This week’s parsha is divided down the middle, exactly in half between The Miracle and The Mundane. On the one hand we have one of the most dramatic events in all of Jewish history. Kriat Yam Suf – the Splitting of the Sea – not only makes for great cinema action, but more importantly, has become one of the most dramatic events in Jewish history. So much so that we read the Torah’s description of it every day at Shacharit, the morning prayer service.
One can only imagine the amazing spectacle it must have been to view, but moreso to have been a part of such an event. We would fully expect it to be so powerful that it would transform anyone who was witness to it. But strangely, that does not seem to be the case. Immediately after the Torah’s narration of the Sea-Splitting we read of a more mundane side to the Israelite’s liberation from Egypt.
We hear a familiar refrain from the Jewish people – complaints. And not your garden variety kvetching, but our specialty; the thing we like to whine about the most. Yes, you guessed it – food. Granted that the Israelites may have been justified on occasion for voicing their concerns, such as when they couldn’t find water for a few days. Nevertheless this obsession with the every-day and ordinary becomes an incessant issue that stands in stark contrast to the miraculous hand of God that the nation just experienced at this overwhelming miracle.
While it’s true that it must have been quite difficult to provide for the daily needs of such a large group in the desolation of the desert, you would think that after witnessing the ten plagues and its postscript, the Splitting of the Sea, that the Israelites would have displayed a little bit more patience and faith in God and His trusted servant, Moshe. Wouldn’t they figure that if God could do all these wonders, He can take care of their daily needs?
But the fact that they didn’t roll with God and Moshe drives home a crucial lesson in life and is very telling of human nature.
People like to think that if some sort of dramatic event occurred in their lives, then it would change everything. If they won the lottery, if a miracle happened to them, if they had prophecy or knew someone who did, everything would change and life would be so much more amazing. Every moment would become magical and the everyday drudgery would be a thing of the past. Comes along this week’s events in the Torah to give us the sad news: It won’t.
And the reason for this is because change can never come from an exterior, no matter how amazing it may be. Let’s face it, there is no greater drama than witnessing a huge body of water behaving in the very opposite of its essence and not “taking the shape of its container” (the definition of a liquid according to my old Biology teacher) but rather standing upright as two walls on each side while a nation of millions walk through the middle. Yet even this unbelievable experience didn’t pull the Jewish people from their collective grumbling over not being able to get a good bagel in this town.
The transformative effects of miracles are short-lived and, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. They don’t last. Sorry to disappoint you. The reason for this is that one’s life is never changed from being acted upon by an external event no matter how intense or dramatic it may be. One’s life can only be transformed if he or she is part of something that is ongoing, personal and inward, not temporary and external. Change can never come from without but only from within. External events might help with a momentary inspiration, but they never fully transform us. Only we can do that to ourselves.
Even so, let’s say you are looking for some miracle and that is your thing. If that is the case, then in our day-and-age we have a more powerful miracle in our midst that should be more impactful than any biblical one. If you seek some epiphany to change the course your life there is actually an obvious one right in front of our noses, something that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l termed the Epiphany of History.
If you were to live next door to the prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah or even Moshe and he foretold that, in the future the Jewish people would be scattered to the four corners of the earth and that God would bring us back to the very same land from which we were exiled – you most likely would shrug your shoulders and react, “OK… whatever”. It is something being foretold about some event long away into the future that probably would not have any meaning to your daily life. But we, who are fortunate to live at this vantage point of history, have a whole different appreciation of this unique phenomenon. And a unique phenomenon it is.
Anyone who has studied history knows that nations throughout time immemorial come and go. And indeed, when a people loses all its normative definitions of nationhood such as government, a common language, an ideology, a military and most importantly their homeland – it’s only a matter of time before it is flung onto the trash-heap of bygone nations of the past, and disappears forever. The one and only exception to this rule is the Jewish people. Only once have the normal laws that define nations, and their ability to continue, been suspended. And that is with the Jews.
And indeed this has been noted by many, including non-Jewish leaders and thinkers as illustrated in the description of the film made from the book, The Jew in the Lotus:
In 1990, eight Jewish delegates were invited to Dharamsala, India, to meet with the Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of Tibet. The Tibetans had lost their land and temples to China, their religious leader was in exile, and now they feared they would lose their identity as a people as well. Conscious of the parallels to Jewish history, the Dalai Lama asked the Jews for help: “Tell me the secret of Jewish spiritual survival in exile.”
The Dalai Lama, Mark Twain, Tolstoy, Pascal and many others had an appreciation of the miraculous nature of our continued existence. They understood this even though some didn’t witness the fulfillment of the most oft-cited prophecy in action – the ingathering of our people from the four corners of the globe returning to Israel after 2,000 years in exile. Something we are fortunate to see with our own eyes and experience on a daily basis.
Witnessing an earth-shattering miracle may not have any great life-changing results and it certainly didn’t for the Jewish nation thousands of years ago. But the ongoing miracle of Israel’s existence most certainly will. Watching the seas part before your eyes may be fun and have an impact for an hour or so, but being part of the miraculous Jewish nation will last a lifetime and change you forever.
You want a miracle to change your life? Very simple – get on a plane and be part of the biggest miracle in our day and age. And that miracle is called Eretz Yisrael. “Not a good time now”, you say given what is going on there with the war? No, now more than ever when Israel finds herself alone, when life and the economy are difficult, is precisely the time to show our love and appreciation to the people who keep this miracle alive each and every day.
I thought I was being cool
Yeah, I thought I was being strong
But it’s always the same old story
You never know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…
All I need is a miracle,
All I need is you
All I need is a miracle,
All I need is you
-Mike & The Mechanics