Parshiyot of Miracles and Wonders
To paraphrase Paul Simon, “these are parshiyot of miracles and wonders.” Perhaps it is because we know these stories so well, that we lose some of that wonder. On Pesach we must see ourselves in the stories. We, ourselves, came out of Egypt. But now is the time to focus on God in the stories. God revealing God’s self to us, as a nation, for the first time – in glory, in youth, in scholarship, as an old wise teacher.
The midrash Pesikta d’Rav Kahanna 12:24 tells us that at the Red Sea:
לפי שנראה להן הקב”ה בים כגיבור עושה מלחמה ונראה להם בסיני כסופר מלמד תנאה ונראה להם בימי דניאל כזקן מלמד תורה נראה להם
As God revealed God’s self as a mighty one waging war at the sea and appeared to them at Sinai as a scholar teaching a lesson, and in the days of Daniel as an old person teaching Torah.
When I used to teach in a pluralistic school, my students would often challenge me and tell me that they did not believe in God. To which I would respond by asking them to tell me about the God in which they did not believe. They would discuss images of a punitive God far away in heaven. I would agree that I did not believe in that God either. And I would ask what kind of God would you like to believe in? God at Yam Suf? At Har Sinai? As Creator of this amazing world?
More recently I have been working in a Jewish nursing home. The questions and thoughts about God are different. ‘Why is God letting me suffer like this?’ ‘Why did God take the good ones first and leave the bad ones to live so long?’ ‘I am so grateful to God but I have had enough.’ For these questions I do not have good answers, just more questions of my own. So I listen and I ask what they think the answers should be. How can God be most comforting here and now?
The midrash gives us various human type images of God – as a young person, as a scholar, as an elder. The midrash then answers the question – how can God be all those different images?
אמ’ להן הקב”ה לא בשביל שאתם רואים אותי בדמוייות הרבה אלא אני הוא שבים אני הוא שבסיני “אנכי י”י אלהיך”…לפי מעשיהם של דור מראהו.
The Blessed One said to them, “Do not [misinterpret] because you see me in so many guises, but [rather] I am the One who was at the Sea and I was the One at Sinai for ‘I am your God.’” According to the actions of the generation so does God appear.
The answer is that God appears to us as we need God or in a way that reflects our way of being in the world. God is known as God reveals God’s self in the world, sometimes more and sometimes less. But we need to be looking for God.
Sifrei Devarim 346:2 says:
כיוצא בו אתה אומר (שמות טו) זה אלי ואנוהו: כשאני מודה לו – הוא נאה; וכשאין אני מודה לו – כביכול בשמו הוא נאה.כיוצא בו אתה אומר (ישעיה מג) ואתם עדי נאם ה’ ואני א-ל. כשאתם עדי – אני אל-; וכשאין אתם עדי – אין אני א-ל.
“This is my God and I will extol Him (“ve’anvehu”): When I acknowledge Him, He is “beautiful” (“naveh, as in ve’anvehu”), and (even) when I do not acknowledge Him,” He is “beautiful.” Similarly, (Isaiah 43:12) “And you are My witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God (“Kel”)”: When you are My witnesses, I am God, and if you are not My witnesses I am not God.”
At the Red Sea, God was beautiful, young and full of strength. We couldn’t help but look then. At Har Sinai, we were too afraid or awed to look. Today, how often do we look in all our busy-ness? We do mitzvot but, do we stop to think of their spiritual purpose? Do we use them as an end rather than a means? How do we witness God in this world? We usually read these parshiyot from our perspective. I am going to try to read them from God’s perspective this time and see what is different.