G-D VS. THE SCIENTIST
Rabbi Norman Schloss
In this weeks Torah portion we come to the climax of the entire Egyptian experience. The Jewish people have been in Egypt for 210 years; Pharaoh and the Egyptians have endured the 10 plagues; Moses has emerged as the proven messenger of Hashem and the deliverer of the Jewish people.
In this weeks Torah portion we come to the climax of the entire Egyptian experience. The Jewish people have been in Egypt for 210 years; Pharaoh and the Egyptians have endured the 10 plagues; Moses has emerged as the proven messenger of Hashem and the deliverer of the Jewish people. We are also informed of the first mitzvah in the Torah that is given to the Jewish people as a nation the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh, sanctifying the new moon. At first glance a number of pertinent questions arise.
Firstly, what was the whole reason for the Egyptian experience, both from the Jewish as well as from the Egyptian point of view? Secondly, why did Hashem have to inflict the Egyptians with 10 plagues; surely one swift act of slaying the firstborn would have been sufficient to send the message to Pharaoh? If not one plague, surely two or three but why 10 plagues? Lastly, why was it important that kiddush hachodesh be the first mitzvah?
All three questions share a common element in their answer. Many of the classic commentators tackle these issues at the first encounter between Moses and Hashem at the burning bush. All agree that there was more to the episode than just the story as related in the Torah. Hashem was teaching us a valuable lesson: namely, the realization of Hashem as the Prime Being and shaper in the world. The Jewish people could not leave Egypt and the Egyptians could not let them go until this realization was reached.
Let us reflect for a moment on the status of Egypt at that time. Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world. Egypt had saved the entire world from famine. They had built entire cities showing their greatness. Nothing could stop them.
Enter Moses actually demanding the unthinkable freedom for the Jewish people. Indeed, Pharaoh asked, "Who is Hashem that I should listen to Him and let the people go?" (Exodus 5:2). A campaign was then waged by Hashem to show Pharaoh and the Egyptians exactly who was the boss. The 10 plagues were sent against the Egyptians. Each plague was targeted towards a particular element of Egyptian society that needed to be taught a lesson. It was only after the culmination of all the plagues with the slaying of the firstborn that Pharaoh himself admitted to the greatness of Hashem. The Jewish people, as well, had to learn this lesson. At that point in time, they had already not been working as slaves for about a year. They had become complacent. Was it really Hashem who was orchestrating everything or had their time as slaves simply lapsed? Maybe they themselves were the instigators for their freedom and Hashem was just helping them by quickening the pace in bringing the plagues.
These were all serious issues that had to be addressed. This weeks Torah portion shows us how. The mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh was a clear indication to the Jewish people that although they might be given freedom to determine their destiny, nothing could be done without Hashems intervention. Yes, we may be able to determine the dates of our festivals, but it is only with the tools that Hashem, in His mercy, has given us.
The story is told of a group of brilliant scientists that decided that G-d was no longer needed. After all, through the study of cloning and advanced genetics they also could create a person. So they decided that the head scientist would approach G-d and inform Him that His services were no longer needed. G-d challenged the scientist and said, "Let us both make a person and see whose comes out better."
"Fine," replied the scientist.
"However," said G-d, "let us do it the original way with each side creating a person using its own materials."
"Thats all right with me," said the scientist and he proceeded to bend down and scoop up a handful of earth.
"Just a minute," replied G-d, "What are you doing with my earth?"
This lesson had to be taught to both the Jewish people, as well as to the world as a whole. Only then could the exodus take place. Today, we have the same challenges ahead of us. Look what we have accomplished just in this century alone. Mass communication systems, computers, space travel just to name a few. We are seemingly invincible.
Despite the ravishes of the Holocaust and our troubled history, we have been able to build up Jewish communities around the globe. Yet, we must realize that Hashem is the One who gives us the tools to succeed. Once we recognize this we will also be ready for the final redemption the coming of Messiah.
Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.
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