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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Bo

There Is No Difference between a Miracle and Nature

For with a strong hand Hashem took us out of Egypt. (Shemos 13:16)

The following is based on the Ramban's commentary on the Torah.

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.

* * *

This is from Moreshes Avos, vol. 3, p. 32, citing Tenuas Ha-Musar.

R. Yisrael Salanter often traveled around Europe lecturing and encouraging the growth of the mussar movement. In his hometown of Mammel, he rented a room in a Jewish inn on a permanent basis. Once, when he returned to his lodgings there, he found that his landlord's attitude toward Judaism had changed, and that he had started to make light of Torah and mitzvos. R. Yisrael asked him what had happened to change his behavior. The man related that a few days earlier a heretic had visited the inn. While conversing with the innkeeper, the apostate had mocked the concept of reward and punishment. To prove his point, he sent his attendant to buy some non-kosher salami. Taking the meat in hand, he announced that if it was true that the Almighty's gaze was everywhere and that there was reward and punishment in the world, the salami should stick in his throat and choke him to death. He then proceeded to eat the meat in front of everyone...and nothing happened! As a result, the innkeeper's faith had become very shaky. R. Yisrael retired to his room without answering him.

A few hours later, the innkeeper's young daughter returned from school. She proudly announced that she had received her diploma in singing from the voice-training school she attended, and she had graduated with very high marks. R. Yisrael, who was in the main room when the girl came in, called her over and asked her to sing a song for him to prove that she really knew how to sing so well. The girl, however, refused his request. R. Yisrael called her father over and remarked that his daughter lacked good manners and did not address him respectfully.

Surprised, the innkeeper asked his daughter how she could speak to R. Yisrael in such a disrespectful fashion. She answered that it wasn't polite or proper to sing in front of people for no good reason, just to prove her abilities. Did it make sense that she had to sing for anyone just because they didn't believe in her talents? Wasn't that why she had a diploma? If the Rav didn't believe her, let him come to a concert and hear for himself!

The innkeeper liked his daughter's answer, and he defended her behavior before R. Yisrael.

R. Yisrael then asked the girl to leave the room. He turned to the innkeeper and told him that his daughter's reply held the answer to his confusion regarding Divine Providence. Through the miracles that were performed in the course of the Exodus from Egypt, the Almighty's omniscience was proven to the entire world. He even has a "diploma" testifying to the fact - the Torah. Later, He again demonstrated His supervision over the world when the Prophet Eliyahu challenged the prophets of Ba'al. His hand was also clearly evident during the days of Mordechai and Esther, the revolt of the Chashmona'im, and in many other incidents throughout history. Does it make sense that just because some impetuous and insignificant individual comes along and announces his disbelief, God has to respond immediately to his provocation and prove him wrong? Is the Almighty a puppet Who has to dance to our command? The Torah, with its record of overt miracles, is His diploma, and it is all the proof we need of God's abilities.

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-858-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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