Thursday, January 13, 2011

Supernatural Vs Natural Miracles Why the Difference?

In this week's Parsha, Bishalach, G-D splits the Red Sea in order to save the Jewish people and punish the Egyptians. This Miracle was clearly outside the realm of nature, as will be discussed. However, the very next miracles that occur are clearly miracles performed THROUGH nature. Why does G-D do this and what can we take away from this?

It says in Shemos (14:21-25):

כא. וַיֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ עַל הַיָּם וַיּוֹלֶךְ יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶת הַיָּם בְּרוּחַ קָדִים עַזָּה כָּל הַלַּיְלָה וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הַיָּם לֶחָרָבָה וַיִּבָּקְעוּ הַמָּיִם:
21. And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split.

כב. וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חֹמָה מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם:
22. Then the children of Israel came into the midst of the sea on dry land, and the waters were to them as a wall from their right and from their left.

כג. וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם וַיָּבֹאוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם כֹּל סוּס פַּרְעֹה רִכְבּוֹ וּפָרָשָׁיו אֶל תּוֹךְ הַיָּם:
23. The Egyptians pursued and came after them all Pharaoh s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen, into the midst of the sea.

כד. וַיְהִי בְּאַשְׁמֹרֶת הַבֹּקֶר וַיַּשְׁקֵף יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ וְעָנָן וַיָּהָם אֵת מַחֲנֵה מִצְרָיִם:
24. It came about in the morning watch that the Lord looked down over the Egyptian camp through a pillar of fire and cloud, and He threw the Egyptian camp into confusion.

כה. וַיָּסַר אֵת אֹפַן מַרְכְּבֹתָיו וַיְנַהֲגֵהוּ בִּכְבֵדֻת וַיֹּאמֶר מִצְרַיִם אָנוּסָה מִפְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי יְ־הֹוָ־ה נִלְחָם לָהֶם בְּמִצְרָיִם:
25. And He removed the wheels of their chariots, and He led them with heaviness, and the Egyptians said, Let me run away from the Israelites because the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians

 It seems clear that this act of G-D, splitting the sea and destroying the Egyptian army, was supernatural. Moses lifted up his hand and that is what caused the eastern wind to come and split the sea. Not only was the sea split, but there was a wall of water on both sides of the Jews, stagnant water! Not only was there stagnant water, but somehow the eastern wind kept blowing, it kept the sea split, but yet the Jews were able to walk through the water without being blown away. So either there was a non-natural miracle that allowed the Jews to walk through this powerful wind that could split the sea without problems or there was some completely unnatural miracle that was keeping the sea split in order that the Jews could walk through without the wind. 

After this event and the singing and dancing to praise G-D the Jews started to complain about not having water for three days. As it says (ibid 15:22-23):

כב. וַיַּסַּע מֹשֶׁה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּם סוּף וַיֵּצְאוּ אֶל מִדְבַּר שׁוּר וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר וְלֹא מָצְאוּ מָיִם:
 22. Moses led Israel away from the Red Sea, and they went out into the desert of Shur; they walked for three days in the desert but did not find water.

כג. וַיָּבֹאוּ מָרָתָה וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת מַיִם מִמָּרָה כִּי מָרִים הֵם עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ מָרָה:
23. They came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah. 

 כד. וַיִּלֹּנוּ הָעָם עַל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר מַה נִּשְׁתֶּה:
24. The people complained against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?

 However, this problem was not solved with a supernatural miracle. Rather, G-D told Moses what to do in a natural way (ibid 15:25):

כה. וַיִּצְעַק אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה וַיּוֹרֵהוּ יְ־הֹוָ־ה עֵץ וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶל הַמַּיִם וַיִּמְתְּקוּ הַמָּיִם שָׁם שָׂם לוֹ חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט וְשָׁם נִסָּהוּ:
25. So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord instructed him concerning a piece of wood, which he cast into the water, and the water became sweet. There He gave them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them.

 G-D told Moshe what type of plant would make the water drinkable. This was not a supernatural miracle, rather it was through nature that the water became drinkable. All G-D did was tell Moshe which plants would NATURALLY fix the bitter water. Don't take my word for it, just ask the Chizkuni (Top Right of the page). He says, "Even though G-D has the ability to sweeten the water without the plant it is His way to perform miracles according to nature (the ways of the world)."

