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THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MIRACLE AND NATUREFor with a strong hand Hashem took us out of Egypt. (Shemos 13:16)
The Ramban, in this week's parsha elaborates on the lesson in Hashkafa that the 10 plaques taught us.
On numerous occasions, the Torah stresses that the commandments are reminders of the Exodus from Egypt. Clearly, then, there is a dimension of the Exodus that bears on the entire Torah. We can explain what this dimension is if we begin as follows:
Only a few generations after Creation, man began to take up with idolatrous and heretical beliefs. The heresies took on many forms (most of which are still prevalent even today to some extent). Some claimed that the world always existed and that there is no Creator. Others denied that He can be aware of daily occurrences and that He is involved in human affairs. Still others claimed that even if He is involved, there is no reward and punishment.
The Exodus refuted all of these notions. It showed that God is in full control of nature and that nothing and no one can prevent Him from executing His will. Through His prophets, He communicates with man, and He brings into existence whatever He desires. In order to emphasize these points, Moshe repeatedly told Pharaoh that the plagues would demonstrate God's sovereignty.
This message of the Exodus, so basic to our belief and existence, must be reiterated constantly. Therefore, we wear it on our person in the form of tefillin and recall it when we perform the commandments. We are zealous in the performance of all commandments - the seemingly minor ones as well as the obviously major ones - because they serve to reinforce our faith and commitment. We gather in synagogues and pray aloud to strengthen this conviction, proclaiming before Him, "We are Your creatures!"
The overt miracles of the Exodus seared into our consciousness the fact that God rules His universe, and that the only difference between nature and miracles is that we are accustomed to the former and startled by the latter.
Citing the Ramban above, R. Shlomo Brevda, shlita, (Leil Shimurim, p. 10, and in several lectures) comments that the Ramban's source is the Gemara (Makkos 23b) "R. Simlai explained, 'Moshe was given 613 mitzvos on Mt. Sinai.... Chavakuk came and summarized them all in one - "A tzaddik lives in his emunah."'" The Vilna Gaon (Mishlei 22:19) explains that this is referring to bitachon. Moreover, he comments that the main reason the Torah was given to the people of Israel was that they put their trust (bitachon) in Hashem.
"A tzaddik lives in his emunah." This means that a real tzaddik is not someone who believes with his heart and announces with his mouth. Rather it is one who lives his whole life with emunah.
The purpose of the Exodus from Egypt was to enable Israel to receive the Torah. But not, of course for an imaginary freedom allowing a life of unrestrained debauchery. Rather the goal was the dominion of the soul over the body. Torah supplies true freedom.
The fundamental basis of all 613 mitzvos is bitachon - active faith. Without active faith Torah and mitzvos cannot endure. Therefore Hashem came to the Children of Israel in Egypt, where they were sleeping (a state of potential faith), to awaken them into active faith - man's purpose in this world. This was the only way they could receive the Torah and insure that it would have any permanence.
Each year we celebrate the Pesach Seder. The role of the Seder is to study the Exodus and reawaken the same faith within us. In order to accomplish that, one must clearly visualize the Exodus, and truly see that Hashem is master of the world. Of course all of us have emunah. But it is more of an intellectual or potential emunah. It hasn't yet reached the point where it is internalized to the extent that we live it! Visualization is a very powerful tool to create active emunah. I remember when I was a young bochur. The Mir Yeshivah had just come to America from Shanghai. They allowed in only a few American boys, as they weren't yet sure whether they were staying in America. I was one of about 15 young boys they allowed in. The older talmidim were all well versed in the Talmud and Halachah. R. Yechezkel Levenstein was the mashgiach. He was totally steeped in yiras Shamayim, through and through. The alter Mirrers (the old-timers from the Mir) were used to his vivid style, but for us Americans it was, to say the least, new - if not a shock. I remember when he lectured us. "Do you know what kind of an avodah you have to do right before the seventh day of Pesach? Tonight is the splitting of the sea!" Then he proceeded to detail the whole event. When he retold how the Jews were boxed in from all sides, and the sky opened up and they saw Heaven waging war against them, we all shuddered in fear. That was the way to instill emunah - make it alive! Let us relate a few examples of a very concrete elucidation of the Exodus:
What was so bad about the plague of frogs? Most of us think it was because they were everywhere. People couldn't get away from them. They were in their beds, in their shoes, in their... everywhere. When they baked bread, the frogs jumped in. They even jumped into the Egyptian's mouths - and down into their stomachs.
As bad as that was, that wasn't the worst. The Zohar relates that the real torture came from the noise. Every house had tens of thousands of frogs. The croaking was unbearable. It was enough to make anyone crazy. A man would stand two feet away from his wife, yet he could not hear her! He told her to make supper and she started yelling back, but he couldn't hear her. They yelled at each other, throwing plates and pots and pans, but nothing surpassed the tremendous sound of the croaking. Next door lived two Jews, with only a thin wall separating them from the Egyptian couple. Yankel said to his wife, "You know dear, it's so quiet and peaceful tonight. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every night could be as quiet as this?" "Yes," she answered. "I hope that when we get to Eretz-Yisrael it will be as peaceful as this." And next door the dishes were crashing, the husband and wife were yelling, and the frogs were croaking nonstop.
