Beshalach – The Naturally Miraculous
After Israel crossed the red sea the Torah attests that their faith in the Lord and in Moses, His servant, was solidified. They burst into song, led by Moses, in what is known as the Song of the Sea. The splitting of the sea was thus a pivotal event in the formation of the people’s faith. It was that spectacular act, an unprecedented miracle, which caused their faith to mature.
The Talmud relates that there are two things as ‘difficult’ for the Almighty to perform as the splitting of the sea. One is the arranging of marriage partners. The other is arranging a person’s livelihood.
Now, there is nothing difficult for the Almighty. God doesn’t expend any effort to accomplish anything and it certainly wasn’t a bother for Him to split the sea. Nor does God have to make a strenuous effort to make a match between two people (although keeping them together these days is another thing). Clearly the ‘difficult’ here is simply a term of comparison. You might say it is as difficult for Einstein to solve a second grade addition problem as it is for a horse to sneeze.
The lesson of the Talmud then is to compare the spectacular and unnatural splitting of the sea with the more natural occurrence of two soulmates finding each other. It similarly compares to the mundane activity of earning one’s daily bread.
What do these three phenomena have in common? What is there to compare here? There are few things as different from one another. The (hopefully) once in a lifetime marriage to one’s spouse is very distant from the daily grind of going to work to put food on the table. And neither of those appear to bear any resemblance to the splitting of the sea.
The lesson here is precisely that. Here are three things entirely different from one another. The splitting of the sea was an exercise that defied the rules of nature. It was, plain and simply, a miracle, an act of God. Two partners coming together in marriage is a beautiful thing but it is not a recurring event. It is magical and inspiring but we don’t tend to view it as an act of God. Finally there is the earning of a living, something we are all engaged with day in and day out. We earn our wages, whether it is meager or generous, and we use it the best we can to make ends meet.
The first, the splitting of the sea, is something we all attribute to God. It was an overt and explicit miracle and it left little room for rational explanations. The second, the marriage of two people, is something we all hope for, as a profound human need, and some of us may see a divine hand guiding the process, although more often in hindsight. The third, earning a living, is something in which few of us perceive God’s involvement. It is a mathematical equation. We work – we eat. We earn – we have. It is simple cause and effect, the natural way the world works. In order to harvest a crop we must plow and plant, water and prune, and the results are the yield from the earth.
But each of these are equally miraculous. Each comes directly from God. It is no coincidence that the passage discussing the manna that descended daily and fed an entire nation for 40 long years appears in close proximity to the passage of the splitting of the sea. From one extreme to the other, from the greatest heights of the supernatural, saving a nation from slaughter by the hands of an enraged enemy, to the most mundane and simple gift of providing food. Both were miracles and both were from the hand of God. Of course nobody questioned that the manna was a miraculous gift. After all it came in such an unnatural way and had properties of a superfood which makes kale pale in comparison.
The lesson here is that when our food comes ‘naturally,’ when it appears to be the result of our hard work, earned by the sweat of our brow, it is also from God. It is just disguised by the mechanics of ‘nature’ which are also part of God’s miracle. Something doesn’t cease to be a miracle just because it happens continuously to the point of predictability. These are as difficult for God to perform as the splitting of the sea. They are equally a profound act of God on our behalf and we need to recognize them as such. This is the lesson Israel drew from the splitting of the sea. Through the exception to the rule they appreciated that the rule itself – the normal flow of the sea – was equally God’s gift. It enabled them to see God’s hand in everything, even, and especially, the natural.