Bo - Hidden Miracles

The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos (118b) says that someone who says Hallel every day is a blasphemer.  The Maharal, in Gevuros Hashem, explains this based on the Gemara in Avodah Zarah that describes how the non-Jewish philosophers asked the Chachamim, “If the Creator despises avodah zarah, why does he tolerate it?”  The answer the Chachamim gave is that idolaters worship the sun, the moon, and the constellations.  Hashem is not going to destroy his world because of the sinners, rather those fools will eventually have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

This, explains the Maharal, is saying that Hashem runs the world with a specific order which we call natural law.  Hashem is not going to do away with tevah just because there are sinners who abuse it.

Someone who says Hallel every day, though, is demonstrating that he does not believe that there is any existence of natural law whatsoever.  Hallel was enacted for miracles, and his saying it every day shows that he believes that Hashem conducts the world purely through a hanhagah nisis, a supernatural, ever-miraculous providence.  But if that would be the case, then there would be no room whatsoever for Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu to tolerate avodah zarah.  One operating under such an erroneous assumption would have no answer to the charge of the non-Jewish philosophers, and could come to the conclusion that the tolerance of avodah zarah is because of an inability, chas v’shalom, to eradicate it.

Now, there is a well-known statement of the Ramban at the end of this week’s parsha that many people misunderstand.  The Ramban says that the great, open miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim are meant to teach us about the hidden miracles that happen all the time and that whatever happens to a person is not a matter of tevah, nature, whatsoever.

Many people make a terrible mistake of thinking that the Ramban means that there is no such thing as tevah.  If you ask people their honest opinion b’chadrei chadarim if they think it means it literally, I don’t think that they’ll past the test; no one would end up being a maamin anymore.

To say that there is no such thing as tevah is patently absurd.  Nature is a reality.  The pasuk says chok nasan v’lo yaavor.  Anyone who says there is no such thing as nature is either a hypocrite – because he clearly cannot believe what he himself is saying – or he is literally off the wall because he is denying reality.

So what does the Ramban mean?  A neis means that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is communicating with us.  If you take a look at the Ramban inside, you will see clearly that the whole thrust of his words is the foundation of schar v’onesh.  What is schar v’onesh?  It is that Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is reacting and responding to everything we do.  He is communicating with us, sending us messages.

There is a hanhagah of tevah, that Hashem conducts the world through natural laws, and those laws are indeed immutable in terms of how we experience them on a day to day basis.  Thus, we can and should expect, for example, that the sun will rise in the east precisely at the time that the calendar says it will, and that it will set in the west precisely at the time that was worked out based on all the astronomical, geographical, and mathematical principles involved.

The niflaos ha’Borei – the niflosecha u’machshevosecha ein aroch – is that even within the context of the natural structure, order, and functioning of the world, Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu addresses each individual Yid – and mistamah every single human being – through that individual’s particular position.

A mashal for understanding the difference between the supernatural, great-miracles system of Yetzias Mitzrayim versus the messages Hashem sends us constantly within the context of nature, is like the difference between Reuvein walking through the door versus tapping lightly on the outside of it.  When Reuvein walks right through the door, you see him.  There he is.  Unless someone is blind, he’s right there in front of you.  When he’s tapping lightly on the outside of the door, though, it takes a subtle, refined sensitivity to pick up on it.  Many people could totally not notice the tapping at all.  Others may notice it, but may not manage to identify precisely who it is that is doing it.  One needs to really pay attention and listen with a very resonant ear to decipher the real implications of that tapping to know that it is Reuvein.

This is the point of the Ramban.  That even within tevah, it is not random, and it is not merely statistics.  Even within the strict confines and boundaries of Hashem’s guiding the world with natural law, Hashem is constantly sending us messages.  That is schar v’onesh.

Like Chazal say, a person does not even bang his finger down here on Earth unless it was decreed upon him from Above.  Likewise, Chazal tell us that whenever something happens to us, we need to examine our deeds.  Obviously, if those happenings were merely a function of arbitrary statistics of natural law, there would be no reason to examine one’s deeds.  The need to examine one’s deeds means that what happened is a communication from the Ribbono shel Olam.  This awareness requires a sensitivity of the soul, and constitutes a life’s avodah.  That we are challenged to see the yad Hashem from within tevah.

The Gemara in Maseches Taanis about Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa saying, “The One who said oil shall burn will say that vinegar shall burn,” is another statement that many people make a mistake about.  To think that the Gemara is saying that there is no difference between oil and vinegar is absurd.  Oil is flammable and vinegar is not.  Period.  What Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa meant when he said “the One who said oil shall burn” is during sheishes yemei Breishis, the six days of creation.  In other words, from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu’s perspective, kavayachol, there is no hechreiach of tevah.

As the Rambam writes in the beginning of Yesodei Ha’Torah, only the reality of Hashem is the true reality.  No other existence is inherent and muchrach.  How much more so the specific character of that which Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu created.  Although for us it is indeed chok nasan v’lo yaavor, from Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu’s perspective, kavayachol, it does not have to be like that at all.  Everything is open.  There is no inherent difference to Hashem whether yes tevah or no tevah.  Throughout human history, though, there is tevah, it is immutable, for that is what Hashem determined to be.  In Yetzias Mitzrayim, though, there was a relevation of the essential perspective, as it were, of the Creator.  An approach that there is no difference between tevah and not tevah.  There was no particular framework.  It was simply the ultimate truth of the Sheim Havayah.  Simply whatever is ratzon Hashem.

