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Torah Attitude: Parashas Bo: The nature of miracles and the miracles of nature
December 23, 2007
Why does G'd hide from us? Prior to the exodus of the Jewish people, most people had forgotten about G'd. If anyone 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. It is incredible that Jews all over the world all tell 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 to make it 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?
We may sometimes wonder why does G'd hide from us? If only we could see miracles today, as at the time of the exodus from Egypt, surely we would all be closer to G'd.
A certain gentleman once asked Rabbi Israel Salanter this question. Rabbi Salanter knew that the man's daughter had recently graduated from the local Music Conservatory after many years of piano study and had received her certificate. He requested that the man bring his daughter 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 somewhat insulted. She respectfully questioned why it was necessary for her to prove what she had accomplished. She would rather just produce her certificate that confirmed her musical abilities. Rabbi Salanter agreed, and after looking at it he held the certificate in front of the man and said, "G'd also has a certificate. We do not need to ask G'd to produce miracles on a daily basis. We just have to remember the miracles at the exodus from Egypt.
Lest we forget
Prior to the exodus of the Jewish people from the slavery in Egypt, most people had forgotten about G'd, or at least minimized G'd's participation in their daily events. Some people had developed a theory that totally denied G'd's existence, and they believed that the world had evolved on its own. Others believed that G'd existed, but not that He concerned Himself with the mundane activities of the world. Still, there were some who believed that G'd knew all events, but that He did not supervise every detail, nor did He reward and punish.
The Ramban at the end of this week's portion (Shemos 13:16) points out the significance of the ten plagues and the exodus from Egypt. These miraculous events offer many reminders that refute the opinions of those who seek to deny G'd's existence, or at least to minimize His relationship with the daily activities of the world. First of all, G'd notified Moses in a prophetic vision that He would reveal Himself to the world at the time of the exodus from Egypt. Since Moses informed Pharaoh of this publicly, it established the truth of prophecy and of the Torah later given through Moses. Afterwards, when G'd punished the Egyptians with the ten plagues it became 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. Even more, the selection of the type of plagues illustrated that G'd was in full control of all the elements, earth, air, water and fire. Right till today if anyone has forgotten or requires proof that G'd is the Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the universe, the exodus from Egypt is G'd's certificate.
The Passover Seder has always held a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people. G'd commanded us to discuss in great detail the exodus from Egypt and to transmit this event to our children and all future generations. This is what we do at the Passover Seder. Most Jews, even if they do not observe many of the Torah commandments they still participate in a Seder. The same applies to circumcision. These two commandments are unique. The Torah instructs us of different punishments for transgressions of prohibitions. In general, there are no punishments for not observing a positive commandment. Only by these two commandments do we find that the Torah prescribes a punishment for refraining to fulfill them. Since the Temple has not yet been rebuilt, we cannot bring the Passover Offering. Instead, we place a shank bone on our Seder plate. No matter how far someone has strayed, most Jews still connect with G'd and their heritage through circumcision and the Passover Seder. These commandments actually connect us all into one nation. It is incredible to think about how Jews all over the world, including secluded communities in Yemen and India, share the four cups of wine, the matzah and marror, and tell over the exact same story of the exodus from Egypt, year after year!
It is so essential to the Jewish people to remember the exodus from Egypt that G'd provided us with many commandments that remind us of the exodus. In this way it becomes part of our daily lives. It is included in 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", concludes the Ramban, "one 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. The Torah teaches us that whatever happens to us, both as individuals and as a nation, everything 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. It is difficult for us to imagine 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 will wake up from their sleep in the cemeteries, it will be just as "natural". The difference is that spring happens every year, but the resurrection of the dead will only happen once. Every miracle is an expression of the will of G'd. This applies both to the open miracles and to the hidden ones. The difference is only 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. As they came to the fertile lands, the young generation gazed with astonishment at the variety of plants growing in 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 and used to bake bread. They cried out, "This is a miracle; who ever heard of bread growing in the ground!" For forty years, G'd fed the Jewish people manna from heaven. Those who had been born and brought up in the wilderness did not perceive manna as a miracle. But seeing plants growing out of the ground for the first time in their lives, that was a miracle.
When G'd brought the Jewish people out of Egypt, He demonstrated for all time that He is the sovereign and absolute power with 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.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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