Then came the lice. A Jew sat on a bench, between two Egyptians. The Egyptian on his right was scratching from head to toe; he was going mad from the itching. "What are you scratching so much for?!" asked the Jew. The Egyptian replied, "Five thousand lice are crawling all over me. Are you jealous?" The second Egyptian pipes up, "I've got ten thousand!" Now if you were sitting between two people who were scratching away because of thousands of lice, you'd probably start scratching too. But the Jew sat there, and... nothing. Absolutely nothing! Now the Jews saw without a speck of a doubt that there is a Ruler over this world. All their five senses gave loud and clear testimony.
For the Egyptians, the plague of darkness was so tangible you could touch it with your hands. However they were positioned when the darkness started, that's how they remained for three days. Whether sitting or standing, or leaning over, they were locked in place for three days and three nights. And at that very moment of total and absolute darkness, if a Jew walked into the room, he saw everything brilliantly lit up. The Jews used those three days to snoop around, totally undisturbed, and unbeknown to the Egyptians who were caught in total and absolute blackness. When it came time to leave, the Jews went to their Egyptian neighbors and asked them for all of their private belongings. "What are you talking about," came the answer. "I don't have any of that." And with what seemed like supernatural insight the Jew told the poor Egyptian exactly what he had and where it was. The Egyptians couldn't hide anything, and had to hand everything over.
On Rosh Chodesh Nisan, Hashem instructed Moshe to tell the Jews to prepare the Pesach sacrifice. Four days before Pesach they all were to take sheep and tie them to their bedposts. So, on the 10th of Nisan, all the millions of Jews living in Egypt took sheep - the Egyptian god, the holiest of all animals in the Egyptian religion - and brought the animals into their bedrooms and tied them to their beds. Can you imagine how courageous they had to be? The Egyptians stood by and watched the mass procession. They came into the Jews' homes, and they asked, "What's going on?" And the Jews answered: "Oh, sure. In four days we're going to take these sheep and slaughter them as an offering to Hashem." The Egyptians fainted on the spot. But they couldn't reply. Hashem had tied their tongues.
When the time came for the Jews to leave, everyone was already prepared. All of the Jews left Egypt: Millions of men, women, and children, with no provisions for the journey. Oh, they had a few matzos they had baked at the last minute. But that would only last a few meals. Basically, they left with no food. There was no car trunk packed with sandwiches and bottles of soda and water. Nothing. They left with only their faith that Hashem would provide for several million people in a total wilderness.
When Pharaoh came to his senses, he became not angry, but incensed (see Ramban)! He gathered all of his people and they ran after the Jews crying, "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the plunder; I will satisfy my lust with them, I will unsheathe my sword, my hand will impoverish them" (Shemos 15:9). Every one of them had an argument with his friend over how many pieces a Jew could be cut into - 60 or 65.
The Jews saw the Egyptians running after them, and immediately looked for a way to escape. They turned toward the desert. But Hashem suddenly assembled a convention of snakes and scorpions. The desert was ruled out as an avenue of escape. They turned toward the sea. But instantly a fierce storm broke out. The waves roared and beckoned to the Jews, "We dare you to come in!" They were caught in a triangle (according to one midrash; another midrash states that they were boxed in from four sides, since all the wild animals of the desert decided that their supper that night would be fresh Jew).
They turned their eyes toward Heaven. Hashem opened their eyes and they were able to see what was going on up there. They saw the guardian angel of Egypt, a huge creature, running after them. And if that weren't bad enough, that angel had gathered six hundred accusing angels. Each one was standing before the Heavenly court and detailing how each and every Jew (except for those from the tribe of Levi), had worshipped idols in Egypt. "Yeah! That Reuven, he thinks he's a tzaddik. What about the time when the Egyptian gave him a glass of tea? The Egyptian promised to give him a pass so that he could have one day off from work. And the Egyptian told him, 'You don't have to bow down. You don't have to burn any incense. All you have to do is stroke the idol's cheek! That's all!' And this Reuven, do you know what he did? He looked all around, he looked behind the doors and out the windows, to make sure no one was looking. But he forgot to look in one place - up! That's the great tzaddik who's going into the sea! An idol-worshiper! And You want to save him and drown my poor Egyptians?" And the poor Jews had the "good fortune" to hear these conversations. The whole of Heaven was waging war against them!
So what did the Jews do? They cried out. They let out one tremendous shriek to the Creator. That was when Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu, "Tell the Children of Israel to go!" So the Jews turned to their children and told them, "Yankele, Sarale, we're going." "Daddy, where are we going? There's only water in front of us." "That's okay, Yankele. Moshe Rabbeinu told us to go, so we're going." "But Daddy, Sarele, and Itzick and I don't know how to swim!" "That's okay, Yankele. I also don't know how to swim. But Moshe Rabbeinu told us to go, so we're going!"
Has there ever been a stronger expression of emunah and bitachon than what occurred during the Exodus? That's our obligation on the night of the Seder: to visualize all the miracles and to see with a deep emunah that Hashem is the ruler over everything in Heaven and on earth.
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Gedolah Medrash Chaim
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood). You can access Rav Parkoff's Chizuk Sheets online:
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