The Crash of the Heavens – the Miracle of Flight 1549

The Crash of the Heavens.
The Power, Mercy and Wisdom of the Almighty Creator and the Miracle of Flight 1549.

by Dovid Zechariah Schwartz
Dovid Schwartz is writing now at the Zeh Journal

The miracle of Flight 1549, the US Airways jet that had both engines knocked out by birds and safely landed on the Hudson River, saved not only the lives of all 150 passengers and 5 crew members aboard. In a spectacular suspension of the laws of probability and nature, the jet avoided one of our deepest fears: it did not collide with any of the hundreds upon hundreds of densely-populated buildings surrounding Manhattan Island, greater New York City and eastern New Jersey.

But more than that, in a very real sense, it drove home a stunning portrait of the power and mercy of the Almighty Creator.

Governor David Paterson rightly declared the event a miracle. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg credited the “masterful” control of the aircraft displayed by the pilot. These two statements aren’t contradictory.

Mr. Sullenberger, a pilot who has flown for almost three decades for United Airlines, and a retired military fighter pilot, deserves great praise for his heroism. He demonstrated consummate skill in guiding the troubled plane to safety. But the skill of the pilot alone does not fully account for this salvation.

The Almighty G-d acts to imbue human beings with added awareness, control and coolness of mind. These traits are something that a trained fighter pilot like Mr. Chesley Sullenberger III had the ability to access, in general, but they are by no means generated by the intrinsic nature of the pilot himself. The Almighty Creator acts through human beings by giving added awareness to those who are worthy of helping Him carry out His great designs.

There is the skill that allowed Mr. Sullenberger to safely land the plane. But behind that, there was the will of the Almighty Creator Who allowed Mr. Sullenberger to use his full gifts of skill and control. And even more stunning, it was the will of the Almighty that the whole situation should have unfolded in such a shocking manner. Many people were left scratching their heads, saying, “Two birds can take out a plane’s engine?” The calamity, the disaster, and the threat all show the Almighty’s power.

We might understand the involvement of the Divine influence through human beings in the following manner. Human consciousness itself is bounded, and the ability to perceive danger and respond appropriately takes an enormous influx of awareness that, sadly, is not granted to many people on a constant basis. The ability to perceive danger, and to respond appropriately, is often generated by the desire and initiative of each human being himself. One who seeks to deepen his understanding of the world is rewarded by the Almighty Creator with greater insight and understanding. Those who do not stir themselves to seek understanding are often left the passive victims of the the winds of fate and chance.

With that said, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on two important lessons of faith that we can take from the miracle of Flight 1549. The first is the supreme power, and the second is the loving mercy of the Almighty Creator.

First, we see G-d’s power, from the way He was able to take out the plane in such an extraordinary fashion. Many people first suspected terrorism was involved in the downing of the airliner. It seemed laughable that such a sleek, powerful tool of technology can be rendered completely useless by a flock of geese. But whatever He wants to do, the Almighty G-d makes it happen. G-d has many messengers, and He may bring an event through the hands of terrorists, or through the flight of a couple of Canadian geese if He chooses.

Second, we can see from this miracle the mercy of the Creator, that G-d cares about human beings. Human life is valuable in His eyes, and He can sometimes perform miracles to interrupt the order of nature to protect and save human beings.

This salvation is also a rebuke to pagans who hold that the world is merely a collection of intermingling, independent forces. Pagans (and their modern-day offspring, atheists and secularists) view human beings as the pinnacle of all creation and pretend that man is free to engage at his leisure in taking up whatever powers that suit his fancy. Alternatively, other dogmas hold that the world is a fixed, monolithic block of powers where even the Almighty Gd Himself is powerless to intervene, G-d forbid, to save human beings.

The ability of the Almighty Creator to suspend the laws of probability and the raging forces of nature demonstrates His supreme power over all other forces.

Not only the power of the Almighty Creator was displayed when He interrupted the natural order to save Flight 1549. Also, the love of the Almighty Creator for human beings was displayed by His great mercy in saving every passenger, down to an infant in its mothers arms.

The fact that the Almighty Creator cared enough about human beings to save each and every passenger and crew member from death, against the natural order of the world, deals a sharp rebuke to ruthless religious extremists who give little value to human life as they try to advance their ideological and political goals. The vicious pretense of “suicide bombings” and calls for martyrdom in the name of radical religion shows how little these extremists value human life. People who claim that they are acting on behalf of G-d when they intentionally murder and hide themselves behind unarmed civilians are liars and frauds of the most sinister type.

It may be no coincidence that the day this miracle fell on was also the day it was announced that one of the dark masters of violence and bloodshed, one of the top commanders of the Hamas terrorist organization, Said Siam, his name should rot, was wiped off the earth by soldiers for the State of Israel in Gaza. This man championed a philosophy of brute force, bloodshed and uncompromising resistance at any cost. Callous disrespect for human life was evident by his planned attacks, and his cowardly hiding behind, unarmed civilians.

