Torah Thoughts for Today
Thursday, February 05, 2004
#16: Splitting of the Sea: Exploding “Mother Nature”
Splitting of the Sea: Exploding “Mother Nature”

(Related to the weekly Torah portion of BeShalach (“Let Go”), read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 13, verse 17 – Chapter 17, verse 16. English text and commentary at:
Dedicated to my parents.)

In general western society, the workings of nature are often attributed to a purely fictional mythological non-existent entity called “mother nature”. Yet there also seems to be a link between “mother nature” and cold-dispassionate science in many people’s minds. “Miracles” have a dubious role in “mother nature” and they are not usually factored into modern scientific study, and perhaps such study is not the domain of science at all.

The events described in this week’s Torah portion are meant to teach humanity that all of nature and its “laws of nature” are completely controlled by God, 100% of the time, all the time, be it through normal nature or miraculous miracles. It’s also tied in with other parallel lessons.

The dramatic escape/expulsion of the Hebrews-Children of Israel-Jewish Nation from the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs, known as the EXODUS from Egypt - “YETSIAT MITSRAYIM”, took place in the Hebrew year 2448 from Creation (that’s 1312 B.C.E.), a little over 3,300 years ago! According to classical Judaism it took very real, yet to us perhaps SEEMINGLY almost “science-fiction” “atomic-powered” actions by God, called MIRACLES and/or PLAGUES to bring about the freedom of the Hebrews.

The world was literally “stood on its head” in order to pave the way for a NEW WORLD ORDER: THE PREPARATION FOR THE COMING REVELATION AT MOUNT SINAI WITH THE GIVING OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS SEVEN WEEKS AFTER THE EXODUS. In Hebrew: “MATTAN TORAH MIN HASHAMAYIM” – “The Giving of the Torah From Heaven (by God)”. These events are celebrated by Jews each year during the PASSOVER – “PESACH” and “SHAVUOT” (FESTIVAL OF {SEVEN} WEEKS) - PENTACOST Festivals/Holy Days. (“Shavuot” is sometimes referred to as Pentacost in English, because there is a period of 50 days between Passover and “Shavuot”, and the Greek word “Pentékosté” means "fiftieth”. NOT to be confused with the Christian day with the same name!) This is a very radical narrative and revolutionary vision of events that many different people have great difficulty with for many different reasons, yet it’s what the Torah teaches and what Judaism has maintained for over 3,300 years!

At the peak of all the puzzling events leading up to God’s Revelation at Mount Sinai, is the so-called “SPLITTING OF THE SUF (‘RED’ or ‘REED’) SEA” – “K’RIAT YAM SUF”, when the Children of Israel were saved as they passed through after being pursued by Egypt’s armed chariots. After the Israelites pass safely to the other side, moving away from Egypt, the Egyptians continued to give chase, following the trail of the Israelites, but they were drowned when the waters come crashing down on them. In gratitude, the Israelites sing a great prophetic song of praise to God, “SHIRAT HAYAM” - “SONG OF THE SEA”, which is so important that it has been incorporated into the DAILY morning prayers and is recited 365 days a year, every year!

Classical Oral Torah Law Teachings say that “THE SONG OF THE SEA” shows that they had all, as a nation, attained the level of the highest DIVINE PROPHECY. For example, when they exclaimed “This is my God and I will glorify Him” – “ZEH KELI VE-ANVEIHU”, (Exodus, Chapter 15, verse 2), the famous commentator RASHI (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 -1105) says that “In His Self-Glory He revealed Himself to them, and they pointed to Him, as it were, with the finger exclaiming ‘This is my God!’ A MAIDSERVANT BEHELD AT THE RED SEA WHAT EVEN THE PROPHETS (PARTICULARLY EZEKIEL BEN BUZI) NEVER SAW (from the Oral Law Mechilta).” [1]

To give you some idea of the scope of what is being said here, you should stop and consider that the Book of Ezekiel contains 48 long CHAPTERS of prophecy each with an average of about 25 verses (see Ezekiel online at http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1201.htm ), yet the Song of The Sea (see http://www.mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et0215.htm) is only ONE CHAPTER long, and the entire Book of Exodus (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0201.htm) is actually 8 CHAPTERS LESS than Ezekiel. Now, Ezekiel in his time surely preserved a lot of important visions and prophecies, yet we are taught that the 18 brief poetic VERSES in Exodus, Chapter 15, have within them GREATER CONCENTRATED PROPHECY CONCERNING GOD, THAN DOES ANYTHING IN THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL WITH ITS 48 LONG CHAPTERS! The classical commentator, the ROKEACH (Rabbi Elazar of Worms, Germany, 1160 - 1237) says: “The exclamation ‘This is my God,’ was due to the Children of Israel experiencing an actual perception of God’s Divine PRESENCE – ‘SHECHINAH’. The clarity of their prophetic vision…even of the women and maids, SURPASSED THAT OF THE LATER PROPHETS ISAIAH, JEREMIAH, AND EZEKIEL.” [2]

