Friday, February 06, 2009

Parshat B’Shalach – פרשת בשלח

I have a quick D’var Torah this week. There’s a lot going on in Parshat B’Shalach, but I would like to focus on three main events; the miraculous splitting of the sea, the famine and the bleak possibility of starvation that thereafter threatened Bnei Yisrael, and the equally miraculous Man that descended from heaven.

R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch mentions a fairly well-known phrase, “It is more difficult to provide man’s daily sustenance than it is to split the Red Sea.” Nowhere was this more obvious to us than immediately after the splitting of the Red Sea. Having been delivered from the wrath of Par’oh and his mighty army, Bnei Yisrael soon found themselves desperately thirsty in the desert.

Judaism dictates that all that we see as the natural world is actually only an expression of Hashem and his power. Indeed, one of Hashem’s names, “Elokeinu,” is equal to HaTeva, Hebrew for “the natural.” The concept of a nes, a miracle, is something I have discussed on this blog before. (I refer you to my Chanukah post.) In short, the word nes in Hebrew has two meanings; one means a “banner,” and the other is miracle. The underlying idea is that a miracle is merely a banner to publicise something. A shop is clearly identified as such by the banner, a company will identify themselves on their letterheads. But even without these public signs, an entity still exists. A banner is a signal for others so that they may recognise the existence of that which the banner signifies.

So too with a miracle. Hashem took Am Yisrael out of Egypt with numerous miracles. There was no way that we could deny His existence; the signs were just too plain to see. The splitting of the Yam Suf was one last miracle and then Bnei Yisrael were faced with a grim reality. After all that spirituality, the natural world attacked hard – through our stomachs.

As Rav Hirsch says, “The threat of starvation, real or imagined, can cause man to waver in his principles, silence his better resolves, and as long as the individual is not freed, not from his cares about his material existence but from the crushing impact of these cares, there will be no chance for a complete realisation of the law of God.”

Hashem presented Bnei Yisrael with quite a poser; here was the spectre of starvation in the desert. Was it not right to worry about the dire need for water, was it really so bad that we complained to Moshe? The answer is for us to correctly perceive how Hashem acts. Hashem’s control over the “natural world” is not limited to acts on a grand scale. To imagine that would be to think of Hashem as restricted, (l’havdil). It can be argued however that Hashem set Am Yisrael the challenge of having seen incredible Nisim, and then being faced with darkness. What would they do? Would they continue to believe, or would they complain?

If we look forward to the next major event, Am Yisrael received the man, the divine nourishment that descended from above. If we look at the chain of events, we see the pattern: Miracle, Natural, Miracle. This model runs throughout Torah. Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya’akov. Chochmah, Bina, Da’at. And First Bet Hamikdash, Second Bet Hamikdash, Third Bet Hamikdash.

The concept we see here is a demonstration of a vitally important lesson that Am Yisrael needed, and needs, to learn. There are times when Hashem’s presence is obvious, never more so than when He performs miracles for us. And there are times when Hashem is hidden. It is our task to hold on to the memory of the knowledge of that first state. When it comes to physical concerns, such as food, it is our task, as Rav Hirsch says, to “realise that to this end, also, man can and should only do his part; namely that which God expects him to contribute toward the achievement of this objective. As for the success of his endeavours, he must leave that to God, Who has made every single human soul and every household with all its hungry members, great and small, the object of His ever-watchful, almighty, caring love. Man must understand that, in general, he must regard his work for his sustenance not as a right, but as a duty.”

If we can do that, then we can “machzik ma’amad,” hold our ground, and arrive at the third stage, the stage where the miraculous becomes the natural, that final stage of the Third Bet Hamikdash.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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