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SPEAKING OF G-D

by Joshua Gottlieb    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

David sees a miracle; David believes in G-d. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work. In this week's Torah portion, however, this formula does not appear to hold true.

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David sees a miracle; David believes in G-d. At least, that's the way it's supposed to work. In this week's Torah portion, however, this formula does not appear to hold true. After witnessing a plethora of blatant miracles - ranging from the splitting of the Red Sea, to the manna falling from the heavens, to fresh water at Marah and Rephidim - one would think that the Children of Israel would be overcome with emotional thanksgiving to Hashem for His continual supernatural involvement in their daily lives. How, then, is it even remotely conceivable that they should postulate such a question as "Is Hashem among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7), as they do at the end of this week's Torah portion?

The answer lies in analyzing the crime. Clearly, the basis of the misdemeanor was an underlying flaw in the way the Children of Israel lived their everyday lives. The punishment that they received is described by the Torah beginning with the next verse: "Amalek came and waged war with Israel." Being that Hashem always rewards and punishes us in the manner of midah k'neged midah (measure for measure) such that the reward or punishment befits the mitzvah or crime, the Children of Israel must have harbored a spiritual deficiency similar to that of the attacking nation of Amalek. This deficiency is described in Parshat Ki Teitzei as "they did not fear G-d" (Deuteronomy 25:18). Such an outlook on life results when a person attributes world events to mere chance, essentially stating that Hashem has no direct effect on his life. He therefore finds no logical reason to fear Him. This was the Jewish people's shortcoming. They failed to recognize G-d in their daily lives and thus, when hard times came, were unable to traverse them properly.

However, it remains a mystery as to where we find that the Jewish people did, in fact, suffer from this character flaw that might prompt their offensive outburst. When Yitro (Moses' father-in-law) comes to join the people in the desert at the beginning of next week's Torah portion, the verse reports that Yitro declared, "Blessed is Hashem who saved you from the hand of Egypt and the hand of Pharaoh" (Exodus 18:10). The Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin 94) comments that Yitro's praise indirectly conveys a deficiency on the part of Moses and the Children of Israel, for nowhere before this point does the Torah tell us that they blessed G-d. That they needed an outsider to praise G-d for them represents a weakness in the Jewish people. Thus, we find that the Children of Israel did indeed have some kind of spiritual deficiency in their relationship with Hashem, yet it remains to be seen how this disgrace of not properly blessing Hashem could lead them to commit such a heinous crime.

To answer this question, we must carefully examine the behavior of an individual who found himself in a similar situation to that of the Children of Israel in the desert. Joseph is the one person the Torah speaks about who was tossed out of his home to wander as a foreigner in another land, yet still managed to retain his righteous ways. As to how he accomplished this magnificent feat, we are given just one clue: "His master (Potiphar) saw that Hashem was with him" (Genesis 39:3). Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, explains this to mean that Potiphar saw Hashem's name invariably on Joseph's lips; he was perpetually blessing G-d. Only through his constant recognition of the role that G-d played in his life, was he able to stand up to the spiritual challenges thrown his way in the debased society of Egypt.

The Children of Israel were likewise torn from what had become their home and thrown into the wilderness, with only the clothes on their backs and the promise of G-d's protection. Without blessing G-d for everything they received, they simply lost the sensitivity required to see any Divine intervention in their daily lives. As a result, when things took a turn for the worse, they immediately began to question if G-d was, in fact, among them.

The lesson we must take out of this is unequivocal. It is excessively simple to ascribe worldly events to mere chance, being that G-d does not sign His name to all that He does. However, once we begin doing so, we slowly disassociate ourselves from any connection with Hashem, and if left unchecked, we will slide inexorably towards the lowest level of spiritual existence - denial of G-d in our midst. Our job, through blessings and praises, is to constantly remember G-d's tremendous influence on our lives, that He is always there helping us, protecting us, and watching over us.

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Joshua Gottlieb, a native Atlantan, is a junior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.

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