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MIRACLE DOWNSIZING

by Eyal Feiler    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Hashem moved the sea with a strong east wind all the night, and He turned the sea to dry land and the water split." "The sea returned to its continuity at the turning of the morning. . .and Hashem overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea" (Exodus 14:21,27).

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Hashem moved the sea with a strong east wind all the night, and He turned the sea to dry land and the water split." "The sea returned to its continuity at the turning of the morning. . .and Hashem overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea" (Exodus 14:21,27).

One of the shining moments in the history of the Jewish people occurs in this week's Torah portion. The great miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea is the climax of the departure from Egypt, and the inspiring wonder forged a group of slaves into a nation.

However, a review of the verses describing the miracle raises a fundamental question. There is a well-known Jewish concept which states that when Hashem creates miracles, He performs them in a manner which is as close as possible to being within the laws of nature. In other words, when creating a miracle, Hashem would rather cause a minimal disturbance to the laws of nature so that its witnesses will be able to maintain their freedom to choose whether or not to believe in G-d. In this manner, non-believers are better able to dismiss a miraculous event as being a freak act of nature or coincidence.

If this is the case, why did Hashem create a miracle which was greater than necessary by allowing the Children of Israel to cross the sea at night while the Egyptians drowned during the day? Hashem could have created a more natural event by performing a "reduced" version of the miracle. The Children of Israel could have crossed during the day, allowing the critics to credit their success to the fact that they could easily see where they were going, or that they were able to use the daylight to find a dry bank. On the other hand, the disciplined and mighty Egyptian army could have drowned as they crossed at night because they became confused and panicked in the darkness. Why did Hashem make the miracle greater than necessary?

Rabbi Ben Zion Firer, a contemporary scholar in Israel, answers based upon the fact that the Hebrew word for a miracle, nes, is very similar and comes from the same root as does the word for test, nisayon. The power and force of a nes (miracle) which occurs for the benefit of an individual or group of people, is directly related to the nisayon (test) which they had to overcome to merit that miracle. In other words, the larger the challenge which a person must face and surmount, the larger the reward which Hashem provides for overcoming that challenge.

Not only did the Jewish people pass the test which was given to them upon leaving Egypt, but they also demonstrated their strong and steadfast belief in Hashem. The Ramban, one of the greatest medieval Torah commentators, states that although the majority of the Jewish people lived together in the city of Ramses, there were small pockets of Jews dispersed all over Egypt. When the time of the exodus arrived, these pockets traveled at night so that they could join the rest of the nation in Ramses, where they would all leave together as a group. Although the dispersed Jews could have trekked across Egypt during the day, they specifically chose to travel at night, showing their remarkable faith in Hashem. The night has always been a period when robbers and thieves prey on travelers walking the deserted paths between cities. The Jews in the small Egyptian communities took all of their belongings and put their faith in Hashem that they would safely arrive at their destination, knowing full well the dangers on the roads.

Because the Jewish people went out of their way to demonstrate their faith in Hashem and His guardianship by leaving at night, Hashem rewarded them by leading them across the sea also at night, making the miracle so much more dramatic. This miracle not only rewarded them by completing their exodus from Egypt, but it also defied the laws of nature so that non-believers could not dismiss it as being an abnormal act of nature.

From here we can learn an important lesson. Following the Torah and performing the mitzvot in a mechanical manner certainly merits some reward. However by doing the mitzvot with zeal and excitement, and striving to do more than just the bare minimum, we not only grow in our observance and gain a feeling of satisfaction by overcoming the challenges which we face, but Hashem will even reward us by splitting the seas that impede us from achieving our goals.

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Eyal Feiler, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and a graduate of Yeshiva University, is a public accountant in New York.

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