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Torah Attitude: Parashas Terumah: Open and hidden miracles
From time to time, G'd opens up a little window and allows us to see that He is still there. "G'd favours the ones who fear Him, those who long for His kindness." G'd will punish the nations of the world for their evil and wrongdoings, but at the same time He uses their punishment as a reminder for His chosen people. By the plague of the wild animals G'd made a point of showing how He is in control of nature. "Woe to the person who meets up with a poisonous snake. And woe to the poisonous snake who meets up with Rabbi Chanina ben Dossa." The purpose of open miracles is to remind us about the daily hidden miracles that are shrouded in the laws of nature.
Open a little window
In the beginning of this week's parasha (Shemos 25:1-8), it says, "And G'd said to Moses … speak to the children of Israel … And they shall make a Sanctuary for Me." Throughout the Jewish people's sojourn in the wilderness they camped around the Tabernacle. Thus the Tabernacle was literally the central point of their lives. After they entered the land of Israel, the Tabernacle was mostly in Shiloh. Later, King David brought the Tabernacle to Jerusalem. His son, King Solomon, finally built the Temple to replace the Tabernacle as the permanent residence of G'd's glory upon earth. This Temple lasted for 420 years till it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Seventy years later, the Jewish people got permission from Cyrus, the King of Persia, to build the Second Temple which lasted for 410 years. These sanctuaries were above the laws of nature. As the Mishnah states: (Pirkei Avos 5:7) "Ten miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Holy Temple". Since the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, G'd hides behind a veil of nature. As it says (Devarim 31:16-17) "And this people will rise and stray after the idols of the land … and it will forsake Me … And My anger will flare up against it on that day, and I will forsake them and I will hide My face from them …" However, even when G'd makes it look like He has forsaken us, He will, from time to time, open up a little window and allow us to see that He is still there behind the "Wall" (see Shir HaShirim 2:9), watching over us at the same time as he conceals His face from us. Such a window was opened during the Six Days' War when the Israeli soldiers experienced one miraculous event after another. And such windows are opened every Shemitah year.
In last week's Torah Attitude: Parashas Mishpatim: Greater than angels, we mentioned that there is an abundance of amazing stories how individual Shemitah observers experienced miraculous events. Below is a story as related by "The Tamar Yonah Show" - Tamar Yonah, Arutz Sheva (January 2008). If you would like to see the original story and view some pictures, please go to the following website: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Blogs/Message.aspx/2545.
"A completely secular farmer whose produce is bananas decided that he would undertake to keep Shmitah this time around. He approached the Keren HaShviis [a fund established by Agudath Israel of America to assist Shemitah observing farmers] for assistance and they stipulated that he would be registered in their program if he would also undertake to be personally Shomer Shabbos throughout Shmitah. He agreed, and Keren HaShviis undertook to cover all his farming expenses. In return, all the produce would become the property of Otzar Beis Din and would be distributed in full accordance with Halacha.
Israel has suffered a significant cold spell over the past 2 to 3 weeks. Bananas don't like cold. Cold doesn't like bananas. Needless to say, they don't get along. When bananas are still growing and get hit with frost, they turn brown and become rock-solid hard.
The hero of our story, Gibor Koach [strong warrior - see Tehillim 103:20 and Yalkut Shimoni ibid] the banana farmer, knew he was in deep trouble when the relentless cold hadn't let up for over a week. He lived a distance from his orchard and hadn't yet seen the damage with his own eyes. He began to receive calls from his neighbor farmers, who have orchards bordering his, complaining bitterly that their entire banana crop had been destroyed by the frost. He decided it was time to inspect the damage up close, no matter how painful it may be.
He drove up close to Tverya (Tiberius) to inspect his orchard, as well as those of his neighboring farmers. As he passed from one orchard to another, he was overwhelmed by the damage. Not a single fruit had survived, no tree was spared. His neighbors took quite a beating. All the bananas were brown, hard as a rock. He could only imagine how bad his trees must have gotten it.
Yet when he finally got to his orchard, he was awestruck! ALL of his bananas were yellow and green. It's as if his orchard was not part of this parcel of land. His orchard bordered those of his neighbors, but not a single tree of his was struck by the frost. It's as if a protective wall kept the damage away. At first he thought he was imagining it, and as he rushed from one section of his orchard to another, the realization that more than the farmer keeps the Shmitah, the Shmitah keeps the farmer hit home.
