Bo 5777

The miracle of nature[1]

והיה לך לאות על-ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת יקוק בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוצאך יקוק ממצרים
And [tefillin] will be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes, in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth, because with a mighty hand Hashem took you out of Egypt[2]

There are many mitzvos, commandments, that are associated with yetzias mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt. Tefillin, both on the arm and on the head, contain four sections from the Torah, written on parchment. Two of them are sections from the end of this week’s parsha[3], which not only describe the mitzvah of tefillin but various other commandments. Both parshiyos also mention the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt. Other examples of mitzvos associated with the Exodus include Shabbos[4], Sukkos[5], tzitzis[6], mezuzah[7], the obligation to remember twice daily the Exodus[8], and of course the holiday of Pesach and all that it entails[9]. Why are there so many mitzvos connected with leaving Egypt? While the Exodus is a central part of Jewish history (it’s where the Jews emerged as a nation and was the precursor to entering the Land of Israel), what does it have to do with us today?

The ancient world used to be filled with idol worship. Since the inception of this lifestyle[10], there were many who had developed erroneous beliefs. There were groups of people who completely denied Hashem, claiming that the universe was eternal. No one had created it, since it always existed[11]. There were others that believed in a Creator, but they felt that there was no way for Him to know what was going on in the physical world. They were bothered: if there is an All-Knowing and All-Powerful Creator, why are there seemingly unjust occurrences that happen to mankind? They concluded that it must be that while there is a Creator, he can’t know what happens to us in this world[12]. There were yet others who admitted there was a Creator who was All-Knowing, but they denied His intervention in world events. Hashgacha, divine providence, is the belief that Hashem takes an active role in the development of human history. These people rejected this approach; they claimed Hashem abandoned His creations. Humans are on such a low level, it isn’t logical that He would have any interest in their activities[13].

When Hashem decides to display His wonders to individuals or groups, changing and manipulating nature, it becomes clear that all the above beliefs are false. These miracles convey that in reality there is a G-d, a Creator, who knows what’s happening down here, and who is actively involved. This is why, regarding the miracles of the plagues in Egypt, Hashem said[14] that their purpose was למען תדע כי אני יקוק בקרב הארץ, “in order that you know that I am Hashem, who is in the midst of the land”. This was to teach about hashgacha, that Hashem hasn’t abandoned us to chance, as one of the groups claimed. Hashem also said[15] that the miracles were to teach כי ליקוק הארץ, “that the Earth belongs to Hashem”. This informs us that He is the Creator, since He owns His creation. Finally, He said[16] בעבור תדע כי אין כמוני בכל הארץ, “that there is no one like Me in all the land”. This teaches us that He has no limits, He is all powerful. There’s nothing preventing Hashem from knowing what goes on with us in our physical world. All of these things the Egyptians either denied or were unsure of. The plagues of Egypt were undeniable testimony to true faith in Hashem, as well as in His Torah.

In order that Hashem doesn’t have to provide miracles or signs in every generation in order to convince every non-believer[17], He commanded us to constantly behave in ways which will either act as a remembrance or sign of what we witnessed as a nation. We have to ingrain it into our children, and our children’s children, until the end of time. This is why we were commanded to surround ourselves with these mitzvos, by writing them on our arms and between our eyes (with the mitzvah of tefillin), to write them on our doorposts (with the mitzvah of mezuzah), to recite verbally twice daily the Exodus. To ensure we follow these mitzvos, some of them even have tremendous ramifications if transgressed[18]. All of these mitzvos are our testimony to the wonders of the Exodus, and ensure that that they will not be forgotten.

Upon reflection, astounding, open miracles seem to function within nature. Hashem manipulates nature to His will and demonstrates something that we are not used to. We see that nature has the potential to act “supernatural”. This teaches us that in reality, there’s no difference between nature and miracle[19]. Nature is simply a miracle that we see on a constant basis. The Exodus from Egypt then wasn’t to teach us the power of Hashem’s miracles; it was to teach us the true definition of nature. Now when a person looks at a child who was born, or something as simple as the change of the seasons, they can realize that everything is a miracle; everything is from Hashem.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Ramban to Exodus 13:16

[2] Exodus 13:9. The verse the Ramban is commenting on is very similar, but doesn’t specifically mention remembering anything, the theme of his piece on tefillin. As such, this verse was chosen

[3] Ibid 13:1-10 and 13:11-16, respectively

[4] Deuteronomy 5:15 explains that one of the reasons the Jews were given the mitzvah of shabbos was because of the Exodus

[5] Leviticus 23:43 says that we were commanded to dwell in a sukkah in order to know that Hashem provided us sukkos to live in when He took us out of Egypt (for more on this, see

[6] The parsha that introduces the mitzvah to make tzitzis (Numbers 15:37-41) ends with a declaration that Hashem took us out of Egypt

[7] The first time the word mezuzah appears in the Torah is in this week’s parsha, Exodus 12:22, where the Jews in Egypt were commanded to put blood on their mezuzos (doorposts). Mechilta ad. loc. connects this mitzvah with the mitzvah of mezuzah that we have today

[8] Deuteronomy 16:3; Chazal understand this to be a verbal declaration and not merely in one’s mind

[9] Including the recitation of the Haggadah, the prohibition of eating chametz and the obligation to eat matzah

[10] Beginning with the generation of Enosh; see Genesis 4:25 and Rashi ad. loc.

[11] This was the prevalent belief among scientists for thousands of years, until the early 20th century with the advent of the Big Bang Theory

[12] Ramban in his introduction to Sefer Iyov

[13] Ibid. Some ancient Greek philosophers had this approach

[14] Exodus 8:18

[15] Ibid 9:29

[16] Ibid verse 14

[17] This is undesirable for two reasons: Not every non believer is worthy to see miracles, and miracles only have potency if they are uncommon. If they were an everyday occurrence, they could be mistaken for nature itself (Rav Shawal in Peirush Ramban Al HaTorah (Mossad HaRav Kook ed.))

[18] The mitzvos not to eat chametz during Pesach and the obligation to slaughter the Pesach offering both are punishable with kares for their transgression

[19] Rav Shawal loc. cit.; See the end of the Ramban who explains we can then conclude that Divine punishment is just as natural as eating something poisonous

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