Category Archives: MS

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).

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.






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…

Source: &




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….

Discussion Plan: Seeing and Hearing – MS, HS, A

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Discussion Plan: Seeing and Hearing

In each case, make sure to explain your answers / responses.

  1. Are there times you are heard but not seen?
  2. Are there times you are seen but not heard?
  3. Can you look at someone but not see them?
  4. Can you see someone without looking at them?
  5. Can you hear what someone says but not listen to them?
  6. Do you expect friends to see you better than other people? In what ways?
  7. Is there a difference between the way parents see you and the way teachers see you?
  8. Is there a difference between the way parents see you and the way your friends see you?
  9. Do you think all your friends see you the same way? If not, what accounts for the difference?
  10. Could a stranger see you better than your friends do?
  11. Could someone who disagrees with you see your point better than people who agree with you?
  12. When we respond to what we hear, do we do it the same way as we respond to what we see?
  13. Could you see something and respond as if you had heard it? What would this mean?
  14. Could you hear something and respond as if you had seen it? What would this mean?



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Return to the questions above – try re-asking them about seeing and hearing God. (e.g.; Are there times when God is heard but not seen? Could you hear what God says but not listen to God? Does it make a difference if you see God as a parent or as a friend? Do you expect God to see you better than other people? In what ways?)

Vayeira (Bereshit 18:9-15) בְּרֵאשִׁית

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Bereshit 18: 9-15


1 And God appeared to him [Avraham], in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot.

א  וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַחהָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם.

 And he lifted his eyes and saw, behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed down to the ground,

ב  וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה.

3 And said, “My lords, please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please do not pass on from beside your servant

ג  וַיֹּאמַראֲדֹנָי, אִםנָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָאַלנָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ.

4 Please – let a little water be taken, and wash your feet, and lean back under the tree.

ד  יֻקַּחנָא מְעַטמַיִם, וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם; וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ, תַּחַת הָעֵץ.

5 And I will fetch a little bread, to sustain your hearts; after that you will go on, because you have passed by your servant.” And they said, “So you will do, as you have spoken.”

ה  וְאֶקְחָה פַתלֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם, אַחַר תַּעֲבֹרוּכִּיעַלכֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם, עַלעַבְדְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ.

9 And they said to him: ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said: ‘Here, in the tent.’

ט וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל.

10 And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year, and behold – there will be a son, to Sarah, your wife.” And Sarah heard from the entrance of the tent, behind him.

י וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּהבֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, coming on in years. Sarah had ceased the [biological] stage of childbearing for women.

יא וְאַבְרָהָם וְשָׂרָה זְקֵנִים, בָּאִים בַּיָּמִים; חָדַל לִהְיוֹת לְשָׂרָה, אֹרַח כַּנָּשִׁים.

12 And Sarah laughed, within herself, saying: ‘After I am old –will I have pleasure? And, my master is old.’

יב וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָהלִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן.

13 And God said to Avraham: ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I really bear a child – I, who am old?”

יג וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, אֶלאַבְרָהָם: לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵדוַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי.

14 Is there anything too wonderous for God? At the appointed time, I will return to you, and at that time, Sarah will have a son.”

יד הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵיְהוָה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּהוּלְשָׂרָה בֵן.

15 Then Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” because she was ‘yireh’ (afraid, in awe, overwhelmed). And He said, “No, but you laughed.”

טו וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי, כִּי יָרֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ.

16 And the men arose from there, and they looked upon Sodom, and Abraham went with them to escort them,

טז וַיָּקֻמוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיַּשְׁקִפוּ עַלפְּנֵי סְדֹם; וְאַבְרָהָםהֹלֵךְ עִמָּם, לְשַׁלְּחָם.

Leading Idea: The Experience of Laughter

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Leading Idea: The Experience of Laughter

In this text Sarah laughs be-kirba (בְּקִרְבָּהּ). What kind of laughter is this? The laughter is a ‘close’ laughter, translated variously as laughing ‘to herself’, ‘within herself’ or ‘at herself’. For Samson Raphael Hirsch it is “the natural, involuntary laughter which we can hardly keep back at the sight of some absurdity” (Hirsch, 1963, p. 352). The question is whether Sarah’s laughter is one of sheer incredulity or of irony, or something else. Two things happen later that further complicate things.

(i) She denies laughing (18:15). Why does she do this? What might this say about her laughter? (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.)

(ii) She speaks about laughter (21:7). When she gives birth to Yitzak a few verses later she says: “ God has made laughter of me, everyone who hears will laugh”. Here too the passage is open to different readings – is she saying that, in giving birth in old age, God has made her into a laughing stock and everyone will laugh at her (Hirsch), or that God has brought laugher to her and that everyone who hears will laugh with her in joy (Rashi)?

Those who read Sarah as fearing laughter tend to read her earlier reaction in the tent as a negative laughter, while those who read it as joy see her earlier laughter as incredulity or disbelief when told good but improbable news.
Sarah is not the only one who laughs. One verse earlier (Bereshit 17:17) Avraham ‘falls on his face and laughs’ when he is told he will have a child by Sarah. If Sarah’s laughter is inward, Abrahams laughter seems to be blatantly outward.

Several discussion plans and exercises explore the nature of laughter:

(i) One looks at how we laugh (where it happens in our body, the control we have over it, inward and outward laughter). This provides different resources for reflecting on how Sarah might have laughed be-kirba (בְּקִרְבָּהּ).

(ii) One looks at emotions that lie behind laughter and causes of laughter (insecurity, joy, embarrassment, etc). This looks at what Sarah might have been feeling as she laughed.

(iii) one looks at kinds of laughter (some distinctions to think about include whether the pictures shows people laughing with or at something, laughing as expression of joy, laughing inside or laughing openly, seeking to hide laughter, openly showing laughter, embarrassed laughter, laughing in amazement).

Secondary Sources: The Role of Laughter in Life – PS, MS

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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


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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.