The story of Chanukah includes the victory of the Maccabees against the Greek armies, and the oil in the menorah burning eight days instead of one. We usually call these event “miracles”. But what are miracles? In this lesson, we will explore the Jewish perspective on miracles and compare it to the general societal approach, using the rock song “The Miracle” by Queen.
Students will be able to define miracles according to general culture.
Students will be able to define miracles according to Jewish thought.
Students will be able to provide examples of miracles in Jewish history and/or Tanakh.
Resources & Equipment needed
– “The Miracle” by Queen – found on album “The Miracle” or “Greatest Hit II”. Also downloadable on the web for a fee.
– Lyric sheets (see below)
– Optional: Tanakh for students
1. Discuss with the class the idea of a partnership between God and man. God provides an infrastructure and man works with it to better himself and society. It is up to man to harness the potential he was born with, both on an individual and a societal level. On an individual level, if a person is born with an extraordinary musical talent, he still will not be able to excel without practicing diligently. On a societal level, people have to organize food production, by planting fields and harvesting them, but God provides the natural conditions for this to happen (climate, etc.).
2. Now, bring up miracles. How do miracles fit into this partnership just discussed? Ask the students if any of them have experienced miracles, or if they can describe non-Biblical miracles from history. Ask them to define miracles. The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines miracles as: 1) an extraordinary event attributed to some supernatural agency 2) any remarkable occurrence. As a class, reach a definition of miracles and write it on the blackboard.
3. Hand out the lyrics to the song entitled The Miracle by Queen and play it on a stereo. The song defines everyday things such as rain and birth as miracles. The bold text in the teacher’s guide below includes a way to interpret the song so that it is relevant to the topic at hand.
4. Ask the students to list the things that Queen believes are miracles. Are these the same as their examples? Ask them to suggest a definition for miracles according to Queen. Do they agree with these examples or that definition?
5. What do they think Judaism thinks of Queen’s definition? Students may wish to debate this point. Judaism describes any natural event as the work of God and therefore sees it as a miracle. Conversely, Judaism has no problem with explaining what seem to be ‘supernatural’ events as part of nature, because they are still the work of God.
6. Discuss the interplay between man and God in miracles, everyday things and our own lives. Refer to the Chanukah story, and compare the two “miracles” – the victory of the few against the many, which can be explained by socio-political factors, and the oil lasting eight days, which is supernatural.
7. Optional: Students should look up miracles in Jewish history, like the establishment of the State of Israel and the victory in the Six Day War, and miracles from Tanakh. Biblical examples can be found in the story of the Exodus (Exodus 7:8-14:31), the fall of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:1-22), the talking donkey of Bil’am (Numbers 22:21-39), drawing water from the rock (Numbers 20: 1-30), and the sun standing still (Joshua10:1-14). For each one, the student must consider if there is a natural explanation for the event (e.g. a cyclone split the Red Sea). Then ask them to consider whether this changes their approach to the miracle. That is, to they think that if a miracle can be explained naturally, is it still God who makes it happen?