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I Made a Condition with Creation
Moshe stretched his hand over the sea, and toward morning the water returned l'eitano (to its original strength), as the Egyptians were fleeing toward it… (Shemos 14:27)
This is from Nachalas Ya'akov by Rabbeinu Ya'akov of Lissa, Cited in "Trust Me!", p. 381
In a play on words, the Sages interpret the Hebrew word l'eitano as connected to tenai, which means a condition or stipulation. Therefore, the verse exegetically reads: "the water returned to its [original] stipulation [that was made at the time of Creation]." What was this stipulation? That it would split for the Jews (Shemos Rabbah 21:6).
There is an obvious question regarding this Midrash. Shouldn't the derivation for this idea have originated when the sea began to split rather than from the point when the water returned to its natural condition? Moreover, why weren't the rest of the miracles of the Exodus, e.g., the ten plagues, included in this condition made with Creation?
We know that all of Creation was brought into existence for the sake of Israel and the Torah (see Rashi at the beginning of Bereishis). If the sea failed to split, there would be no Israel - the nation that was to receive the Torah. And without Israel and the Torah, Creation would have no purpose and would dissolve into nothingness. Therefore, it was imperative that the sea should split, so that Israel would continue to exist, and with it, the entire world.
The Chovos Ha-Levavos explains that just as a slave is subservient to his master, so too is nature subservient to the Torah. Chazal refer to this subservience as a "condition" or "stipulation" of Creation. This means that in any given situation, nature functions in a way that will guarantee the continued existence of Israel and Torah. According to this, anything necessary for Israel's survival was incorporated into the very fabric of Creation - including things that we would term miraculous.
It turns out that there are two stipulations regarding Creation:
(1) In general, the world will function in a consistent and predictable fashion, according to the laws of nature.
(2) There are exceptions built into the system that allow for it to be abrogated when it is necessary for Israel's survival.
The splitting of the sea is one example of this second stipulation, where an element of Creation functioned in a manner contrary to its normal nature. Indeed, Chazal even tell us that in addition to splitting apart for the Jews, the water pursued the Egyptians wherever they ran, flowing out of its natural boundaries. (This is why the verse states, "as the Egyptians were fleeing toward it." Normally, one flees from something, not toward it! However, when the Egyptians thought they were fleeing the water, they suddenly discovered that it was right in front of them [see Rashi].) It was for this reason that we are not told about the stipulation until the water returned to its normal state. By doing so, the Torah informs us that this normalization was also due to one of the two stipulations of Creation - that the exceptions which operate within the second category not become the permanent state of the world, and that things would return to normal as soon as the danger to Israel passed.
In contrast to all this, there is another category of miracles that has nothing to do with the original stipulation of Creation. Such were the other miracles that accompanied the Exodus from Egypt. Spectacular as they were, they were not necessary for the continued existence of Israel. Rather, their purpose was to demonstrate the power and mastery of Hashem. Therefore, they had no connection to the stipulations of Creation.
We see from the Nachalas Ya'akov's comments that there are two types of miracles. One kind is part and parcel of nature, and follows laws that were established at the start of Creation. Additionally, there are miracles that occur solely due to Hashem's will at the time, and do not follow the laws of Creation.
Act Above Nature
This was heard from R. Yosef Stern, shlita, senior lecturer in Yeshivah Torah Ore, Jerusalem.
Based on the above Nachalas Ya'akov, we can explain a difficult passage in the morning service: "You were always the helper of our forefathers, a shield and savior of their children after them in each generation" (the blessing Ga'al Yisrael). We know that the Patriarchs existed on a much more exalted plane than we, their children, do. Therefore, this blessing would appear to imply that the Almighty's role as helper is of a more sublime nature than His role as shield and savior.
However, in his commentary on the service for the three Festivals, the Vilna Gaon (in Siddur Ha-Gra) seems to say that in fact the opposite is true. Commenting on the wording at the end of the first blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei - "the King who helps, saves, and shields" - the Gaon explains that these three expressions represent three ascending levels of bitachon, and corresponding grades of salvation:
(1) On the first level, a person performs some action to bring about a desired result, and the Almighty helps him accordingly. Here, a person's actions are blessed by God.
