Thursday, January 7, 2016

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman

This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated by Mr. Binyomin Philipson in memory of his late mother Mrs. Ellen (Elka bas Zisel) Philipson OBM

Miracles, miracles, and more miracles. That is the story in the Torah portion of this week of Va’aira (Shmos 6:2 - 9:35). Sticks transforming into serpents; water turning into blood; hail pellets with a core of fire; dreadful plagues of frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence and boils.

“Fairy tales,” declares the skeptic. “Isn’t it so convenient that all these miracles happened more than three thousand years ago? I’ll believe it when I see it with my own eyes! Why didn’t G‑d send ten plagues upon the Nazis? What’s with all the terrorists who blow up men, women and children? Did G‑d perhaps forget how to make miracles?!”

The believing Jew, too, asks the same questions - albeit in a more respectful tone. Yes, he understands that G‑d controls nature as well as the supernatural; but why did G‑d choose to flip the switch, deciding to abandon the course of miracles and to run the world entirely through the laws of nature?

The book of Shmos (Exodus) introduces us to the era of open nature-defying miracles, an era which lasted roughly a millennium. The Scriptures are filled with stories of prophets and miracles; in fact, it seems that the laws of nature were temporarily defunct. This era ended with the destruction of the first Holy Temple. Afterward, there were a few brief glimpses of the supernatural - such as the miracle of Chanukah - but after a few centuries these too vanished. For the past two thousand years we live in a double exile: physically, we were banished from our homeland; spiritually, we cannot perceive the G‑dly hand which creates and directs all of creation.

The reason for the emergence and subsequent disappearance of miracles is linked to the purpose of our very existence. Life in the Garden of Eden was idyllic, because evil was not yet part of the human character. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge imbued Adam and Eve with an intimate knowledge of physical and material desire. The moment they were expelled from the Garden is the moment when the story of the perpetual human struggle began: the struggle of choosing between the G‑dly (good) or the opposite (egotism, hedonism, etc.).

And actually, this is what G‑d really wanted from the moment He considered the idea of creation: a free-choosing human being who would struggle with the evil and self-centeredness which are natural parts of his personality, and would triumph.

Miracles are comparable to training wheels. In the early years of our nationhood, G‑d assisted us in our struggle by frequently and very openly interfering in the happenings of this world. A miracle opens the eyes to a higher truth, and motivates a person to want to connect to this higher reality through Torah and mitzvot. Ultimately, however, we need to mature. We need to be able to ride the bike with our own two wheels; we need to face life’s struggle with our own strengths. The messianic era is the consummation of our relationship with G‑d, and to earn this privilege we have to prove that the relationship is real to us, so real that we maintain this relationship even in the absence of any revealed reciprocation from G‑d.

We are greatest miracle of all: our ability to steadfastly remain loyal to G‑d throughout two thousand years of temptation, despite the spiritual blackness which surrounds us.

(Excerpts from - by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg)

May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!

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