They saw visions then of what will only come to be at the end of times, such as the wars to conquer the Canaanites and “Palestinians” living in the Holy Land of Israel, and the eventual BUILDING OF THE FINAL PERMANENT THIRD HOLY TEMPLE (“BEIT HAMIKDASH”) IN JERUSALEM: “ With love, You led the people You redeemed; With might, You led them to Your holy shrine. NATIONS HEARD AND SHUDDERED; TERROR GRIPPED THOSE WHO DWELL IN PHILISTIA (‘PALESTINE’). Edom’s chiefs then panicked; Moab’s heroes were seized with trembling; Canaan’s residents melted away. Fear and dread fell upon them…Until Your people crossed, O God, until the people You gained crossed over. O BRING THEM AND PLANT THEM ON THE MOUNT YOU POSSES. THE PLACE YOU DWELL IN IS YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENT, GOD. THE SHRINE OF GOD YOUR HANDS HAVE FOUNDED. GOD WILL REIGN FOREVER AND EVER. [This song was sung] when Pharaoh’s horse/s came into the sea, along with his chariot corps and cavalry, and God made the sea come back on them. The Israelites had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea.” (Exodus, Chapter 15, vs. 13 – 19). [3]

According to the Oral Law Midrashim, when they sang: “THE SHRINE OF GOD YOUR HANDS HAVE FOUNDED” – “MIKDASH HASHEM KONENU YADECHA”, they were prophesying that God would eventually bring them at the end of time to the “MIKDASH” - “SHRINE”, meaning the ultimate Jewish “shrine” the THIRD “BEIT HAMIKDASH”, the “HOLY TEMPLE”, (actually the literal translation means “HOUSE OF (GOD’S) HOLINESS” which would be constructed with God’s own “Hands”, whereas the first two Temples were constructed by the human efforts of King Solomon and later Ezra the Scribe. Had the Children of Israel not subsequently worshipped the Golden Calf, then the First Temple would have been Divinely granted. Since they sinned in the wilderness, the first two Temples were man-made and hence did not endure. However, the “MIKDASH HASHEM” – SANCTUARY/HOLY PLACE OF GOD mentioned in the Song, has not yet arrived. It is a prophecy waiting to be fulfilled in the future. [4]

These events run counter to anything secularly oriented people may know today as they go to college, watch TV and surf the Web, and is often ridiculed in academia and in the mass media as examples of Biblical “myths” and “impossibilities”. To put the “Splitting of the Sea” in perspective is definitely a tough job, no question about it! Since it’s always at the crossroads of the debate between those who argue for and against the factuality of the Torah’s narratives, we need to somehow gain control over our knee-jerk reactions and probably unconscious emotions and childhood images that may flood our thought processes and TRY to see it in terms of the Torah’s teachings about the “nature” of “Nature” and how this ties in with the broader events of Jewish history as it starts with the Egyptian Exile and the Exodus from it and what it teaches about the past, present and future of the unique DESTINY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE, and what makes them always stand out in history and world affairs. As they say, “JEWS ARE NEWS”, so we may as well try to understand our origins and roots and the inner spiritual dynamics of Judaism as seen through Torah eyes, even if it may take a little suspension of ingrained disbelief and astonishment for a few moments of your time.

Questions on the subject are inevitable and even necessary in order to arrive at some insights that may satisfy a genuine truth seeker and not just for the fun of bashing religion. However, the problem arises, how does one bridge what we read in the Torah about the confrontations in ancient times between opposing peoples, nations, and world-views with “weird sounding” things like “miracles”, “plagues”, “blessings”, “curses” which most modern western educated people have great difficulty understanding, let alone “accepting” as the truth?
What is nature and why is classical Judaism always thrusting God into the middle of the discussion about it?
What is so special about certain famous Torah “miracles” and why are they so important in classical Judaism’s understanding of itself?
What have been some of the other views about nature and what makes everything function in this great universe of ours?
How important is it to know about, and maybe even “believe’ in, miracles as a Jew and can it ever be reconciled with modern science?