Because the world is interconnected, and all under the guidance and direction of the One G-d, in this writer’s opinion, a military victory that advances the cause of safety, accountability, justice and stability for civilization can have massive ripple effects in strengthening the Divine human spirit in every person, throughout the world. These miracles increase the sum total of salvations in the world, and we hope it may bring us a little closer to behold the ultimate in salvations, when the whole earth is united in cooperation and mutual self-interest guided by a recognition of the power and mercy of Almighty Creator and an acceptance of His wisdom in the authority of His laws.

Sadly enough, the inspiration of miracles dissipates quickly. Every person who was moved by this stirring event should turn this inspiration into action. Now is the time to take out a book, do an internet search, or talk to a reliable authority about deeping our own relationship with the Almighty Creator. The Almighty G-d has entrusted the laws that bind all mankind, called the Seven Laws of Noah, for safekeeping to the faithful Jewish people (also known as “Orthodox” Jews. These laws for all the nations are a separate set of laws from the 613 that bind the Jewish people themselves.

Throughout their history, the Jewish people have focused mainly on learning and elucidating the laws appliable to them alone. But every human being has a share in joining in a robust investigation and dialogue about the ways in which the Almighty Creator expects all people to conduct ourselves, in the laws that form the universal standard for all mankind. Why let this miracle fly by, when we can use the opportunity to reach back up to G-d and invite Him to come into our own lives as well?

20 comments on “The Crash of the Heavens – the Miracle of Flight 1549

  1. I could be wrong but I think that the Tanna (Rav Chaninan ben Dosa IIRC)who said with perfect emotional integrity “He who spoke so that oil shall combust will speak so that vinegar will combust” either A. Was completely undazzeled by miracles or B. Was completely dazzeled by nature.

  2. But it is the rare human in the here and now world who has/maintains this consciousness.

    The point has also been made that all G-d does is for the best. Yet in this world we say dayan Haemes when confronted with apparent “bad” tidings. I daresay that even Nachum Ish Gamzu did not say Hatov V’Hametiv when his parents died. (absent inheritance).

    IMO the point of the Ramban that both Mark and I use to advance our arguments is to move us towards thsi consciousness. But miracles would either lack the capacity to do so or would be superflous to an audience that had intellectually AND emotionally arrived at the miraculous=the natural equation.

  3. Is there no difference between consistent will of G-d as he reveals it to the percievers (i.e. nature AKA hidden miracles) and the imposition of a non-constant will of G-d (openmiracles)on that order?

  4. I offered the possibility that miracles and non-miracles differ in the way we perceive them, but not necessarily intrinsically. That would cause a person to say the beracha on a miracle when he perceives a miracle, and not otherwise.

  5. Mark-

    Shkoyach for the Mareh Mekomos.

    I’ll bl”n try and look some up before I continue commenting.

  6. This is precisely the Ramban I was referencing as well.

    My point is that , if I understand the Ramban correctly (IIRC it is where he speaks at lengthabout the centrality of Yetzias Mitzrayim) that it takes thge FAITH in “great and public miracles” to raise our consciousness to the point where we see the hand of G-d in “the hidden miracles” and believe in reward and punishment in spite of the veil of theodicy.

    But the way most folks are using the word “miracle” to describe what happened on the Hudson undermines this very Ramban because it degrades the word to simply mean something highly improbable that happened. I’m sure Jihadists consider 9.11 a miracle but unlike most secular media trumpeting the miracler on the Hudson the Jihadists saw the hand of G-d, wheras we see just an unusually skilled pilot.

  7. Here is one Ramban on Shemos 13:16

    From the great and public miracles a man recognizes the hidden miracles, which are the foundation of the entire Torah, for a man has no part in the Torah of Moshe our teacher unless he believes that all our things and occurrences are all miracles and have no nature or the way of the world in them, whether communally or individually, but rather, if he fulfills the mitzvot his reward will bring him success, and if he transgresses them his punishment will cut him off – everything by the decree of the Most High.

    Here is one link which deals with this Ramban. Of course there has been much written on it.

    Rabbi Eidensohn in his amazing work Daas Torah has many sources on the nature of miracles. Here are a few.

    Programmed into Nature from Creation
    Avos (5:6)
    Rambam on Avos (5:6)
    Rambam (Shemona Perakim #8)
    Rabbeinu Bachaye (Avos 5:8)
    Bereishis Rabbah (5:5)

    Transcend Nature
    Rabbeinu Bachaye (Bamidbar 33:1)
    Ramban (Shemos 13:16)
    Ramban (Devarim 6:2)
    Ramban (Bereishis 17:1)

    My own viewpoint is colored by Rabbi Tatz’s treatment of the subject in Worldmask which is based on Rabbi Dessler which is based on the Ramban.

