28 Iyar 5781 / Monday, May 10, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bamidbar
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Statistics and Miracles    

Statistics and Miracles

When it comes to the miracles of Jewish history, statisticians are left clutching their mathematical calculations in one hand while scratching their heads...


The Torah tells us that Sarah was barren, she had no child. (Bereishis 11:30)

That is, "even a place (i.e., a womb) for a child she lacked." (Yevamos 64a)
And she conceived anyhow. What are the chances of THAT? Statistics are much more of an everyday reality than most people know, or even care to know. We wake up each morning based upon them, eat what we do because of them, and even dare to cross the road or drive our cars because of statistics. Whatever risks we are willing to take to live our lives to the fullest we can have statistics built into them, somewhere, somehow. What ARE they anyhow?
STATISTICS: facts or data of a numerical kind, assembled, classified, and tabulated so as to present significant information about a given subject. (Webster's New World dictionary)
For, life can be dangerous, and potential loss is always just around the corner, or so it seems. Thus, as humans who choose to hang onto life and gain, we like to move with a certain amount of certainty. Life in this world, a world we did not design or create, is risky enough as is. So if there is a way to reduce that risk, if not actually then at least psychology, what can go wrong?
Well, for one, statistically-speaking, what are the odds that Creation occurred the way it is taught in the Torah? What are the odds that Noah built an ark and that it really saved him from the Flood as described in Genesis? And what are the statistics on the story of the Exodus, and the chances that the Red Sea really split for the Jewish people, into twelve lanes yet, as recorded in the Five Books of Moses?
The odds are not good. Not good at all.
In fact, if statistical probability was the only reliable determiner of truth, as many swear it is today, there would be no way to believe anything the Torah says (as they would like to believe). But, it turns out, there is another concept at play in the universe:
MIRACLE: an event or action that apparently contradicts known scientific laws, and is hence, thought to be due to supernatural causes, especially an act of G-d. (Ibid.)
Oxymoron's, they are, statistics and miracle. And, what's worse is that history seems to bounce back-and-forth between the two of them. There are times, it seems, when statistical law rules the universe and the future can be predicted with some kind of accuracy if certain causes and effects are known in advance.
And yet, it seems that statistical law is sometimes suspended, and in spite of the natural laws we have come to learn and respect, events happen that seem to fly in their faces. In such situations the scientists and statisticians are left clutching their precise mathematical calculations in one hand while scratching their heads with the other, wondering which rule it was they misunderstood or forgot to take into account. But, of course, they remain ardently hard-pressed to use the "M" word, something that in the world of science can be the equivalent of being sacrilege.
Thus, there are some scientists who try hard to show how NATURALLY miracles, such as the Red Sea splitting for the Jewish people just in time to escape the oncoming and murderous Egyptian army, can occur. And, likewise, there are religionists who try to show just how statistically sound miracles can be, so much so that someone who "reveals" something remarkable whose statistics are not mathematically impressive is called, "on the fringe."
It's as if, all of a sudden, there is an eleventh commandment:
Thou shalt not make a big deal of the support of Torah that is not agreeable to the scientists of your time.
If scientific "laws" are G-dly at all, it is only because they were made by G-d. However, to assume that G-d lives by the same rules, especially when it comes to the Jewish people, is to ignore the main tenet of the Jewish people, that being, as we shall discuss.
Many are the plans of man, but it is the design of G-d that lasts. (Mishlei 19:21)
The funny thing about the Jewish people is that they seem so natural. True, it is remarkable that we are still here, but it's not like Jews walk inches above the ground and snap their fingers to bring about miraculous results in full view of the rest of the world. For the most part, the Jewish nation seems just like the rest of the nations of the world, with differences that seem to work against us, not for us.
That is - an illusion. Anything natural and normal about the Jewish people is a Heavenly trick to maintain the appearance of being natural for the sake of maintaining free-will. For:
. . . The entire reality of the Jewish people is completely above nature . . . Klal Yisroel has no root or foundation in this world. (Sha'arei Leshem, p. 334)
What does this mean? It means that, our Forefathers were conceived supernaturally, as it says in the Talmud:
Rebi Yitzchak said, "Yitzchak Avinu was unable to procreate, as it says, 'And Yitzchak entreated G-d opposite his wife' (Bereishis 25:21). It does not say 'concerning his wife,' but 'opposite his wife.' Inferring from this that both of them were unable to have children . . . Rav Nachman in the name of Rabbah bar Avuhah said, "Our mother Sarah was barren, as it says, 'But Sarah was barren, she had no child' (Bereishis 11:30), that is, even a place (i.e., a womb) for a child she lacked." (Yevamos 64a)
Yet, here we are, descendants of Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, and Ya'akov, Rachel, and also Leah. What are the odds of THAT? Indeed, even our enemies have marveled about the prolonged existence of our people, which, by ALL odds we should have assimilated and intermarried ourselves into oblivion by now (after 3,000 plus years), or wiped out by the hands of our many enemies who have tried countless times over the millennia to exterminate the Jewish people.
True, the Talmud warns that the Jewish people can, as a result of leaving Torah and mitzvos descend into the world of mazel (Shabbos 156b), a more naturally-governed world. This would mean, therefore, that they may find themselves in a world that IS governed by scientific law, and become subject to statistics. But even then, say the Mekubalim, there is still an element of miracle to their survival, though it is far less obvious (people survived for years during the Holocaust on rations on which the average person, could not have survived on for one month).
Thus, what many seem to forget in their rush to please the scientific world or those who worship it, is that even odds as great as 64 trillion to one mean nothing when G-d is that One. If G-d runs the world, maintains it, and orchestrates history, then there is always the potential for the unexpected, the unpredicted to come through. And not just in Hollywood, but also in real life.
For, as the posuk says:
Many are the plans of man, but it is the design of G-d that lasts. (Mishlei 19:21)
In other words, we can THINK we understand Creation and its history, and therefore we BELIEVE that we know what makes sense and what does not make sense, but at the end of the day, we are often quite wrong. This is, for the most part, what the following dialogue means. It took place between Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi and his son who had returned from the brink of death. When the father asked the son what he saw while unconscious, he answered:
"An upside down world. What is up over here is down over there, and the opposite is true as well."
To which the father replied:
"No, my son. In truth, you saw the real world. It is this world that is upside down." (Pesachim 50a)
Thus, G-d warns man:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways. (Yeshayahu 55:8)
Hence, there's no second-guessing G-d.
Pinchas Winston is the author of over 95 books on various topics that deal with current issues from a traditional Jewish perspective. He has also written on the weekly Torah reading since 1993, called Perceptions, as well as on current topics and trends affecting Jewish history, past and present. One of his missions is to make the depth and beauty of the more mystical teachings of Torah understandable and accessible to those who can really benefit from them. Visit his website at thirtysix.org.


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