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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)

Excerpts from my sefer Trust Me!

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. First we need to understand the following preface: 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 or that He is involved in human affairs. Still others claimed that even if He is involved, there is no reward and punishment. (See my sefer Fine Lines of Faith and Mission Possible!)

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 to ensure genuine internalization. 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 every mitzvah serves to reinforce our faith and commitment. We gather in synagogues and pray aloud to strengthen this conviction, proclaiming before Him, "We are Your creation!"

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 what we call Nature and startled by whatever appears unnatural.

* * *

From Moreshes Avos, vol. 3, p. 32, citing Tenuas Ha-Mussar.

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 been shaken. 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 music school, 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.

* * *

Save the Rav!

The following is from She'al Avicha v'Yagedcha by R. Shalom Schwadron, vol. 2, p. 301.

The Jews in the Kovno ghetto were liquidated by the Nazi monsters with the same brutal efficiency that marked all of their grisly endeavors against the Jews of Europe. With few exceptions, their unspeakably vicious taskmasters butchered all of the residents. One of the few who were fortunate to survive was R. Mordechai Programansky, who owed his remarkable escape to a dream.

A well-known personality in the Kovno ghetto, R. Mordechai was a great source of encouragement to his fellow Jews in those frightening times. Although life was unimaginably difficult, he never lost sight of his spiritual goals, and he retained his usual carefulness regarding Halachah.

One time, R. Mordechai was hiding in a bunker with several other Jews. Suddenly, there was heavy pounding on the door. It was clear that the Germans had discovered them and that they were trapped. R. Mordechai, however, did not allow anyone to open the door, explaining that they shouldn't do anything to bring the danger closer. Everyone started whispering excitedly that such a course of action was suicidal. "If we don't open the door, they'll break it down anyway, and then we'll be in greater danger." The discussion became quite heated, but no one had the audacity to openly disobey the Rav. Finally, the banging stopped, and whoever it was went away.

Not every Jew in Kovno wound up in the ghetto. There was one man who managed to escape from the Nazis' clutches because no one knew that he was Jewish. He lived among the Gentiles, and they all thought he was one of them.

One night, this man's father appeared to him in a dream and told him to go to the ghetto and save R. Mordechai. However, in spite of the dream's graphic vividness, the man was unmoved. "I'd have to be insane to go to the ghetto!" he thought to himself. "If I did that, everyone would know I'm Jewish. I might as well commit suicide!"

But his father gave him no peace. Every night he returned and told his son to go and save R. Mordechai.

One night, in his dream, he argued with his father. "You're sending me to my death! What should I do: enter the ghetto and start looking for someone called R. Mordechai? They'll kill us both on the spot!"

His father answered him, "Don't worry, my son. If you do exactly what I tell you, you won't be hurt. All you have to do is go over to the ghetto fence. The first Jew you'll meet there will be R. Mordechai." The father then laid out an escape plan and gave a detailed explanation of how the son should hide the Rav.

When the man woke up, he realized that he no longer had any excuse not to obey his father's wishes - and who knew what the consequences would be if he continued procrastinating? He decided that he would go to the ghetto that very night.

When he got to the fence, he immediately saw a Jew. He went over and asked him, "Is your name R. Mordechai?" And just as his father had promised, the answer was in the affirmative. Now he was sure that his dream had been real.

The man informed R. Programansky of everything he (the Rav) was to do in order to be saved, exactly as his father had detailed it in the dream. He told R. Mordechai that there was a hole in the ghetto's mikveh that led to a water cistern (which was empty at the time). If he climbed through the hole, he would find a passageway that led to an opening on the other side of the ghetto wall.

It was very late at night, and there was no one else around. R. Mordechai carefully followed the instructions he had been given. When he emerged outside the ghetto wall, his rescuer was waiting for him, and he led him to his home, which was in the middle of Kovno. At that point in the war, the city was empty of Jews. They had all been rounded up and herded into the ghetto, where many had died brutally.

After a day or two in the man's house, R. Mordechai asked him how he managed to live in Kovno as he did. The man replied that no one knew he was Jewish because he was married to a Gentile woman. R. Mordechai was shocked. "How can I stay in a house where a Jew is living with a non-Jewish woman?" he exclaimed. "I must leave immediately!"

The man turned pale with fear. With tears in his eyes, he pleaded with R. Mordechai to stay: "How can you leave? I put myself in grave danger for your sake and only managed to save you with great difficulty. If you go, they'll certainly kill you!"

R. Mordechai, however, would not budge. "I can't remain in such a house. I'm leaving, and that's that."

The man begged him not to go. "If I tell my wife to leave, she'll probably inform the authorities that I'm hiding a Jew in the house. That would be certain death for both of us. "

R. Mordechai remained unmoved. "As long as you are living with a non-Jew, there is no way I will remain in your house. Impossible! I'm leaving."

"I've risked my life to save you! Is this how you return my kindness?"

R. Mordechai agreed to remain for another day or two. But after that, he would leave - unless the man divorced his non-Jewish wife.

A terrible battle raged in the heart of the assimilated Jew, but he finally decided to divorce his wife. R. Mordechai remained with him for a year, undetected, until the end of the war. Miraculously, the woman never caused any problems.

This Jew, who lives in the United States today, returned wholeheartedly to the faith of his fathers. I heard this remarkable story directly from him, remarked Reb Sholom.

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).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff, or change your subscription, please contact: rabbi.e.parkoff@gmail.com


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