Sunday, January 13, 2008

Parshat Beshalach 1

The splitting of the Reed Sea was one of the most direct and open miracles in the history of the world. The Talmud relates that even the lowest person crossing through the sea saw more of the spiritual realms than the prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel) who received one of the highest visions of G-d’s throne of Glory. The verse says “This is my G-d” (15; 2), meaning that each person was able to physically point to G-d and say “Here He is!”. Yet only a few chapters later the Torah says about these same people who have just seen G-d “That they tried G-d, saying ‘Is G-d in our midst or not?’”. How could they have forgotten in such a short space of time the miracles that G-d had performed for them?

Consider the manna. Each morning the Jews would receive their daily food from the heavens. Not only did it arrive fresh and tasty, but it was also shrink wrapped in a layer of dew to preserve the flavour. This miracle begins in today’s Torah portion (16; 4) and continues throughout the entire forty years that they remain in the desert. This was a clear miracle, perceived by every individual person in the nation. Furthermore, it also shows that G-d is constantly involved with the world, and providing for his creations.

Imagine someone who was born during those forty years in the Sinai desert. The only way he knows of getting food is by waiting for it to arrive on the doorstep each morning. To him or her, this is the way the world works. If they would have had science textbooks then, surely there would have been diagrams showing exactly how to recognise manna, and showing how it falls from the heavens. We can picture his or her shock upon entering the land of Israel after forty years. They have never known any other way of life. All of a sudden they are told that by putting seeds in the ground they can grow their own food. Yet, at first, when they experiment, all they see is that the seed disintegrates. How miraculous it must have been for them to actually see grain growing from the ground. Not only are they amazed that dirt can sustain life, but they can plant as much as they like, and have a storehouse full of food, not having to rely daily on G-d’s kindness. They can grow a variety of crops, each with a unique taste and texture, and they can actually feel that they are earning and deserving their food, rather than just receiving a handout form G-d. To this person, which is the greater miracle, bread form the heavens, or bread from the earth?

We define miracles as those occurrences which apparently defy the laws of nature. But surely those very laws themselves are no less miraculous. We become accustomed to the way in which the world works, and therefore there is a danger that we may begin to take it for granted. G-d has given us the independence to provide for ourselves, and at the same time instructs us to maintain and acknowledge our dependence upon Him for everything we have. He has given us blessings before and after everything we eat, and for many other of the pleasures of the world. “Blessed are You, G-d, King of the Universe, who sustains the entire world with His goodness.3” This is our challenge, to continually recognise G-d in the world, not only in the extraordinary, but also, and even more importantly, in the mundane.

This is the mistake that the Jews made when they first left Egypt. They acknowledged G-d as the Worker of Miracles. They saw Him at the Reed Sea, as they had seen Him in the plagues that He brought upon the Egyptians. But when there were no more overt miracles, they questioned “Is the L-rd among usor not?” They had not yet opened their eyes to realise that the greatest evidence of G-d is His presence among us, in our daily lives. They had not forgotten the miracles, and had not lessened their belief in G-d, but they couldn’t see Him with them continuously. It is up to us to constantly try to find the miracles, both overt and hidden, which G-d performs for us.

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