will be suffused with an infinite G‑dly dimension that will produce the natural miracles of the type — and indeed, far greater than the type — we mentioned.