(2) On the second level, a person does absolutely nothing, and Hashem saves him. Here, a person is not even required to exert any effort on his own behalf and God blesses him with direct salvation.
(3) On the third and highest level, a person performs an action even though it is against reason. For the Almighty's sake, he exposes himself to risk, and Hashem protects him by neutralizing the danger that threatens him. Here, God protects those who rely upon Him and put themselves in danger for the sanctity of His name.
According to this, "helper" is the lowest level of Divine guidance, representing action within the laws of nature, while "shield and savior" are the highest, being outside of the realm of nature, or even against nature. If so, how can we praise Hashem by saying that He was our forefather's helper and our shield and savior? It would seem that just the opposite should be true! The Patriarchs lived on a totally exalted plane of existence. They had a very vivid image of the spiritual, and Hashem was very close to them. Indeed, we refer to the Almighty as "the shield of Avraham" because Avraham had a profound sense of bitachon - and Hashem reciprocated by revealing Himself to him and performing overt miracles on his behalf. We, on the other hand, are very distant from Hashem, and live in an era of great darkness and hester panim.
The answer is, it's true that our ancestors lived on a very high level and were worthy of Divine assistance in the form of overt miracles. However, even their miracles had a place in nature. Whatever happened to them was within the laws of Creation that dictate the nature of a miracle.
We, however, generally live our lives on a much baser plane than the Patriarchs, living and acting within nature, as if nothing else exists. We are much more attuned to the physical, and our perception of the spiritual is relatively vague in comparison. As a result, we do not merit the quality of Divine supervision experienced by the Patriarchs. However, if we do act in a way that defies the laws of nature, then according to the principle of measure for measure (middah keneged middah) we will correspondingly be accorded Divine supervision that is above the laws of nature.
This is the explanation of the difficulty we pointed out above. Our forefathers lived on a very high spiritual plane. It was natural for them. Therefore, the level of Divine supervision they experienced was within the realm of the natural - for them. We, on the other hand, generally live our lives on a much lower plane. Therefore, we only deserve to be treated with the physical nature we see. However, if we act in a manner outside the laws of nature, on the plane that we would consider supernatural, then the Almighty will reciprocate, and we will receive Divine aid from beyond the laws of nature. Thus the wording of the Ga'al Yisrael blessing is approporiate. For our forefathers, Hashem was a helper, for He dealt with them within the realm of their refined perception of nature. However, our cognition of nature is much more mundane. It is only when we lift ourselves up and act with "supernatural" bitachon that He recompenses us by being our shield and savior. R. Stern then related the following anecdote:
There was a certain person in London who was diagnosed as having an advanced case of cancer. His attending physician told him that the situation was hopeless and that he should conclude his affairs as soon as possible. At the time this man received this grim prognosis, one of the gedolim of Jerusalem was visiting London. In desperation, the sick man went to him, crying, "I want to live, I don't want to die!"
The Rav looked at him compassionately and answered, "Even though there may not be hope according to the laws of nature, there is still hope above the laws of nature. We are bound to a principle of measure for measure: the Almighty responds to us according to the way we conduct ourselves. If we act within the realm of nature, then He treats us according to the laws of nature. However, if we live above the laws of nature, then He reciprocates and treats us in a way that is above the laws of nature.
"If you take it upon yourself to conduct yourself in a way that transcends nature, then by that same way Hashem will let you live."
The man agreed, and asked the Rav if he had a specific suggestion for what he might do. The Rav thought for a moment and then replied, "Since you are a very wealthy man, you should donate an extraordinary amount of your assets to support Torah. Is it unnatural for a man in your situation to give away half of his fortune?" The man answered in the affirmative, and he promised to carry out the Rav's advice. Wasting no time, he met with his accountant and tallied up his entire estate. He then gave half of it away to support Torah.
This incident happened eight years ago. According to the doctors, this man should have died long ago. He is still going strong.
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood). Rabbi Parkoff also would like to publish Trust Me 2. If you would like to sponsor this upcoming book, or would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: email@example.com or 732-325-1257
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