In the movie “Religulous” with Bill Maher, he questions the reality of seen miracles. At one point he challenges a self-proclaimed believer by asking him if he’s ever seen a real miracle.
Even I was baffled after hearing the “believer’s” example of his self-witnessed miracle as he described a moment he challenged G-d by asking it to rain, and wouldn’t you know it, it rained at that very moment he put his hand out the window, once again proving to Bill Maher that miracles do not, cannot, and have not ever existed at least not to enlightened thinkers.
Bill continued to claim throughout the film that miracles are indeed a dangerous endeavor from the very fact that some who have claimed to have seen miracles have been capable of creating huge followings at the very expense of humanity, causing nations to do destructive things in the name of” seen” miracles.
However, in this week’s Parshah, Parshat Bo, Jews all around the world are reading the story of the plagues sent during the Hebrews’ stay in Egypt. Is there a lesson we can learn from this archaic story? The story of these miraculous plagues may just be the greatest mystery into understanding the Divine’s intentions for the the world and the Jewish experience.
Can we be enlightened thinkers even if witnessed events were not recorded on Youtube? Funny how after a few years, Bill Maher and many others would disagree with the notion that this story ever took place at all even though the entire human race at that time witnessed these events. Could it be that your great- great grandmother baking the best strudel may just be “hear-say” because no one recorded it on their flip? Before we discover this mystery, let’s commit to suspending our belief that these plagues may have actually happened.
Humans are finite creatures bound by time and space. We cannot entirely understand a world that has no time frame and no sense of anti- space. Eighteenth century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, described space and time as “Elements of a systematic framework which humans use to structure their experience.” Without these elements, experiencing our lives would be very difficult to imagine.
Miracles are the suspension of time and space. Miracles by definition are surprising and welcomed events that are not explicable by natural or scientific laws. It is a supernatural experience. And we crave them because it gives us a sense that we are not alone, that time and space can be suspended, that we can witness an infinite force. We love this, because it makes us feel alive with purpose. All humans are on a quest for some sense of infinite measurement- the sense that the world has more than meets the eye and that our experiences are not one random mistake.
Even Bill Maher, the self-proclaimed atheist would jump for joy if he witnessed a super natural experience that could prove his existence has significance.
According to Chassidic teachings, in order for the natural world to be created, G-d had to cloak his infiniteness. Time and space could not coexist with G-d’s supernatural existence. He had to come down to this realm through filters. He had to create ways of responding to us using the rules of nature. Some would say that is not miraculous.
G-d chose to suspend himself and hide himself so we could be created. Why were we created in this way? Why not make us immortal angels?
That would negate our whole purpose. Our greatest challenge and gift in life is to have the ability to elevate our physical limitations by morphing it into a spiritual transformation.
This week G-d decides to have a serious “coming out party”. In this week’s Torah portion, he suspends time and space and decides this is the moment in history he will give us a vision into his immortality and lift the secret veil. Why was it necessary to have these plagues? Why was it necessary for G-d to announce himself by breaking the confines of nature?
What do men do when they are trying to attract a woman? They peacock. They strut. They show off their best assets before they seal the deal and move into commitment. Women do the same thing, and we are most impressed by men who go that extra mile. Many have compared G-d to the groom and the Jewish people to the bride and the story of Egypt as the most elaborate dating scene of mankind, (before Brad Pitt courted Angelina Jolie) making Sinai the biggest wedding with the greatest attendance of all time. (Before Princess Diana married Prince Charles).
Before these events, much of humanity questioned G-d’s existence. Many believed he did not exist at all. Some believed he created the world but had nothing to do with the details. And others believed he created the world, handled the details, but didn’t care at all about the outcome. This is the exact reason why G-d found it necessary to divulge the most miraculous of experiences by using the plagues.
This was G-d’s way of setting the record straight before sealing the deal at Sinai. If the Jewish people were to buy into six hundred and thirteen laws, they had better be getting into bed with a pretty awesome G-d- *“A G-d who is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate reality”. One who is compassionate, who cares, who will go that extra mile when we really need a lift. Who is capable of throwing out a couple million frogs, or sending hail to those who refuse to rain freedom on an innocent nation. G-d proved he is involved in every detail of our lives when he made the distinction between human beings and territories during the plague of attacking the animals. As it says:
And on that day I shall set apart the land of Goshen on which My people stands, that there shall be no swarm there; so that you will know that I am God in the midst of the land. (Ibid. 8:18)
G-d proved he is in charge of all life upon the plague of the slaying of the firstborn. G-d was telling us through the plagues, I am here, I am involved, and I am engaged.
Face it, we all want to see a sea split, a staff turn into a snake, or even on a more everyday level, illness cured unexpectedly. But we don’t have these miracles today. How do we know he is still there and listening? It is our job to remember the miracle of Egypt every single year by reading the story and celebrating the events as we once experienced them so many years ago. It is our job to recreate the spark, to fall in love all over again, to work on recommitting ourselves to the Divine by fostering that relationship with the commandments, to take time and pray to re-establish that connection. But to stay committed, first G-d needed to show us his ultimate power if we were going to be his partners in protecting the very fragile world he created within the confines of time and space.
We can be a light unto the nations and G-d’s partners in getting this message across to the world by taking an uplifting smile and giving a sick child the gift of hope. We can take a silver dollar and transform it by donating it to help the unfortunate people suffering in Haiti. We can use our arms to hug our spouse, child, or friend in an embrace that transcends words. And we can take a candle made of wax and fibers to light as we welcome a divine energy using time and space to trap the holy Shabbat into our mundane homes.
The greatest gift is the ability to transcend ourselves using our very selves and to connect with a higher power while using the very physical limitations we were born with. And if we decide not to believe in the plagues, we miss the opportunity of believing in our higher purpose, and in our greatest human endeavor which is the ability to create divine moments using time and space. That my friends, is the real grand miracle. That is supernatural.
If we continue obsessing about never getting the chance to witness unordinary we lose the chance at discovering extraordinary by listening to the whispers of today’s events that seem ordinary.
*Thank you to Rabbi Schwartzie for this powerful quote which I keep by my bedside.