  8. Since HaShem directs the world at all times in whichever way He chooses, does a miracle differ intrinsically from a non-miracle,

    What do you have in mind when you make the brakha of She-asa nisim? (for me the one we make on Purim is more difficult to undersatnd than the one we make on Chanukah)

    Also if I’m getting your argument then we ought to make the brakha of “she-asa lee nes b’makom HaZeh” anywhere and everywhere we go.

    It would seem to me that the centrality of the exodous from Egypt in Judaism becomes somewhat less if this is the way we are to look at things. Or maybe it is davka the centrality of the exodous from Egypt in Judaism that fostered your hashkafa???

  9. Which Ramban are you referring to?

    As for my definition
    A. I may be wrong
    B. I may be contradicted by Rishonim or Achronim
    C. If apprised of these shitos I will bl”n try my level best to revise my own.
    D. My definition of Nes Nigleh is some occurance that defies the laws of nature and physics. It is the superimposition of a higher order upon the natural order. E.g. the parting of the Sea of Reeds, The oil of Chanuka lasting for 8 days, The conception and birth of Yitzchok Avinu, the way Eliyahu HaNavi left this world.

  10. Since HaShem directs the world at all times in whichever way He chooses, does a miracle differ intrinsically from a non-miracle, or is the difference only in our perception? Our association of “natural law” with a phenomenon comes from the phenomenon’s evident predictability. However, that predictability and that “natural law” could simply be HaShem’s way of setting the stage for our moral free choice.

  11. R’ Chaim – How do you understand the Ramban’s view of miracles?

    What is your definition of miracle?

    Do you believe that your definition is the last word or do you think there is room in Jewish thought for more than one view on this subject?

  12. What really rankles is that the imprecise language feeds the Qefira that “open” miracles are myths and fairy tales. There are millions of Jews out there who believe that the Biblical account of the parting of the Sea of Reeds (if it happened at all) was the confluence of a “perfect storm” of perfectly natural causes, an earthquake combined with a hurricane, or a perfectly timed Tsunami et al. For such folks any historical miracle for which no natural cause or confluence of causes can be found is, by definition, ahistorical. When you begin to call the highly improbable (yet natural) miraculous then you begin to doubt the historicity and future coming of the truly miraculous impossible.

  13. or we can say that there is no natural order and everything is miraculous.

    Not sure I agree. Everything is G-d directed, everything in Providential. But NOT everything is miraculous.

    Is there no qualitative difference between present day Jews escaping unharmed from Qassam attacks and ancient Jews emerging unscathed from the Sea of Reeds?

  14. Miracle is, of course, a misnomer.

    No laws of nature were superceded in the landing of the plane nor in the rescuing of the passengers. No one’s rational sensibilities were hurt in the making of this miracle. But as we live in an era that is skeptical of the supranational we have come to use the word “miracle” imprecisely. While a miracle means to do the impossible we use the word to mean doing the highly improbable. Thus the near-miraculous becomes, presto, change-o : the miraculous.

    And while Sully himself would be hard-pressed to repeat his derring-do, rapid cool decision making and aviation virtuosity a second time, the ease with which we throw around the “M” word is a sad commentary on our society.

    What we REALLY found highly improbable was the competency and personal bravery that informed the safe landing and rescue of US Air flight 1049. That people in positions of great responsibility and that equipment and machinery should actually work as they were assigned and designed to is shocking and, in our expectations, improbable to the point of near impossibility.

  15. From a Torah point of view, we can view everything as within a G-d created natural order or we can say that there is no natural order and everything is miraculous.

    When we talk about natural order from a secular point of view, where we draw the line between what is natural and what is not is somewhat arbitrary especially for relatively infrequent events, like plane crashes.

    Even for those who agree that this was beyond the natural order, if it happened 2 more times in the next month then they would probably change their opinion of whether it is within the natural order.

    The Sunday NY Times had a good article on risk which touched on these subjects. Just because something didn’t happen or usually doesn’t, doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. How to assign risk to these types of events is a matter of intense debate in the post-financial crash world.

  16. In case I wasn’t clear above, I’m not convinced that the natural order was violated, but, nonetheless, see it as a revelation of HaShem acting in our world.

  17. 1. This article says that “Not only the power of the Almighty Creator was displayed when He interrupted the natural order to save Flight 1549.” How do we know that this was a true interruption of the natural order? Looking at any each individual aspect of this event, we have reason to say that no “natural law” was violated, but, looking at the whole, we see HaShem at work in dramatic fashion. HaShem sends powerful messages even through nature and even in everyday life.

    2. This is a minor point, but each engine was probably hit by multiple geese, as opposed to one per engine.

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