Making Sense of the Sedra: if God undertakes miracles, what is the point of human action?

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

Making Sense of the Sedra: if God undertakes miracles, what is the point of human action?

In our thought-provoking new series, rabbis and rebbetzins relate the week’s parsha to the way we live today

In this week’s sedra Tzav we read about the offerings brought to the Temple, and the one that was totally consumed, the Olah. But immediately we are told: ‘Each morning, the priest shall kindle wood on [the altar]… Thus, there shall be a constant fire kept burning on the altar, without being extinguished.’ (Leviticus 6:5-6)

So far, very much about human action. It seems that there is a commandment to keep fire on the altar by a daily placing of wood. The Talmud (Tractate Yoma 21b) states that ‘Even though fire came down from the Heavens, there is a commandment that a human should bring’.

Sefer HaChinuch, a 13th century compendium of the commandments, explains that there is something positive about miracles being carried out by God in a way that would be perceived as ‘hidden’ by people, rather than ‘open’. For example, the splitting of the Red Sea was a great miracle, but may have been experienced in natural terms such as a strong wind parting the sea.

This makes me think of the Talmudic concept that one ‘should not rely on a miracle’ (Shabbat 32a). We are a religion that is anchored in a belief in God and his ongoing involvement in the world, alongside our own efforts to build a better world. We do so by observing the mitzvot and bringing the values of the Torah to the world. This is why, for example, God asks Moses to ‘go’ into the Red Sea after a short prayer, rather than awaiting reliance on a miracle to save the Children of Israel.

And so with our growing Climate Crisis. An approach based on belief in miracles might say that God would not allow His world to be destroyed, and will miraculously save it. But we too must not rely on miracles. Like Moses, we need to pray alongside taking action to protect our planet, bringing Jewish values to the fore in doing so. Campaigns such as the United Synagogue’s Dorot ‘phasing out disposables’ campaign and the Board of Deuptie’s EcoSynagogue initiative enable us to be part of protecting our world.

Even avoiding single use plastics and other disposables in our home, our place of work and our community is significant from a Jewish perspective. This week the United Synagogue’s head office and nearly a third of US shuls have gone disposables-free or have committed to do so as part of the Dorot initiative and I commend them for doing so.

This recognises the very real responsibility we have for the future of humanity. These small acts may counter the feel of disillusionment borne by the question ‘what difference can I make?’ Eschewing disposables is a role we can play in protecting God’s creation.


Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.