The miracles, meaning WONDROUS or SUPERNATURAL OR SUPRA-NATURAL EVENTS in the Torah are not just “random” happenings. There is an over-all context.
After all, the Book of Genesis precedes the Book of Exodus for many good logical reasons. One very important reason is that Genesis teaches in a very simple yet mysterious axiomatic beginning that God created the world out of NOTHING, which is perhaps the greatest “MIRACLE” of all. Science ponders the “BIG BANG” and the “ONE-CELLED AMOEBA”, but the Torah says that God created the world in “seven days”. With the passage of time this lesson was lost to humankind, and it became necessary to teach the world once again that it is God that creates everything and the chosen vehicle for this lesson to the world was the Chosen People of Israel starting on a global level at the time of the Exodus.

It is through various struggles ON DIFFERENT LEVELS that God’s status in the world becomes known:

On a NATIONAL LEVEL it is between the powerful ungrateful ancient world empire of Egypt based on slavery ruled by the Pharaoh kings who reigned as absolute tyrannical self-serving incestuous monarchs, and on the opposing side the enslaved Hebrews the Children of Israel, the Twelve Tribes descended from Jacob’s Twelve Sons who had come to Egypt originally seeking respite from the hunger in the Land of Canaan (Israel) which was parched from drought, but who had been protected by the Hebrew Joseph who had risen to leadership and saved Egypt itself from doom with his wise planning.

On a LEADERSHIP LEVEL it was also between two leaders, Pharaoh who saw himself as a human god, with all the “rights and privileges attached thereunto” and supreme ruler over the fate of all his subjects and slaves which included the Hebrews, and on the other hand Moses, described as the most modest of men who at first declines to lead his people, but having been handed a mandate by God to liberate and free the Hebrews in order to worship God, confronts Pharaoh and the Egyptians and succeeds when Egypt is crushed by ten plagues and Pharaoh then submits (temporarily) and the Children of Israel, as well as a “mixed multitude” of camp-followers, are set free from slavery. The first successful “National Liberation Movement”, a REVOLUTION in human history, giving FREEDOM TO SLAVES.

On the LEVEL OF NATURE, there is the tension between the seemingly normal world of “PROBABILITY THEORY” in which the strongest rule with the certainty and precision of the (Darwinian) “survival of the fittest” species being the order of the day, and nature prevails as it is taken for granted that the revealed laws of the human and animal jungle will always remain predictable phenomena so that humankind can harness and co-opt the forces of “mother nature”, versus the UNEXPECTED AND UNPREDICTABLE POSSIBILITY that a potentiality exists for a “hypothesis” that the laws of nature are connected to a completely inexplicable and different source, a less predictable hidden dimension, and that nature can even be negated by sudden surges and uprisings of reactions or energies from those forces that emanate from that other mysterious unknown dimension which can turn everything upside down in seconds and prove how foolish it is to take anything in nature for granted. (This is NOT a pitch for “CHAOS THEORY”, it’s just an observation that “sudden chaos” may sometimes lead to a re-evaluation of prior assumptions, and force the observer to arrive at a completely unexpected “new” appreciation and definition of REALITY.)

On the LEVEL OF SPIRITUAL FORCES, Egypt is rooted in deep paganism, animal worship, Pharaoh worship, astrology, sex-cults, superstition, magic and sorcery and occult powers of demonology, whereas the Hebrews are the custodians of a unique pure Ethical Monotheism (Belief in One God only) and its values embraced and practiced by their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who claimed to have a special covenant with a one and only INVISIBLE God whose control over the universe is absolute over any and all entities and energies, be they positive or negative, that goes against all the depravities of Egypt’s laws and lore.

On an ABSOLUTE LEVEL there is the struggle between “Good” and “Evil” according to a framework developed and imposed by God in the Torah, the Jewish Bible. From this perspective, all other levels fall into one of two categories: Either Anti-God, which the Torah labels EVIL and connected to DEATH, and Pro-God which is called GOOD connected to LIFE. For example, Pharaoh is told that it is God who wants the Hebrews freed, yet Pharaoh is the one who replies: “Who is God that I should obey Him and let Israel go? I do not recognize God. Nor will I let Israel leave.” (Exodus, Chapter 5, verse 2).

In spite of his stubbornness, Pharaoh is nevertheless given a choice. The important lesson is that human beings, being created with brains and their minds, have the capacity to reason and think which gives them the mechanism to have FREEDOM OF CHOICE, and NOT be ruled by animalistic cunning and instincts alone, and are admonished to choose good:
“See! Today I have set before you [a free choice] between life and good [on one side], and death and evil [on the other]. I have commanded you today to love God your Lord, to walk in His paths…you will then survive and flourish…But if your heart turns aside and you do not listen…you will be utterly exterminated…I call heaven and earth as witnesses! BEFORE YOU I HAVE PLACED LIFE AND DEATH, THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE. YOU MUST CHOOSE LIFE, SO THAT YOU AND YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL SURVIVE.” (Deuteronomy, Chapter 30, vs. 15 - 19). [5]