He immediately called his contacts at Keren HaShviis and yelled into the phone, "Karah Nes, Karah Nes!" (A miracle happened, a miracle happened!) A miraculous modern-day manifestation of "V'Tzivisi Es HaBracha" ["And I shall ordain a blessing."- see Vayikra 25:21]. There is no way to explain this other than that HaKodesh Baruch Hu [G'd] keeps His promises. He says keep Shmitah, and I'll take care of you. He sure does!
G'd is stricter with His chosen people than with any other nation in the world. He chastises us to ensure that we do not stray away from the Torah and its commandments. This is how G'd has conducted Himself ever since we became a nation. As it says, (Devarim 8:5) "You shall know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so will HASHEM your G'd chastise you." We do find that G'd will punish the nations of the world for their evil and wrongdoings, but at the same time He will use their punishment as a reminder for us. As the Prophet Zephaniah (3:6) says "I have wiped out nations, have made desolate their high towers, I have destroyed their marketplaces … laid their towns empty … I said fear Me learn a lesson …"
This is what happened in Egypt prior to the exodus. As it says (Shemos 10:1-2) "And G'd said to Moses, 'Come to Pharaoh because I have made his heart hard … so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst [and punish him and his nation]. And in order that you will tell in the ears of your son and your grandson how I made a mockery of Egypt … and so that you know that I am G'd." By the plague of the wild animals G'd showed how He controls nature and only let the plague hit where it belonged. As G'd instructed Moses to say to Pharaoh (Shemos 8:18) "And on that day I shall set apart the land of Goshen upon which My people stands that there should be no wild animals there. So that you shall know that I am G'd in the midst of the land. And I shall make a distinction between My people and your [Pharaoh's] people."
Not the snake but the sin
This distinction is not necessarily between one nation and another. Rather, it is a distinction between those who follow the words of G'd and those who do not. The Talmud (Berachos 33a) relates that once a poisonous snake was loose and bit people. Someone came to the great sage, Rabbi Chanina ben Dossa, and told him about the dangerous snake. He asked to be shown the hole where the snake habited and put his heal on top to block the hole. It did not take long for the snake to come and bite him. Lo and behold immediately the snake died. The Rabbi put the dead snake on his shoulder and brought it to the House of Study. As he entered, he gathered his disciples and said to them, "My children, look, it is not the snake that kills. It is the sin that kills." After that instance it became a common saying "Woe to the person who meets up with a poisonous snake. And woe to a poisonous snake who meets up with Rabbi Chanina ben Dossa."
Sins of the righteous
Even righteous people are likely to have sinned in one way or another. As King Solomon says in Koheles (7:20): "For there is no one who is so righteous on earth, that he only does good and never sins." Therefore, even a righteous person would get bitten due to his wrongdoing. However, Rabbi Chanina ben Dossa was in a league of his own. The Talmud (Ta'anis 25a) relates several instances that show how Rabbi Chanina ben Dossa lived on such a high level, that the laws of nature did not affect him.
In general, G'd created the world to be governed by the laws of nature. From time to time, He will allow us to see that these very laws only apply as long as that is the will of G'd. As mentioned above, even nowadays, when G'd in general hides behind the veil of nature, we can sometimes experience open miracles. The Ramban, at the end of Parashas Bo (Shemos 13:16), explains that the purpose of these open miracles is to remind us about the daily hidden miracles that are shrouded in the laws of nature. The truth is, says the Ramban, that both the open and the hidden miracles are manifestations of G'd's will. The Ramban continues that it is a basic tenant of our belief that whatever happens to us are de facto miracles. Both as a community and as individuals our situation is totally dependent on our observance of G'd's commandments. When we follow the commandments, we will succeed. When we do not, we suffer the consequences. Everything, concludes the Ramban, is decided by G'd. Obviously, we do not always see the correlation between a person's observance of the commandments and his success in life, as G'd's rewards and punishments are not always meted out immediately. Nevertheless, when we do experience, or hear about, an open miracle, as happened in the banana orchards in Israel, it definitely is a lesson we should internalize. Just as the neighbouring farmers decided that it is time for them to strengthen their observance of the laws of Shemitah, we can all utilize this opportunity to strengthen our commitment to Torah laws in general.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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