As every student of the sciences will tell you, nature does not work in chaotic randomness. Nature’s majesty is reflected in the mystery of her order and constancy. The one time rising of the sun is called chance. Twice might be luck. The third time is a coincidence. The fourth time begins to amaze. The fifth time is a wonder. The sixth time confounds. The seventh time and beyond is a mystery. Yet, when it happens daily with unfailing consistency we call it nature.
From the very beginning, the exodus from Egypt was intended to proclaim G-d’s undisputed mastery over the universe. As I explained in last week’s issue, the message would have been most clear had Moshe immediately accepted the mission. As the verses state, Moshe’s initial mission was to go to Pharaoh and take the Jews out of Egypt. From there he was to bring them to the Promised Land. The moment Moshe would have delivered G-d’s message to Pharaoh, Pharaoh would have consented to free the Jews. More so than that, before leaving, the Egyptians would have presented the Jews with enormous wealth just as Pharaoh had done to Avraham when he left Egypt. As my Grandfather Zt’l explained, that would have shown the world that all events are under G-d’s control. All events are intended and have a specified beginning and a specified end. Nothing is random; nothing is by chance. Everything, including the actions of kings and nations, fits into G-d’s intended design for the universe. There had been a reason why G-d wanted the Jews enslaved. When that reason was satisfied, there was no longer any reason for the Jews to be enslaved. Therefore, Pharaoh would have let them go.
However, Moshe did not immediately accept the mission and the ensuing saga of the Exodus was the result. (to the great glee and profit of Heston and Spielberg) Moshe was forced to use persuasion, miracles, and plagues. Moshe became a miracle worker rather than a mere messenger. In the process, G-d’s absolute control over he universe was partially obscured. Instead of the redemption being done by G-d and only G-d, the redemption would be seen as collaboration between G-d and Moshe. (Remember Kayin and Hevel, the Farmer and the Shepherd)
However, the goal of all the events remained the same. The intended end of all the miracles and plagues was to proclaim G-d’s undisputed mastery over the universe.
How did the 10 plagues reveal G-d’s mastery over the universe? Was it merely the uniqueness and miraculous nature of the events that proclaimed G-d’s mastery? Was it the timing of each plague that astounded the Egyptians? Was it the judicious “measure for a measure” that was evident to those who were discerning and honest? In fact, it was all the above and more. However, for this Shabbos I would like to share with you some of the “more.”
Nature’s majesty is reflected in the mystery of her order and constancy. The basic criterion for order is the clear delineation between different creations. Those established differences, both genetic and geographical, reveal the purpose of each creation. Imagine if humans and fish were both amphibious. Imagine if both fish and fowl could fly. Imagine if cats and mice were of equal size. The world of differences and clarity would be greatly obscured and confused.
Classification, the fundamental ordering of information and knowledge, demands identifiable differences. Without differences, we would be the same. (How’s that for profundity) The ordering of the universe is the direct result of G-d’s intent and control; therefore, the presence of delineation and differences reveal G-d’s presence and control.
It is incumbent upon all humans to recognize and respect the natural order of the universe. In doing so, we proclaim G-d’s mastery over the universe. The Talmud tells us that G-d destroyed the pre-diluvian world because society no longer respected personal ownership. Thievery, promiscuity, and murder were rampant and therefore G-d’s design for each person and creation was denied. G-d had no place in such a world. A world in which G-d has no place is a world that cannot and should not exist. Therefore, G-d destroyed the world with the Mabul – Great Flood.
The Talmud in Megilah stresses the importance of burying the dead (the Mitzvah of Mais Mitzvah) over reading the Megilah (Scroll of Esther). Burying the dead shows respect for G-d’s creations. Publicizing a miracle (Pirsumei Nissah) proclaims G-d’s mastery over the dealings of individuals and nations. In truth, both the reading of the Megilah and burying the dead proclaim the same thing. They proclaim G-d’s mastery over the universe. However, the Talmud concludes that showing respect for the dead is an even greater proclamation of G-d’s mastery than publicizing a miracle. It suggests that G-d’s control extends to the creation of all people and all creations not just the occasional miracle.
If G-d demanded such respect for the dead how much more so does He expect us to respect the living. In burying the dead, we proclaim that the Creator had a divine intent for each human. However, it is a “short-lived” lesson. After leaving the cemetery we return to the norms of life, living, and forgetting. When we protect and honor each other we proclaim the same understanding of G-d’s intent; but in this instance the statement and its benefits are woven and reinforced into our lives and consciences through the actions of life and living.
When Pharaoh enslaved and abused the Jews he denied them their personal and divine worth. They became mere objects for his personal use. This also denied G-d His place in the order of the universe. Had Pharaoh wanted to, he could have cherished the limited time his nation would enjoy the Jews and become partners with G-d in His divine plan. Instead, he chose to deny Him. “Who is G-d that I should listen to His voice to send out the Jews?”
The ten plagues were intended to proclaim G-d’s mastery over the universe by removing the expected lines of demarcation. Instead of water running through riverbanks and blood flowing through veins, the Nile ran red with blood. Instead of frogs living in the marshes and swamps, frogs entered bedchambers and throne rooms. Lice were everywhere and wild animals no longer respected the territorial rights of cities. Diseases and skin lesions spread rampantly refusing to respect the confines of isolation and home. Hail fell where rain feared to tread and locust descended in masses beyond the imagination. Finally, light and darkness ceased to respect each other’s boundaries and death came to claim the souls of those who otherwise should have lived.
The lesson was obvious. The G-d of the Jews is the master of the universe. The natural ordering of the world is not by chance. Ignore G-d’s place in nature and nature will ignore the human’s place in the universe. The absence of control over specific natural phenomena underscores G-d’s control over what we take for granted and call nature.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.