According to this latter framework, there is indeed a master plan for the universe that makes sense of all events in nature, history, human nature and spirituality:
The ancient Egyptians, Pharaoh, with their nature and animal worship chose EVIL as they in effect colluded to put down and eradicate the Hebrews, Moses and spiritual truth that are part of an absolute GOOD as requested by God. At the time of the EXODUS, the “stronger” (negative) powers and forces of Egypt, Pharaoh magic and nature are shattered and humbled, in spite of all their efforts to stop and fight off the “weaker” (positive) Hebrews, Moses and his rod, and the Ten Plagues that had been deployed against them.

Perhaps the best symbol of this is the meek lamb which for some reason beyond our present scope of knowledge about the occult, was to the ancient Egyptians “Aries the Ram” a supreme god they worshiped particularly during the Hebrew month of Nissan (approximately in April) in which “Aries the Ram” is astrologically dominant, and which has Passover in the middle of it. Yet, (in Exodus, Chapter 12, http://www.mechon-mamre.org/e/et/et0212.htm) God commands that the Hebrews slaughter lambs, roast them, and eat them on the first night and in Jerusalem in Temple times on all subsequent Passover Eves known as the “Paschal Lamb” or “Passover Offering” – “KORBAN PESACH”. In effect God commands the Hebrews to MAKE A MEAL OUT OF THE EGYPTIAN NATURE GOD, THE LAMB. On the night of the FIRST Exodus ONLY, the Israelites were also commanded to sprinkle and smear the slaughtered lambs’ blood on their door-posts as a sign of protection during the time when God would “PASS – OVER”, (that is the actual source for the name “PASSOVER”), the homes of the Israelites, smiting and killing the Egyptian first-born in the last and most frightening plague.

(In all probability this is the source for the worst sort of ongoing Anti-Semitic slander known as the “Blood Libel” that foists the falsehood that for Passover, Jews “kill non Jews” and use their blood in making the dry unleavened bread –“MATZAH” that they eat on Passover. There is absolutely NO SUCH THING of course, and Anti-Semites are always ready to create myths out of their own ignorance and misunderstanding of the facts. MATZAH may be made from flour and water only. For the infirm and young some fruit juice or chicken egg may be added to the dough. Any drop of blood from any source would make it not just totally NOT KOSHER but repugnant too.
It was GOD and NOT the Jews who decreed death upon the Egyptian first born, the Jews were themselves victims of Egyptian death decrees against their babies, and were miserable slaves. God in His Infinite Wisdom saw fit to tell them to smear LAMBS’ blood on their doorposts AS A ONE TIME EVENT ONLY as this is never done again, even though it’s only lambs’ blood and NOTHING ELSE. It’s not a “Jew versus the world” thing at all! In fact many millions of non-Hebrews were also spared and joined them in freedom as the “mixed multitude”.
God later commands the Israelites to slaughter LAMBS at Passover time and each family is commanded to roast and eat it in Jerusalem during the time that the Jewish Temples stood. In the temple, the PRIESTS – “KOHANIM” would sprinkle some blood from slaughtered KOSHER ANIMALS on the sacrificial altars, as they were instructed to do in Leviticus and elsewhere. The very notion of “slaughtering”, meaning to MURDER a human being as part of any “religious rituals” is anathema and repulsive to everything in the Torah and Judaism and is explicitly FORBIDDEN in the Ten Commandments, and is part of the pathetic “Satanic” blood-thirsty Anti-Semitic tactic of inverting and subverting the truth, making the real Jew-killer vampires of history into “victims”, when it is the Anti-Semites themselves who are part of Black Magic cults that kill innocent victims for their dark and monstrous beliefs. For thousands of years, it was millions of Jews who were almost always actually victims of Anti-Semitic hateful and racist POGROMS and GENOCIDE trapped in Christian “ghettos”, Czarist “shtetels”; Soviet “gulags”; Nazi extermination camps and as Islam’s dhimis, innocent scapegoats and victims of hateful racist myths worthy of the Romans, the Inquisition, the Nazis and modern day Saudi-sponsored “Jihads”.)

