Category Archives: HS

Secondary Sources: Miracles – MS, HS, A

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Secondary Sources: Miracles

Rabbinic notion of daily miracles: “Come and consider how many miracles the Holy One blessed be He, performs for people, and they are unaware of it. If a person was to swallow bread without chewing it, it would hurt them terribly, but God created people with mouths which lets them to chew and then swallow.” (Exodus Rabba 24:1).




Avraham Joshua Heschel talked about the mystery of the universe – how it came to be like it is and the rules that make it work – and how that makes us feel a great sense of wonder” (God in Search of Man).

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Mordechai Kaplan explains the miracles in Jewish literature as reflecting the attempt “of the ancient authors to prove and illustrate God’s power and goodness” (Judaism as Civilization, p. 98) Kaplan maintained that these traditions concerning miracles were in conflict with modern thought, and that the belief in miracles that contravene natural law is a “psychological impossibility for most people.” (Questions Jews Ask, p. 155-156)


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Albert Einstein: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

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vayeira-miracle-ss-image-3Peggy Noonan: “I think miracles exist in part as gifts and in part as clues that there is something beyond the flat world we see.” Peggy Noonan is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She has written eight books on American politics and culture. Quote is from: What I Saw at the Revolution: A Political Life in the Reagan Era (1990).

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Evidence & Belief

The real question for moderns is not can miracles happen, but did they and do they happen. As Hume recognized, the question is one of evidence. Many events that were seen in the past as miracles can now be understood as due to the operation of natural laws, even though Hume himself is less than categorical about the absolute necessity of cause: A) always to produce the effect, B) it usually seems to produce.

Undoubtedly, a modern Jewish believer will be far less prone to attribute extraordinary events to a supernatural intervention, but his belief in God’s power will not allow him to deny the very possibility of miracles occurring.

A Hasidic saying has it that a Hasid who believes that all the miracles said to have been performed by the Hasidic masters actually happened is a fool, but anyone who believes that vayeira-miracle-ss-image-6they could not have happened is an unbeliever. The same can be said of miracles in general.

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.
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China’s Miracle Man

Monday, July 9, 2007: He survived against all the odds; “now Peng Shulin has astounded doctors by learning to walk again. When his body was cut in two by a lorry in 1995, it was little short of a medical miracle that he lived.vayeira-miracle-ss-image-4

It took a team of more than 20 doctors to save his life.

Doctors at the China Rehabilitation Research Centre in Beijing found out about Mr Peng’s plight late last year and devised a plan to get him up walking again. They came up with an ingenious way to allow him to walk on his own, creating a sophisticated egg cup-like casing to hold his body with two bionic legs attached to it.
He has been taking his first steps around the centre with the aid of his specially adapted legs and a resized walking frame. Mr Peng, who has to learn how to walk again, is said to be delighted with the device.

In November 2009, the Australian Daily Telegraph reported that Peng had opened his own bargain supermarket, called the Half Man-Half Price Store.

What self-confidence… and optimism…

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In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.

At the creation of the State of Israel on May14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion became the first Prime minister of Israel and its Defense Minister. For more information, see:

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Chaim Weizmann was the first President of Israel. He was elected on 16 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952. For more information, see:




David Hume on Miracles


The Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) launched an effective critique of miraculous claims. This sceptical rationalism was a major challenge to religious belief throughout the later 18th and 19th centuries.

From David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation….

Secondary Sources: The Role of Laughter in Life – HS, A

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Secondary Sources: The Role of Laughter in Life


Quotes about Laughter
Read and Discuss.

N.B.: you might like to put these on pieces of card face down on floor/table. One at a time student select a card, read it and comment on it (leave time for other students to respond before the next person selects a card.)vayeira-laughter-ss-image-1

  • If you do this before reading the text, then return to the cards after your discussion and see whether they offer insights into Sarah’s laughter.
  • If you do this after your discussion, pause after discussing each one and ask “do you think this quote offers a new way of thinking about Sarah’s laughter?

Laughter can bring a new perspective.
Christopher Durang, Playwright, 1949-

You can’t deny laughter; when it comes, it plops down in your favorite chair and stays as long as it wants.
Stephen King, author, 1947-

vayeira-laughter-ss-image-2Laughter can help relieve tension in even the heaviest of matters.
Allen Klein, author, 1938

It is impossible for you to be angry and laugh at the same time. Anger and laughter are mutually exclusive and you have the power to choose either.
Wayne Dyer, Psychologist, 1940-2015


There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.
Erma Bombeck, Journalist, 1927-1996


Laughter springs from the lawless part of our nature.
Agnes Repplier, 1855-1950


I think laughter may be a form of courage. As humans we sometimes stand tall and look into the sun and laugh, and I think we are never more brave than when we do that.
Linda Ellerbee, Journalist, 1944-


Being able to laugh at a situation can help you hang on to your perspective. And there’s an intimacy in laughter that nothing else can come close to.
Eric Mabius, actor 1971-


Laughter does not deny pain. Laughter – like a wail – acknowledges and replies to pain.
Tim O’Brien, author, 1946-


At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities.
Jean Houston, author 1937-


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Leading Idea: Telling Lies

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Leading Idea: Telling Lies

When God asks Abraham why Sarah laughs Sarah denies that she did so. Is this denial? Embarrassment? Fear? A lie or… maybe even the truth (if she ‘laughed within’, managing to suppress her laugh, has she still laughed? (is she embarrassed? Is she in denial? Is it possible she was so amazed she was unaware of laughing? Or maybe, if she had worked to suppress her laughter, she now wanted to assert that she hadn’t really laughed because she had consciously controlled herself from doing so, keeping her laughter within.)

