Miracles are What you Make of Them

Interpreting Talmudic Concepts with my Own Stories

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

In Eastern Canada, where I was born and lived most of my life, November is a bleak month. After the brief autumn blaze of color, the trees have lost all their leaves, the skies are grey after the morning darkness, and snow has not yet come to whiten the landscape. People in Canada tend to get somewhat depressed in November. I used to alleviate these feelings by creating a beautiful image for myself: The trees were simply waiting, their bare branches upraised, to receive the snow that would fall in December. “Everything is waiting for to be hallowed by man,” Simon Noveck explains, capturing the essence of Martin Buber’s philosophy. This is how Buber felt about the relationship between God, man, and nature. And, in the final analysis, that is what hope is all about, having faith in this relationship.

Long before the technology of the internet helped anyone with a computer, tablet, or smart phone to understand what it means to be “connected,” the Jewish tradition understood that interaction. It understood that everything in creation, every action, is inter-related, and that in the spring, new shoots would come. The bare branches would have leaves again.

Faith is the flame that keeps hope alive. The Jewish religion is the story of that faith, that hope. Talmudic stories can reinforce these beliefs. The ancient rabbis understood that the ability to maintain hope in the direst of circumstances helped the Jewish people to survive. They realized that, without maintaining hope, the Jewish people would not have survived as Am Yisrael, the Jewish people.  Against the background of the destruction of the temple, the death of large numbers of Jews through catastrophic revolt, and the loss of many others to exile, the rabbis tried to pinpoint the specific point at which one abandons or does not abandon hope. With its usual precision, the Talmud tries to answer that question. The rabbis even considered whether one could abandon hope retroactively. It is also possible to consider the abandonment of hope proleptic (something held in the imagination, not in reality) rather than retroactive, at least at the time one assumes the eventual loss of hope in the future.

Rabbinic narratives stimulate thinking. Their innate creativity tends to beget new creativity: learning derived from them may be applied in original ways. It is with this thought in mind that I offer several of my own stories, inspired by Talmudic concepts, in a series of future posts. These stories appeared originally in my Master’s thesis about finding hope in the aggadic narratives of the Talmud.

© Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2015. All rights reserved.