"The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.'" - Leviticus 1:7
The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra, which means "and He called," from Leviticus 1:1-5:26, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 43:21-44:23.
In this week's Torah reading, as we learn about the worship services, we are told that the priests were required to daily light a fire on the altar where the sacrifices were made. However, we know from Jewish tradition that, in fact, a fire came straight from heaven in order to consume each and every sacrifice offered by the Israelites. Why was it necessary to light a fire when the fire would come anyway from God?
The Jewish sages explain that "we don't rely on miracles." We must do things for ourselves.
Similarly, tradition tells us that the High Priest never once became unfit for service on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. And yet, every year, for hundreds of years, an assistant was assigned to the High Priest just in case something happened that would make him unfit or unable to perform this crucial service. Again, the sages explain, "We don't rely on miracles."
Although, according to Jewish tradition, there were no less than 10 miracles that occurred in the Temple every day, we are warned over and over not to rely upon them. Yet, in so many other places in Scripture, we are taught to believe in miracles. Moreover, we are encouraged to anticipate God's miracles in our lives. We are directed to place our full trust in God and rely only upon Him, not in man. So what are the sages trying to teach us by telling us that "we don't rely on miracles"?
This really is another way of saying, "We don't take miracles for granted." By doing their part, the priests were demonstrating that while they fully relied upon God and believed in His abilities, they didn't take them (or Him) for granted for even one moment. There was no sense of entitlement or ingratitude for God's daily miracles.
Today, we may not have the miracles of the Temple worship, but there are plenty of miracles in our lives. Our health is a miracle as is our healing from illness. Our relationships and marriages are miracles. Our daily sustenance is a miracle from God. Still, while we may receive these miracles daily, we are required to do our part in making these realities manifest in our lives.
"We don't rely on miracles" means that we acknowledge the miracles in our lives and realize that they are God-given gifts. We hope and anticipate that we will continue to receive these blessings from God, but we do not demand them or take them for granted. We appreciate them anew every single day of our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President