At face value this seems a pretty clear cut case of lying – yet god does not administer any form of divine retribution. Why does Sarah get no punishment? Could it be because it was in some way excusable? If so what would make it so? Sarah lies because she was yirah – in fear, or struck with awe – Can we be so overwhelmed that we lie without intending to? (it just slips out?).

The discussion plan explores lying and the texts that come after explore lies that seem to be good lies. Could Sarah’s lie be of this sort, If so, how would we have to understand the situation she was in?

Discussion Plan: Telling Lies

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Discussion Plan: Telling Lies

1. Does ‘lying’ have more than one meaning?
2. Can you say something that is false without it being a lie?
3. Are there different sorts of lies?
4. What is the difference between them? Are they equally wrong/right?
5. Is exaggeration a form of lying?
6. Can you lie without meaning to?
7. Can you tell the truth without meaning to?
8. If your lie turns out to be the truth have you still lied?
9. What are some of the likely consequences of lying?
10. Is lying ever justified?

Secondary Sources: Lying – Aaron, Lover and Pursuer of Peace – MS, HS, A

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Secondary Sources: Lying


Aaron, Lover and Pursuer of Peace

vayeira-lying-ss-image-1 vayeira-lying-ss-image-2


Some Questions you might like to ask:

  • How do you think the friends would react if they found out Aaron had made this up?
  • How do you think Aaron would describe what he did?
  • Do you think Aaron should have done something different?
  • You might like to act out the story in light of these questions.

Leading Idea: Sarah’s Miracle?

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Leading Idea: Sarah’s Miracle?

The text tells us that when Sarah gave birth to Yitzak she was 95 years old. Even if Biblical years are calculated differently, the story tells us she was past childbearing years, and of a ripe old age. Is this, then, a Miracle? If so, what kind of miraculous event is this? Use the resources on Miracles in Parshat Shemot to explore this (and yes I know we need some sources from women here – just having trouble finding some so if you do…..

Note, that the sources are for primary and high school – so pick ones appropriate to your age class if you take up this topic.

Leading Idea: Seeing and Naming God

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Leading Idea: Seeing and Naming God

Hagar’s journey is unique in that she both sees and names God. Both this act of seeing (she seeing God and God seeing her; naming God) are obscurely phrased in Hebrew and open to different understandings and translations. The significance of this is captured in the reading by Rabbi Michal Shekel. Firstly, the difference between hearing and seeing is an important one – both literally and the way we use these terms metaphorically (phrases like “I see what you mean” and the notion of insight). Secondly, we have the significance of seeing another’s face. You might like to explore together why the face has unique status in terms of our access to others.
There are further resources in this booklet for exploring these: see: “Face”, p.45 and on naming and naming God. Relevant exercises and discussion plans can be found in those sections.

Discussion Plan: What counts as a miracle? – MS, HS, A

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Discussion Plan: What counts as a miracle?

1. As I was walking home I was thinking “wouldn’t it be great to have money to buy an ice-cream” – and then I saw a dollar coin in the gutter.
2. In the storm, a bolt of lightning came down and split the tree in half.
3. I fell off my bike speeding down the hill, but came out of it without even a scratch.
4. When the house down the street caught fire, I prayed that everyone would get out of the fire safely and they did.
5. I wake up every morning feeling fresh and ready to start the day.
6. When the forest fire was out of control, the wind turned and the rain came and put it out.
7. The fortune teller told my sister that she would meet someone and fall in love and she did.
8. God created the world in seven days.
9. Jonah was swallowed by a whale/big fish and survived. (Is this the same as no.8?)
10. I prayed that something bad would happen to the boy at school who is always teasing me, and then he broke his arm. (How does your answer here compare to your answer to no. 4?)
11. A standard 747 airplane weighs more than 910,000lbs when it is loaded, and yet it can still get off the ground!



Secondary Source: What’s in a name – UPS, MS, HS

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Secondary Sources: What’s in a name

Excerpts from: Rabbi Michal Shekel: The Women’s Torah Commentary, Elyse Goldstein (ed.), (Jewish Lights, NY), 2000, pp.57-62
Parshat Lech lecha contains within it two journeys, each of which encompasses a spiritual and physical aspect. The first is the well known story of Abram (Bereshit 12). The second is subtler but still powerful. It is the journey undertaken by Sarai’s handmaiden Hagar….
One can discover three occurrences in this parashah that mirror Abram’s experience. First, Hagar leaves home, her personal Lechi lach, “go forth” (fem.)… Second, God makes a brit, a covenant, with her, in which she is promised that she will have numerous offspring… Third, she is told her son’s name before his birth. But here the parallel ends; for, most significantly, Hagar gives God a name. Abram has never done this, nor has anyone else.
What courage! In these early chapters of the Torah, the act of naming is highly significant. It is both empowering and embracing….
Hagar names God el ro’i “God who sees me.” This is in response to God’s naming of her child Yishma’el, which means “God hears”. In naming God, Hagar affirms that God sees as well as hears. Here too is a parallel with Abraham. After the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, Abraham calls the mountain where he offers his son “Adonai sees”…

Discussion Plan: Miracles – UPS, MS, HS, A

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Discussion Plan: Miracles

Discuss what the term ‘miracle’ means in each of these sentences:

1. “It was a miracle he survived the accident”
2. “At Hannukah we talk about the miracle of the oil”
3. “When my baby brother was born and I saw him for the first time I thought ‘this is a miracle’”
4. “The trapeze artist performed miraculous feats of daring”
5. “My biology teacher talks about the miracle of life on earth”
6. “It was a miracle that I got my homework done on time”
7. “The magician pulled a rabbit out of the hat – it was a miracle!’
8. I used to take butterflies for granted, but now we have studied them, I think each one is a tiny miracle!