Returning to the more general theme of nature, home of the lambs and the rams and those who either eat or worship them, we know that once upon a time, and even not so long ago, there was a movement called “Pantheism”. A few still practice this old pagan worship. “Pan” being the so-called “god” of nature named by the ancient Greeks, and many people believed that “God” and “Nature” were one and the same thing. It’s still alive today. Consider this interview with one of the world’s foremost scientists: “Larry King (CNN interviewer): Do you believe in God? Stephen Hawking (famous scientist): Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe” (December 25, 1999). Or: A quote from Mikhail Gorbachev (last leader of the Communist USSR): “I believe in the cosmos. All of us are linked to the cosmos. So nature is my god. To me, nature is sacred. Trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals. Being at one with nature”. How about the pitch at http://www.pantheism.net/ :

“Is Nature your Spiritual Home? Do you feel a deep sense of peace and belonging and wonder in the midst of nature, in a forest, by the ocean, or on a mountaintop? Are you speechless with awe when you look up at the sky on a clear moonless night and see the Milky Way strewn with stars as thick as sand on a beach? When you see breakers crashing on a rocky shore, or hear wind rustling in a poplar's leaves, are you uplifted by the energy and creativity of existence? Do you find it impossible to believe in supernatural beings, and difficult to conceive of anything more worthy of reverence than the beauty of nature or the power of the universe? If you answered yes to these questions, then you will feel thoroughly at home in the ‘World Pantheist Movement’. Our caring and celebratory approach focuses on nature rather than the supernatural, on what we can see and do and live out rather than on invisible entities that we can only imagine.”

And their solution?:
“In the ‘WPM’ we take the real universe and nature as our starting and finishing point, not some preconceived idea of God. We feel a profound wonder and awe for these, similar to the reverence that believers in more conventional gods feel towards their deity, but without groveling worship or belief that Nature has a mind or personality that we can influence through prayer or ritual. Our ethics are humanistic and green, our metaphysics naturalist and scientific, but to these we add the emotional and aesthetic dimensions which humans need to joyfully embrace their place in the universe and to motivate their concern for nature and human welfare.” [6]

So it seems that “Mother Nature” is not lonely, even nowadays. Perhaps by now it may just be an innocuous acknowledgment of the myriad “forces” that power nature as well as recognizing nature’s power. “Mother Nature” surely has her hands full, giving out all that information on global and space issues. She is being inundated by “Freedom of Information” requests of studies in zoology, botany, chemistry, physics, physiology, psychology, anthropology, geology, astronomy, oceanography, all aided by science, technology, and engineering. But there are other names that crop up too, such as “eco-systems” and animal “kingdoms” all perched atop “evolutionary ladders” that are “mutating”, “mating”, and just plain old “evolving” from “lower” to “higher” grades of life on the Earth’s “crust” as it sometimes rumbles and gets measured on the “Richter scale”.

But on the other hand, “Mother Nature” is sitting in God’s “cross-hairs” and she gets jolted and shocked when the Jews come along and recount their FAITH in the EXODUS and its repercussions every time Passover rolls around! What we merely read, and hopefully study, in these Torah portions about the Ten Plagues that the Egyptians suffered as a punishment for unjustifiably enslaving the Hebrews, the Exodus, and the splitting of the sea, the Jewish People is commanded to celebrate as a HOLIDAY - “YOM TOV” (means “GOOD DAY” in Hebrew) for eight days in the world, and seven in Israel. On Passover Eve, during the special “SEDER” MEAL and reciting the “HAGADAH” text, we read and give praise to all the MIRACLES that God performed. In fact included in the “HAGADAH” is a debate among the Talmudic sages as to HOW MANY MIRACLES DID GOD PERFORM AT THE SPLITTING OF THE SEA?:
“Rabbi Yosi the Galilean says: ‘How does one derive that the Egyptians were struck with TEN plagues in Egypt, but with FIFTY plagues at the Sea? …In Egypt the sorcerers (having failed to replicate the same effects through their magic) said ‘It is the FINGER of God’. (Exodus, Chapter 8, verse 15)…At the Sea the Torah relates: ‘and Israel saw the great HAND which God had laid upon the Egyptians’ (Exodus, Chapter 14, verse 31). …How many plagues did they receive with the FINGER? TEN! Then conclude …they must have suffered FIFTY plagues at the Sea, where they were struck with a whole HAND’.
Rabbi Eliezer says: ‘How does one derive that EVERY plague that God inflicted on the Egyptians in Egypt was equal to FOUR plagues? As its says (in Psalms, Chapter 78, verse 49): ‘He sent upon them His fierce anger: WRATH (=ONE); FURY (=TWO); and TROUBLE (=THREE); a BAND OF EMISSARIES OF EVIL (=FOUR)’ therefore conclude that in Egypt they were struck by FORTY plagues (TEN times FOUR = FORTY), and at the Sea by TWO HUNDRED’, (expanding on the above idea that the TEN plagues equaled ONE FINGER, and then each plague is expanded into FOUR plagues, in Egypt there were FORTY plagues and so at the Sea when they were hit by God’s HAND, it is FIVE times FORTY which equals TWO HUNDRED).
Rabbi Akiva says: ‘How does one derive that EACH plague that God inflicted upon the Egyptians in Egypt was equal to FIVE plagues? As it says (same verse in Psalms, Chapter 78, verse 49, but start the count with an earlier word): ‘He sent upon them His: FIERCE ANGER (=ONE); WRATH (=TWO); FURY (=THREE); TROUBLE (=FOUR) and A BAND OF EMISSARIES OF EVIL (=FIVE)’ therefore conclude that in Egypt they were struck by FIFTY plagues (as EACH plague equals FIVE plagues) and these FIFTY being the “FINGER of God”, and so at the Sea when they were hit by God’s “HAND”, made up of “FIVE FINGERS”, then the total is TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY (FIFTY multiplied by FIVE) plagues.’”[7]