This naturalistic miracle  was also performed in the end of this chapter as well. It says (ibid 27):

כז. וַיָּבֹאוּ אֵילִמָה וְשָׁם שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה עֵינֹת מַיִם וְשִׁבְעִים תְּמָרִים וַיַּחֲנוּ שָׁם עַל הַמָּיִם:
27. They came to Elim, and there were twelve water fountains and seventy palms, and they encamped there by the water.

There just happened to be a fountain of water for each tribe and 70 date palms, the number of Elders? Even if this was a coincidence, why would the Torah decide to tell us about this specific area while it ignores so many others? The Ramban tells us why, because this was a naturalistic miracle! The Ramban quotes for us the following Mechilta :

ר' אלעזר המודעי אמר: מיום שברא הקב"ה את עולמו ברא שם שתים עשרה מבועין כנגד י"ב שבטי ישראל, ושבעים דקלים כנגד שבעים זקנים. וספר הכתוב זה כי חנו עליהם כל שבט על מבועו, והזקנים ישבו בצלם לשבח האל עליהם שהכין להם כן בארץ ציה. 

Rabbi Elazar Hamodai says, "From the day G-D created His world, He created there (Elim) 12 fountains of water which correlate to the 12 tribes of Israel and seventy date palms which correlate to the 70 elders. The [Torah] told us this verse that each tribe camped by their fountain of water and each elder sat in the shade of his own date palm to praise G-D for them because He prepared this for them."

G-D had prepared this area for them in a miraculous way. He had created this very spot for the Jews to come and camp at the time of creation! This is just like the Mishna in Pirkei Avos that tells us 10 things were prepared by G-D during the twilight of the sixth day: The mouth of the earth that swallowed Korach's rebellion, the worm that carved the stones for the Temple and so on.

However, the question still remains, "Why does G-D need to tell us about these naturalistic miracles? There are so many things on the journey that were not talked about, as the Ramban told us earlier in his commentary on this verse (27), why are these naturalistic miracles special?"

As in so many other things, I believe that G-D is teaching us a valuable lesson here. G-D told Moshe to use a plant to fix the water and not just wave his hand. Also, he created the world with this spot in the desert that fit the Jewish people's needs perfectly and did not just conjure it into existence from thin air. However, G-D did use supernatural means to save the Jews at the Red Sea and to destroy the Egyptian army. There is one verse that can clearly explain the difference and it is found at the end of Chapter 14 (verse 31):

לא. וַיַּרְא יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת הַיָּד הַגְּדֹלָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּמִצְרַיִם וַיִּירְאוּ הָעָם אֶת יְ־הֹוָ־ה וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּי־הֹוָ־ה וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ:
31. And Israel saw the great hand, which the Lord had used upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in Moses, His servant.

Why did the Jews believe in G-D and Moshe? What prepared the Jews to believe in G-D and Moshe in order that they could now go to Mt. Sinai and receive the Torah? It was this single event that happened at the Red Sea, the supernatural occurrence of the sea splitting and G-D making His supernatural presence felt. Only then could the Jewish people claim that they KNEW G-D was G-D and that He was the supreme being. Only then could they be certain that all other G-D's were false and all other "powers"  in the world were false. Only G-D has the power to control anything in the world. 

Unfortunately, this revelation also had a draw back, the Jews now expected open miracles that reverse nature on a constant basis. This is why they complained about not having water. They wanted G-D to magically produce water in the middle of the desert. However, G-D wanted to teach them that the world does not work like that. The only reason G-D revealed Himself and His supernatural presence at the Red Sea was in order that the Jewish people know He exists and believe in Him. Before His revelation there was no guarantee that Moshe was not just an amazing sorcerer or working for a powerful Idol. It was only through G-D's personal revelation to the Jewish people that they now knew who Moshe was and G-D's power.

Essentially, G-D was telling the Jews NOT to rely on unnatural miracles to get them through hard times. Therefore, G-D showed Moshe how to turn the unusable water into usable water, through natural means that took effort and the part of the Jewish people. Also, the Jewish people needed to travel to Elim in order to reach the springs of water and the date trees. Their hard travels and hard work payed off and they were able to reap the benefits of their labor. 

I think that is the lesson the Torah is trying to teach us here. Even though the Torah teaches us about a supernatural G-D that is all powerful, we still should not expect Him to bend the laws of nature for us. We must work and toil to get what we need. We must fight and defend ourselves in order to survive. Sitting back, closing our eyes and hoping G-D will provide is never an option. There always must be those willing to sacrifice and lead or we will be in big trouble.  

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