Wednesday, January 14, 2015

457 - Vayigash

In this week's parsha, the Ibn Ezra (Bereishis 46:15) quotes Rashi who says that Yocheved was born just as Yaakov's family entered Mitzrayim. The Ibn Ezra disputes this historical detail, because accordingly Yocheved would have been one hundred and thirty years old when she gave birth to Moshe Rabbeinu. Had that been true, certainly the Torah would have mentioned it just as it felt it noteworthy to mention the birth of Yitzchak when Sarah was a mere ninety years old! The Ramban quotes the Ibn Ezra but nonetheless defends Rashi's explanation with an eye opening elucidation.

He maintains that the Torah only mentions those miracles which were foreseen by a prophet prior to their arrival. However, the numerous miracles performed to assist the righteous or to thwart the wicked are not mentioned in Tanach. There is no need to single out these miracles because the Torah in its entirety is made up of miracles. The whole concept of reward and punishment clashes with what we refer to as nature. There is no reason why one who eats animal fats forbidden by theTorah should be severed from his life source and die at a young age, nor is there any natural reason that rain will cease to fall as a result of planting during the shemittahyear. These are both miracles, but since they were not foretold by a prophet people tend to dismiss them and attribute such phenomena to natural causes. "He died because of a heart attack" and, "A heat wave originating in the southern hemisphere is at fault for the severe droughts." Overt miracles that were not foretold are in effect "hidden" like the rest of the miracles of the Torah. 

Rav Wolbe writes (Daas Shlomo unpublished manuscript) that with this concept we can understand the idea of pirsumei nissa - publicizing the miracle - instituted by Chazal in association with the mitzvos of Chanuka and Purim. Miracles that were not foretold can easily be ascribed to natural causes. Even the ten plagues in Mitzrayim might have been written off as a series of natural disasters had Moshe not warned Pharaoh prior to their arrival. Hence, we are commanded to publicize and thank Hashem for those hidden miracles that would have otherwise been dismissed. 

In the Shabbos morning davening we state, "[Give thanks] to Him Who alone performs great wonders." The Medrash (Tehillim 136) asks why the passuk emphasizes that Hashem performs wonders alone. Is there anything that Hashem does not do alone? The Medrash answers that Hashem is the only One Who even knows the great wonders performed. Often, even the recipient of the miracle is unaware that a miracle was performed for him!

Every day we thank Hashem in Shemoneh Esrei for "Your miracles that you perform for us daily." A thinking individual, says Rav Wolbe, asks himself, "I woke up in the morning, davened, ate breakfast and went to learn/work/school. When exactly did the miracles for which we are thanking Hashem occur?" However, if we pay close attention to the "coincidences" of the day, we might very well notice Hashem's involvement in our lives. The miracles are there, we just need to peel off the "coating" of nature which conceals them, and then thank Hashem for "His great wonders, for His kindness endures forever!"

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