The purpose of the above “exercise” in the “HAGADAH”, which is recited at the Passover “SEDER” is not to show that the ancient rabbis knew arithmetic or that they were competing for some sort of pre-historic “sadism award” against the poor Egyptians!
There are thousands of rabbinic interpretations to these events. As an example, the MAHARAL (Rabbi Judah Loew, Prague 1525 – 1609) explains as follows: “The redemption of the Jews is a two stage process. Man is susceptible to harm from other HUMAN BEINGS and from the FORCES OF NATURE. God redeemed Israel from BOTH sources! Pharaoh and the mighty Egyptian empire were defeated during the Exodus, thus exhibiting that NO HUMAN POWER CAN STAND UP AGAINST GOD. The Splitting of the Sea proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Creator has full control of His world and CAN CHANGE THE ‘IMMUTABLE’ LAWS OF NATURE on behalf of His people. The Midrash Tanchuma points out that Pharaoh said (in Exodus Chapter 5, verse 2):‘WHO IS GOD THAT I SHOULD OBEY HIM AND LET ISRAEL GO? I DO NOT RECOGNIZE GOD. NOR WILL I LET ISRAEL LEAVE. ’ - In Hebrew: ‘MI’ is the word for “WHO”, and the numerical value of ‘MI’ in Hebrew is FIFTY (‘M’= FORTY; plus ‘I’= TEN). It was at the Sea, when he and his army were hit by FIFTY plagues that he got the answer to his question ‘WHO – ‘MI’- is God?!” [8]

In conclusion, I would like to reproduce at length the following article here by Morris Engelson available at http://www.aishdas.org/articles/miracles.doc as it sheds great light on the issue of understanding “MIRACLES” in our own “scientific” times from the perspective of classical Judaism.

“Morris Engelson: I discuss miracles at several places in my book The Heavenly Time Machine: Essays on Science and Torah. This essay uses the same material, in a somewhat different context. Let us consider miracles from three perspectives: common usage, the Torah and science.”

1) The miracle in common usage.

“Morris Engelson:
Most people would agree that a miracle involves Divine intervention. If the evidence points to Divine intervention then we have a miracle. Otherwise we do not have a miracle. Most people would say that a violation of natural law requires Divine intervention and is indicative of a miracle. Many people would also say that to prevail against incredibly high odds also calls for Divine intervention.”

“The point of the matter is that it is the Divine intervention that makes the miracle. Taken any event, no matter what the odds, or how it comes about, or who is involved, is a miracle if it is due to Divine intervention. This common-sense approach is also the approach taken by the Torah, as discussed next.”[9]

2) The miracle in Torah

“Morris Engelson:
When most of us refer to miracles in the Torah we are talking about Divine intervention to change the natural order of the world. These so called ‘open’, or obvious, miracles are described by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (Lithuania, England, Israel, 1892 – 1954), whom I quote extensively in my book. He notes that ‘[O]n rare occasions... ‘Hashem’ - God will override the laws He has written into the cosmos and perform open miracles which have no physical cause.’”

“We also have hidden miracles which can be ascribed to a natural cause, but the Torah informs us that the event was due to Divine intervention. In other words, it was a miracle because the Torah tells us so. But we have no obvious physical proof of it. There is yet a third category of miracle which most people are not aware of. The Torah assures us that all happenings, including that which we call nature or the laws of nature, are due to ongoing Divine intervention. These then are miracles also, if we go by the basic definition that Divine intervention means ‘miracle.’ Here is how Rabbi Dessler explains it in his book Strive for Truth. ‘What is the difference between the natural and the miraculous? ... We call God’s act a ‘miracle’ when He wills an occurrence which is novel and unfamiliar to us and which consequently makes us aware of the hand of G-d. We call God’s acts ‘nature’ when He wills that certain events should occur in a recognizable pattern with which we are familiar.’”

