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David Hartman :
The God of Surprise!
from A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah, page 187

Central to the Exodus story and the Pesach seder is the recounting of the ten plagues. As moderns educated in natural science, the lawful order of the world, the story strikes us as childish, as primitive, as mythological. Yet we may be missing the point of these extraordinary events if we understand it as ancient superstition. Instead the miracle is a symbol of spontaneity in history, a faith in the changeability of oppressive regimes. What appears as fate, the necessity of a small people subject to an invulnerable empire, is revealed as an illusion. The language of the supernatural miracle is the Biblešs way of undermining the acquiescence of humans to the "way things have to be," to the political "facts of nature" created by powerful dictators.

There is an unpredictable Power present in the universe. For a people arising from helplessness, utter destruction and complete impoverishment, the movement from Egypt to the desert was a radical leap. It was not a steady process, not a gradual development. The plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea signaled the breaking in of Power that confronted tyrannical hegemonies, which refused to accept ultimate divine Sovereignty.

Belief in miracle is the basis of the "hope model" of Judaism. Exodus becomes a call to revolutionary hope regardless of the conditions of history. The act of protest against their environment can occur, because the Jews possess a memory bank that structures what they think is possible. The Exodus becomes vital, because it tells people that they are able to hope. The order that people observe in the cosmos is not irreversible. Tomorrow will not necessarily be like today.

Belief in the doctrine of creation reinforces the belief in miracle. Creation means that the world that came about at a certain moment could be recreated in a new constellation if God so wills it. Spontaneity and surprise characterize divinity. Not everything is a recurring pattern. The cosmos is not a Nietzschean wheel of eternal recurrence. Creation and the miracles of Exodus protest against the despair of the book of Ecclesiastes. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims that the world is hevel/vanity. Nothing really changes; all is endless repetition. A generation comes, a generation goes. A child dies, a wife, a father . . . all is in vain, without significance.

The Exodus provided the memory that made hope a very real possibility. Being is not inalterable. Becoming marks a human beingšs ontology. Radical surprise becomes an important feature. New possibilities are always present; history can change.

Life is not just the present. A future is real. Without spontaneity and without creativity the future would be just a repetition of what already was. The Exodus introduces the dimension of a radically new tomorrow. That is the idea of Messianism. The belief in a Messiah proclaims a radical futurism; a new separate concept in human consciousness of time. Life is not exhausted by endless cycles. Once our story is told as our beginning through revolution, then history is a wide-open book.

TOP | Noam Zion, Al HaNissim: Do I Really Believe in Miracles?

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