Friday, August 1, 2008


Desert miracles
if only we remembered
in our present life

A guy brings his friend to the Master Joke Teller Convention.
A master comedian stands up and says “3” and everyone laughs.
Another known comedic genius belts out “9!” The crowd goes wild.
The newcomer, finding the scene outrageous,
gets up and and mutters “11.” No one laughs.
He asks his friend, "Why the weak reaction?"
The friend replies “You told it wrong!”

Rabeinu Bachai questions the wisdom behind the places listed in Mas’ei (with almost no narative thread) and suggests the following: The point of this itinerary is to remind the Jewish people of all the miracles that occurred in the places that G-d led them through. The key message is that they survived the dangerous desert via G-d’s protection rather than naturally. As they read through the list they recalled the specific miracles that transpired all along the way. Rabeinu Bachai points out that the words for nature and drowning are basically the same (Teva) to show that one can drown in the "natural" world. This list is meant as insurance against viewing our survival in the desert as a “natural”-G-d free experience.

Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch points out that one of the ideas behind the Sukka is to recall that G-d cared for every individual in the desert. We leave our homes and camp out on Sukkot to remind ourselves that it is G-d who cares for each of us (whatever our situation) today, just as in the days of the desert.

The lesson is that in our own lives we are cared for by G-d, just as our ancestors were in the desert. Reading through the list of places where G-d cared for the generation of the desert should serve to remind us of the trajectory of our own journeys, and how G-d cares for us all along the way. They read of each place and were reminded of the well, and the mon, and the clothes not wearing out. So too, we should reflect on our life passages and recognize the miracles all along the way.
It has been suggested (I recall hearing this from Rabbi Nathan Cardoza) that the difference between what we call nature and what we call miraculous is how often the phenomenon occurs. A seed put into the ground, followed by a plant sprouting is considered natural because it happens on a regular basis. If a person were to be buried in the ground and then rise up again that would be considered a miracle because it's something you don't see every day.
The story is told in the Talmud of a girl who mistakenly prepared vinegar instead of oil for Shabbos candles. She realized this right at deadline time and told her father. His reaction? He said, "He who said that oil should burn will say that vinegar should burn." The vinegar burned. These words at first sound like rabbinic verbosity; why did he say this longhand and not simply say that G-d would make the vinegar burn? The Sefat Emet explans that the rabbi wanted to stress this point: Oil only burns only because G-d says it should (as we say daily - G-d renews the works of creation every day).
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz suggests that the reason why The Rabbis considered depriving Megilat Esther of the holiness accorded other books of Tanach is the following: The Megila took place over a long period of years. If any of us would keep a diary over any extensive period of our years and later look back at it we would find it miraculous to see how we moved from point A to point Z. In labeling the Megila as holy the Rabbis feared that the point - that anyone could write a similar story about Divine Providence in their own life - might be lost.
Students ask me if Judaism believes in coincidences. There are those that make a case for this being a complicated question. I fear that this is an area that we can not afford to complicate. The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that this matter is an essential of Jewish Faith. Every thing that happens in this world happens by G-d’s decree.
Rabbi Yudi Shmuelevitz told me the following in the name of his uncle, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz. Vayeitzei is the only parsha which has no spaces in it. Vayeitzei tells the story of Yaakov Avinu and the tribulations he experienced. If one were to pause along the way one would feel sorry for the terrible situations Yaakov endured. But the end of the parsha is that he was the father of the twelve Shevatim. You need to look at the whole picture in order to appreciate that all is for the best, as all is from G-d. This is the lesson of the fact that this story is told without a pause. So too with our lives, we need to look at the big picture rather than the little pieces for things to make more sense.
I, like all of us, need to work on really believing that G-d runs the world. As I look back on the most recent years of my life I see and thank G-d for the miracle that is the tapping of my fingers right now. It wasn't long ago that I feared computers even more than I do now. Today I blog regularly for interested individuals. This is miracle G-d's done for me, for which i am thankful. When I was younger I was shy and anxious to an extent that I'd never believe that I would one day be "out there" in the world in a productive and positive way big time. I have broadened emotionally and intellectually in a way that has enabled me to spill over from what I have have been blessed with and help others. I will never be able to thank G-d enough. I look forward to working with Him on new projects starting right now.
Shabbat Shalom and G-d Bless.


rr said...

Going into the nine days it is nice to read such an uplifting and hopeful dvar Torah. Good chodesh and Shabbat Shalom.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks. Yeah, there's a lot in Masei.

Anne D. said...

At the risk of sounding as if I've totally missed your point, which I really think I haven't (!), I am moved to observe that the miracle is Everything, from the most individual journey to the all-encompassing unity. It is "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower" and, yes, slides us into decrepitude also.

The miracle is the "Why." Science can attempt to tell us how and maybe even when, but not why. At this fundamental cosmic bottom line I proclaim the source of all miracles, all Everything, unimaginable power and creation. Here is where I find G-d - which is to say, everywhere and in everything, free from time.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Wow, so glad I saw this Anne. So well put, with and beyond words.

This fits with something I recently wrote (and you also commented on the post it was in) the idea od the journeys and the destinations each mattering. One may add that each is equally miraculous.

Thanks for linking here and letting me know you connect with this idea.

rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thank you again RR for your appreciation of the pre nine days positive thought (I didn't even think of it that way) and for the good Chodesh wish, even for Av.

As I write this, the nine days have passed ut Av continues. Does Mishenichnas Av MeMaatin BeSimcha mean just from whe it starts till the 10th or might it ean the whole month? - that question just entered my head.

Thank you for your appreciating and commenting on my divrei Torah. It means a lot coming from someone who is so clearly serious about Torah and growth.