“Indeed, to get back to the ‘natural’ after a miracle can be as difficult, or even more difficult, than to get the miracle in the first place. We have a principle, noted in Talmud Tractate Taanith, that to undo a miracle is a greater miracle than to produce the original miracle. Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz M.D. (South Africa, Israel, England) provides an example in his book World Mask. Why was it necessary for Moses to stretch out his staff to bring the waters back to their original condition after the Israelites had crossed the miraculously dry sea? The waters simply had to go back to their natural, meaning normal, condition. This should have happened on its own once the miracle was finished. But there is no naturally normal condition that the waters want to assume. Whatever condition God chooses is the normal condition at that time, and it takes miraculous Divine intervention to get something else. Even when that something else is what we are used to. This is because, as Rabbi Dr. Tatz tells us, ‘nature is miraculous no less than its rarest exceptions... The only difference is that we are used to the one and the other is unexpected... a miracle is no more wonderful than the natural.’”

“Here is another well-known story about miracles that illustrates our point. We have the following story, about the exceptionally pious Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, in Talmud Tractate Taanith page 25a. One Friday, near twilight, he saw that his daughter seemed upset, and he asked what was the matter. The daughter explained that she had mistaken a bottle of vinegar for a bottle of oil and she poured the vinegar into the Sabbath lamp. The implication being that they would not have any light on the Sabbath because vinegar does not burn. I do not know how the reader would react. But I must confess that my reaction would not be the same as for Rabbi Hanina. But then I am not as Rabbi Hanina in spiritual potential. He simply looked at his daughter and told her not to be sad. “This has nothing to do with you. He who tells the oil to burn can also tell the vinegar to burn.” And we are told that the vinegar did actually burn. The immediate reaction is to note that Rabbi Hanina was not surprised by the open miracle of burning vinegar. But there is a more subtle message here. Rabbi Hanina made it clear that oil, no less than vinegar, needs a Divine command to burn. Burning oil is no less a case of Divine intervention than burning vinegar.”

“It is clear from the above, and other Torah-based examples, that while the Torah does recognize unique events that people call open miracles, ultimately all that transpires is of the same miraculous category. There is no ‘nature.’ Everything is one continuous miracle. Clearly this is contrary to science. And it would appear that Torah is opposed to science. But that is not the case. The Torah is actually in full agreement with science in spite of the above analysis. This is because the Torah also holds that all can be described as part of ‘nature’, even open miracles. The Torah holds two realities to be true. One is the reality of this world of ‘nature’ described by scientific laws. This is the world that we physically live in and interact with. The other is the spiritual world which is the cause of the physical result. Some people who are at a high enough spiritual level, such as Rabbi Hanina, can perceive the spiritual and it is as real to them, or even more real to them, as the physical world that we live in. But most of us only get an occasional glimpse of the spiritual, given our strong attachment to the physical. Yet both realities are true.”

“The Torah insists, absolutely insists, that we have free will to believe as we wish. That means that there must be the possibility of a scientific, naturalistic, explanation for everything, even though the underlying reality is the cause of it all. Here is how Rabbi Dessler puts it. ‘Nature has no objective existence; it is merely an illusion which gives man a chance to exercise his free will... What is real is the will of ‘Hashem’ - God and nothing else.’ But how many of us are at a spiritual level to actually perceive this? To most of us it is the physical that is the real reality. And the Torah accepts this because, even though ‘Someone who has no idea of the underlying purpose which these two different modes of perception serve, will see a conflict... The perception of causality is also necessary so that we may discern the hand of God behind the causes.’ ‘[W]e may discern’, but we are not compelled to discern. We have free will to choose. The Torah provides for the possibility that there will be those who choose a purely natural universe, devoid of any spiritual dimension. This is a universe explained only by science. And even an open miracle, such as burning vinegar, is included. Let’s take a look at how this works.” [10]

3) The miracle in science

“Morris Engelson:
Richard Dawkins (Great Britain), who holds that belief in the Bible is not only wrong but actually damaging, tells us in The Blind Watchmaker that that which we call miracles are just ‘improbable natural events.’ Science insists that all can, or eventually will be, explained on a natural basis. Science does not agree to Divine intervention. Hence science does not agree to miracles. Furthermore, the Torah says that this is how it is supposed to be. How else can we have absolute freedom to choose what to believe? Surely we would be compelled to believe in the Torah if science agreed in principle to Divine intervention in ‘nature?’”

“Here is how Rabbi Dessler explains the scientific position respecting miracles. ‘They would look for, and find, some twist in a physical theory which would account for the miracle in materialistic terms, or they would invent an entirely new theory; in one way or another they would inevitably assimilate the miracle to the naturalist scheme. The miraculous would become ‘nature’.’ Not only does science try to ‘account for the miracle in materialistic terms’, but science actively searches for ‘miracles’ for this purpose. This is how science makes progress.”

