In just a couple of days, the Jewish world will relive what is arguably the best-known miracle in recorded human history. The Splitting of the (Red) Sea has thrilled millions of people – from every religion – for millennia. For the Jewish people, it is the ultimate coup de grace to Egypt’s stranglehold upon us, capping a whole series of supernatural events that result in our liberation and exit from bondage. For while the Ten Plagues “softened up” Pharaoh and his populace, it was the Splitting of the Sea that dealt Egypt its death blow, submerging the pride of its armed forces and removing it forever from its position as a dominant world power.
Commentators on the Torah wax mega- poetic over the events at the Red Sea, proclaiming that “the simplest maidservant experienced the glory of God and beheld a revelation more awesome than that which the greatest prophets saw.”
They maintain that the Splitting of the Sea was actually a whole litany of miracles- within-a-miracle, as the Twelve Tribes crossed the sea in separate pathways, with walls of water between each one; fresh drinking water and even delicious fish sprang from the sea to nourish them; and gold, silver and precious jewels were there on the ocean floor for the taking.
It seems clear that this must be the zenith, the ultimate of wonders ever performed by the Creator. Or is it? Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, the brilliant 20th-century Torah scholar and author, is not convinced. He offers a different candidate for the “miracle of the millennia” award. He maintains that the greatest miracle of all was not the Splitting of the Sea, but the miraculous manna that nourished the Children of Israel throughout their wanderings in the desert. This phenomenon, too, was composed of many “mini-miracles” within the larger one: The manna fell at the people’s doorstep; it completely integrated into the body, leaving no waste product; it lasted for just one day before melting away, except for Friday, when it lasted 48 hours, through Shabbat; and most magnificently of all, it could taste like whatever each individual desired.
The only reason, says Rabbi Dessler, that manna – which clearly went against the norms of nature – gets less recognition than the Splitting of the Sea is its regularity. Because the nation dined on manna for four decades, day in and day out, they became dulled to its Divine essence and took it for granted. Had it been a one-time event, it would surely have amazed its recipients.
The good rabbi adds that we have our own manna-like miracle in our own day, and that is fruit. It comes in so many different colors, is nutritious and delicious, and literally grows on trees.
And yet we treat it cavalierly, with hardly an afterthought, simply because this bountiful gift is so accessible to us.
Many people, as they study the Torah and read the Haggada, ask the question, “Why are there no miracles today? Are we no longer worthy?” The answer, of course, is that miracles certainly do exist today; in fact, they are boundless, and surround us at every moment. The only difference is that generally they no longer occur in nature-defying, obvious fashion. Instead, they are clothed in the guise of “normal,” everyday life.
The truth is, the greatest miracle is the one you never realized was happening.
The vast majority of these “hidden miracles” occur in Israel, on a regular basis, and they are such that anyone who cares to see them will be virtually blinded by their sheer volume and brilliance.
Could we survive for even a day, in a neighborhood with half a billion people whose fondest dream is to see us disappear, without a miracle? Could we survive – nay, prosper and grow – in a world that is obsessed with demonizing and delegitimizing us, without a miracle? Could we survive some of our own ill-conceived fiascos, from the release of bloodthirsty murderers to corrupt (un) Holyland dirty deals, without a miracle? Oh, there will certainly be people who pooh-pooh the idea of the hand of God in our daily lives. They will cite our fortitude, our clever military strategy, our “Jewish brain-power” as the source of our survival. And certainly, those factors do play a great role in our endurance. But to deny that there is some protecting power, some unseen force that confounds our adversaries and safeguards our existence is simply to deny reality.
In delineating the strictures of shmita, the sabbatical year when land in Israel would lie fallow, the Torah anticipates the trepidation that would grip an agricultural society. “And if you will cry out,” says God, “and ask, ‘What shall we eat for these years when the crops are off-limits?’ I will grant a three-fold blessing to your harvest of the sixth year, so that you will have enough to carry you through.”
Fair enough, say the rabbis. But if a triple crop is the reward given to the average farmer who observes the shmita laws, what is given to the more faithful citizen, who does not cry out in fear, but who instead trusts implicitly in the Almighty and follows His dictates without anxiety or anguish? The answer they give is that such a person will have a perfectly normal harvest in the sixth year, no greater than usual, but that one harvest will somehow be sufficient to satisfy his needs for three full years. He will not have to do the work that accompanies a larger harvest, yet he will suffer no hunger or poverty; life will proceed as usual for him. In other words, the blessing will be in the stomach, and not in the silo.
It takes a secure belief system to acknowledge that something extraordinary permeates Jewish life. The mask of regularity and rationalization blinds us to what is really occurring in the universe. We see the stunning success of our holy soldiers – may it always continue! – and we chalk it up exclusively to better training, higher morale and superior equipment. We stand before the Kotel, and we lose sight of the impossibility of an ancient people reclaiming its homeland after centuries of dispersion and decimation. We watch as our economy flourishes – despite the bullyish boycotts of the classless and the clueless – and it hardly registers on our national psyche.
So perhaps it is time, before this Passover passes out of our existence, to close our eyes and see that the sea is splitting for us every single day, and that we are walking smack-dab through it to Redemption.■ The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.rabbistewartweiss.com