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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bo: The nature of miracles and the miracles of nature
Why does G'd hide from us? The miracles of the exodus from Egypt are G'd's certificate. Prior to the exodus of the Jewish people, most of the nations had forgotten about G'd. To anyone who forgot or requires proof that G'd is the Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the universe, the exodus from Egypt is G'd's certificate to satisfy their concerns. It is incredible that Jews all over the world have continued to tell over the exact same story of the exodus from Egypt, year after year! G'd provided us with many commandments that remind us of the exodus so as to make it a part of our daily lives. Everything in life is a miracle. We call it "nature" because it appears to us to be "natural". After forty years, the manna from heaven was no longer perceived as a miracle. All we need to do is to open our eyes to the miracles that surround us.
Why does G'd hide from us?
In these weeks' Torah portions, we read about the miracles of the ten plagues and the exodus from Egypt. We may wonder why does G'd hide from us? If only we could see miracles today, surely we would all be closer to G'd, would we not?
The story is told about a man who asked similar questions to Rabbi Israel Salanter. Knowing that the man's daughter had recently graduated from many years of piano study and had received her certificate, the Rabbi requested the man to bring her into the room to participate in the conversation. Somewhat perplexed, the man called his daughter. When she entered the room, the Rabbi congratulated her on completing her studies and requested her to demonstrate her abilities. The daughter was insulted. She respectfully questioned why it was necessary for her to prove what she had accomplished. She ran to produce her certificate confirming her graduation. Rabbi Salanter held the certificate in front of the man and said, "Rather than asking G'd to produce miracles on a daily basis, remember the miracles and the exodus from Egypt. That is G'd's certificate."
Lest we forget
Prior to the exodus of the Jewish people from the slavery in Egypt, most of the nations had forgotten about G'd, or at least minimized G'd's participation in daily events. Some people developed a theory that totally denied G'd's existence and they believed that the world evolved on its own (sound familiar?). Others believed that G'd existed, but not that He concerned Himself with the mundane activities of the world. Still, there were other nations who believed that G'd knew all events, but they believed that He did not supervise every detail, and did not reward and punish.
The Ramban points out that the Miracles of the ten plagues and the exodus from Egypt offer many reminders to refute the opinions of the other nations that seek to minimize G'd's relationship with the daily activities of everyone in the world. G'd announced to Moses in advance that He would reveal Himself to the world at the time of the exodus from Egypt. When G'd used the ten plagues to punish the Egyptians, it was clear to any objective observer that G'd was actively involved in the daily activities of the world, including the disposition of reward and punishment. Furthermore, the selection of the type of plagues illustrated that G'd was in full control of all the elements, earth, air, water and fire. To anyone who forgot or required proof that G'd is the Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the universe, the exodus from Egypt is G'd's certificate to satisfy their concerns.
The Passover Seder has always held a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people. G'd commanded us once a year to discuss in great detail the exodus from Egypt and to transmit this memory to our children and all future generations. This we do at the Passover Seder. Most Jews, even if they do not keep many of the Torah commandments, they still participate in a Seder. We only find two times in the Torah where premature death is the prescribed punishment for refraining to fulfill a positive mitzvah: one concerns the Passover Offering, the other concerns circumcision. Since our Temple has not yet been rebuilt, our means to remember the Passover Offering is to place a shank bone on our Seder plate. No matter how far we may have strayed, most Jews still connect with G'd and their heritage through circumcision and the Passover Seder. It is incredible that Jews all over the world, including secluded communities in Yemen and India, have continued to share the four cups of wine, the matzah and marror, and to tell over the exact same story of the exodus from Egypt, year after year!
Remembering the exodus from Egypt is so essential to the Jewish people that G'd provided us with many commandments that remind us of the exodus so as to make it a part of our daily lives. It is part of the Torah portion contained in tefillin and mezuzahs, and we mention it when we say the Shema. In addition, we remember the exodus from Egypt at Kiddush every Shabbos and Festival.
From the great and famous miracles at the exodus from Egypt (including the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Manna and Clouds of Glory for forty years in the desert, and the giving of the Torah) the Ramban concludes, we should realize that everything in life is a miracle. Some miracles, like those at the exodus from Egypt are open and obvious. Other miracles are hidden and shrouded in the mantle of nature. We, as Jews, are obligated to believe that whatever happens to us as individuals or as a nation is a miracle.
One of the basic beliefs of Judaism is that at the end of days, the dead will be resurrected. Of course, this will be one of the biggest miracles of all time. Most of us may have difficulty imagining how this miracle will take place. However, every year in the springtime, we witness a miracle that many of us take for granted. As the sun begins to melt the snow, the bulbs buried the previous fall awaken from their sleep and blossom and bloom with the spectacular colours of life. We are so accustomed to this annual event that we forget that this rebirth every spring is nothing but a miracle. We call it "nature" because it appears to us to be "natural". But at the end of days, when the dead wake up from their sleep in the cemeteries, this is just as "natural". The difference is that spring happens every year, but the resurrection of all of the dead will only happen once. A miracle is the expression of the will of G'd. Open miracles and hidden miracles are both expressions of the will of G'd. The difference is how frequent do they occur.
Manna and plants
The Chasam Sofer presents us with a picture of how the Jews may have reacted when they entered the land of Israel after wandering in the desert for forty years. When they entered the fertile lands, the Jewish people gazed with astonishment at the variety of plants growing out of the ground. They inquired as to what were the long thin strands blowing in the wind. They were told it was wheat that is ground into flour that is used to bake bread. They cried out "it's a miracle; bread grows out from the ground!" For forty years, G'd fed the Jewish people manna from heaven. After forty years, the manna from heaven was no longer perceived as a miracle. Seeing plants growing out of the ground for the first time in their lives, this was a miracle.
When G'd brought the Jewish people out of Egypt, He demonstrated for all time the He is the sovereign with absolute power and control over every detail of existence in the universe. The exodus from Egypt was G'd's certificate to remind us that G'd continually supervises every event forever. If we require more evidence of G'd's involvement in our lives, all we need to do is to open our eyes to the miracles that surround us. G'd wants to be a part of our everyday lives; it is up to us to let Him in.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network