“The Nobel prize is not given to investigators who replicate a previously known result. Rather the honors and awards go to those who find something new that previous theory and experiments did not anticipate. There was great excitement in physics, early in 2001, because the standard model had apparently been broken. That is, it looks like we finally have experimental results that do not fit the model. Now we can learn something new as the model is modified to incorporate these results or, if necessary, a new model will be crafted. As Rabbi Dessler says, ‘they would look for a new theory’ and the results that can not currently be explained as natural (i.e. miracles) will be ‘assimilated ... to the naturalist scheme.’ This is how science works. This is how science progresses. The Torah accepts that this is what science must do. The Torah recognizes the legitimacy of science. Yes, there are serious disagreements with certain science-based results. But there is no quarrel with science, per se. But science is not that generous to Torah. Science refuses to agree to the Bible or to miracles. What are we to do?”

“What are we to do? I address this issue in my book The Heavenly Time Machine. We can examine two questions. To what degree do modern science and ancient Torah agree? The answer is that these agree to a most remarkable degree. That is the substance of the book. Another question that we can examine is whether science does, in fact, point to miracles, even though it is not supposed to. Surprisingly, the answer is yes.”

“Officially, science does not recognize a miracle, and even open miracles are eventually assimilated into ‘nature.’ But how many coincidences can the mind accept before one starts to wonder? Science tells us that it is not impossible for all the air in a room to suddenly concentrate in one corner leaving the rest of the room in a vacuum. But how many atheistic scientists would not start to consider, even a little bit, at the idea of a miracle? The possibility for this universe to be here with creatures like us has been estimated by Oxford mathematician, Roger Penrose, as less than one chance in a googolplex. A googolplex is a one followed by a googol of zeros. And a googol is a one followed by 100 zeros. A googolplex is an impossible number to visualize. Suffice it to say that the air in the corner example is no big deal on this scale of probability. And it is all made up out a number of independent highly improbable events. How many coincidences can one accept before one starts to wonder if there is not some hidden mechanism controlling it all?”

“The Earth is at just the right place; not too hot and not too cold. But planetary formation processes say that there should not be any planet here. Planets should be spaced at a distance ration of roughly double each distance from the sun. This works perfectly if we include the asteroid belt as a planet that did not stick together, and we exclude Pluto as not a real planet. Venus is in the right place. Mars is in the right place. So what is the Earth doing in the middle where it does not belong? We need liquid water. Our type of life could not exist without liquid water. But solids are usually denser than the liquid state, and solid water should sink and not float. This would cause oceans and rivers to freeze from the bottom up and this would destroy the possibility of life. But ice is less dense than water and it floats, contrary to the rules. All life on Earth depends on carbon. But carbon should really not exist. Except that it does. On and on, the coincidences keep piling on till we get into the googolplex range. No wonder the world-renowned scientist, Stephen Hawking, tells us in A Brief History of Time that, given our current state of scientific knowledge, he is compelled to consider this universe ‘as evidence of a Divine purpose in creation.’ Astronomer Martin Rees asks in Just Six Numbers how this universe can be explained. He rejects coincidence as impossible and is left with just two explanations, providence or a conjecture that ours is one among many existing universes.”

“Over and over again, science at the highest levels, points to Divine intervention. A cover story in the July 20, 1998 issue of Newsweek tells us that ‘Science Finds God.’ ‘And although it cannot prove God’s existence, science might whisper to believers where to seek the divine.’ To repeat from Rabbi Dessler, science and ‘causality are necessary so that we might discern the hand of G-d behind the causes.’ Science does not compel anybody to believe in miracles, but it is not forbidden, and science even points in that direction. We have freedom to choose. And that may be the greatest miracle of all.” [11]

Have a great Shabbat and please let me know what you think!

[1] Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary, Exodus, M. Rosenbaum and A. Silberman, pp. 75a-b.
[2] The Midrash Says, Exodus, p.135.
[3] The Living Torah, English translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, pp. 327 – 331
[4] The Midrash Says, pp.144 – 145.
[5] The Living Torah, p. 1017.
[6] http://www.pantheism.net/
[7] “The Pesach Haggadah Anthology”/The Living Exodus, Artscroll Mesorah Series, pp. 116 –121.
[8] Ibid.
[9] http://www.aishdas.org/articles/miracles.doc Morris Engelson: “I discuss miracles at several places in my book The Heavenly Time Machine: Essays on Science and Torah. This essay uses the same material, in a somewhat different context.”
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.

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