IT'S A MIRACLE, NATURALLY
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss
This week's Torah portion contains the majority of the 10 plagues. But why 10? Surely, God could have affected the exodus with two or three spectacular strikes, or even in one fell swoop! Is this overkill - no pun intended - or what?
The sages present numerous ideas on this issue: The 10 plagues, they say, correspond to the 10 commandments, or to the 10 utterances with which God created the universe. Or that God conducted a classic military campaign, as the plagues attacked Pharaoh on land, sea and earth, destroying Egypt's gods, economy and land.
Here is another thought. All the plagues, essentially, revolve around nature. Each plague either suspends or alters nature, so that everyday living goes haywire. You try to take a drink or brush your teeth, and your mouth is filled with blood. It gets dark - and stays that way for three days. Fire and ice mysteriously unite and rain down on the populace. The animal kingdom – usually turf-oriented and wary of going near humans - suddenly invades the homes and streets where you live. Nothing seems to work the same anymore.
God is trying - emphatically - to make a point here, to impress the Jewish people (even more than Pharaoh or Egypt) with His control of the world. God wants to show us that perhaps the greatest miracle is when life carries on as usual, when "normal" living remains normal. Seeing Egyptian life break down so radically reminds us of the wondrous nature of everyday life, which we all too often take for granted.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, a recent Torah commentator, explains as follows: A wise person understands that an apple growing on a tree is no less miraculous than manna falling from the sky; and that a baby being born is no less awesome than the splitting of the sea. A person can grow to love and believe in God just by observing nature at work, and that is why the Kabbalists gathered at the river-beds and forests to find inspiration for their prayers.
You don't need for the sun to stand still in order to know God; God is in every sunrise, in each waterfall, in the wind and the blessed rain, if only we care to see Him there.
The well-known author Hanoch Teller tells of sitting on a plane next to a non-observant Jew, who saw passengers pray and recite the Grace after Meals, but remained unimpressed. But then the man saw a religious Jew exit the bathroom and make a blessing. This intrigued him, and he asked what was going on. When he learned that the asher yatzar blessing thanks God for allowing "the plumbing to work," he gained a deeper appreciation for all God is, and does. He remembered when he had had certain problems in that area, and how he had prayed for relief. A God who is "in the details," who managed the world and created a natural order of life, was a concept he could relate to.
When the plane landed, the man was infinitely closer to God. And so should we be, as we contemplate the myriad works of the Almighty.
Rabbi Shmuel Weiss, a close friend of the Torah from Dixie family, is the director of the Jewish Outreach Center in Rana’ana, Israel.
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