This awareness of absolute ratzon Hashem is what Rabi Chanina Ben Dosa lived with.  Because he was truly on that exalted level, he could do what he did.  It is a very deep concept.  But in no way does it mean that there is no tevah.


זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם ממצרים  יב:ג

Rashi explains that this pasuk is the source of the obligation to recall yetzias Mitzrayim (the exodus) every day. However, the Rambam maintains that the source for this obligation is the pasuk that says, L’maan tizkor es yom tzeischa mei’eretz Mitzrayim kol yemei chayecha (Devarim 16:3). The Rambam seems to simply be quoting a Mishnah that appears in the end of the first perek of Maseches Brachos. The Mishnah cites a dispute regarding the phrase kol yemei chayecha, which, according to Ben Zoma, indicates an obligation to remember yetzias Mitzrayim also at night; whereas the Chachamim maintain that the phrase indicates an obligation to remember yetzias Mitzrayim even in the times of Mashiach.

Regarding the pasuk, zachor es ha’yom ha’zeh, the Rambam holds that it is the source of the obligation to engage in sipur yetzias Mitzrayim (relating the story of the exodus) during the Pesach seder, on the night of the 15th of Nissan (Hilchos Chametz U’Matzah 7:1).

There seems to be a fundamental difference in understanding between the Rambam and Rashi regarding how to define the word zachor. The Rambam understands that the word zachor means to mention, whereas Rashi understands that the word zachor implies an act of remembering on an ongoing basis, as we see clearly from the way Rashi explains the word zachor in a different context.

On the pasuk, zachor es yom ha’Shabbos l’kadsho (Shemos 20:8), Rashi explains that the word zachor implies a mitzvah temidi, an ongoing mitzvah whose fulfillment is not bound by a specific time. Accordingly, explains Rashi, the mitzvah of remembering Shabbos requires one to be cognizant of Shabbos throughout the week. Rashi gives as an example the opinion of Shamai (Beitzah 16b), who says that whenever a person comes across a specialty food item, he must purchase it and set it aside for Shabbos. This way, his mind is occupied with an awareness of Shabbos the entire week. In a similar vein, the Ramban says that mentioning what day of the week it is, in relation to Shabbos, is a fulfillment of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos l’kadsho. We fulfill this obligation, continues the Ramban, every day when we say the shir shel yom, ha’yom yom rishon l’Shabbos etc. The Ramban steers clear of Rashi’s example because it seem to be choosing Shamai’s opinion over that of Hillel. Hillel’s way was that, since every day has its own blessing, whatever was bought should be used for the sake of Heaven on the day it was purchased, and should not be saved for Shabbos (editor’s note: see Sifsei Chachamim for a resolution to this kashya on Rashi).

Rashi’s explanation of the mitzvah of remembering Shabbos sheds light on the nature of the mitzvah of remembering yetzias Mitzrayim. They are both a mitzvah of zachorZachor means to be aware of something all the time. Just like there is a mitzvah to remember Shabbos the entire week, there is a mitzvah to remember yetzias Mitzrayim every day. The only difference between the two mitzvos is that the zechirah of Shabbos is mainly fulfilled in one’s mind, while the mitzvah of remembering yetzias mitzrayim must be verbalized.

Chazal make another derasha on the pasuk of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos l’kadsho that the Rambam brings (Hilchos Shabbos 29:1), and that is to declare the importance and sanctity of Shabbos on Shabbos. The mitzvah is to talk about Shabbos on Shabbos. The mitzvah is not just to remember Shabbos, but to verbalize shevach, praise of Shabbos, on Shabbos. (Parenthetically, the Rambam holds that havdalah is also included in the mitzvah of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos l’kadsho).

With this in mind, we can understand an ostensibly puzzling line in the Rambam. The Rambam, as mentioned, cites the pasuk of zachor es ha’yom ha’zeh as the source for the mitzvah of sipur yetzias Mitzrayim, and then elaborates by saying that it is akin to the mitzvah of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos. The Or Sameiach and others grapple with the question, in what way is the mitzvah of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim comparable to the mitzvah of zachor es yom ha’Shabbos?! However, based on the way we explained how the Rambam defines zachor, namely, that it indicates a mitzvah to talk about the day on that day, it fits perfectly. The Rambam is saying that the mitzvah of sipur yetzias Mitzrayim is to relate, on the night of the 15th of Nissan, what happened on the night of the 15th of Nissan. And, of course, this is very much like the mitzvah of kiddush which is to talk about Shabbos on Shabbos.

Reb Chaim Brisker is quoted as saying that, according to the Rambam, the mitzvah of reciting Hallel during the seder, is actually an integral part of the mitzvah of sipur yetzias Mitzrayim. This idea is also alluded to in the Rambam’s comparison of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim to Kiddush. Just as part of the zechirahof Shabbos is to declare the grandeur and greatness of Shabbos, so too, regarding the mitzvah to relate the account of the exodus, it is not simply a dry narrative that is incumbent upon us to convey. Rather, the mitzvah includes giving praise to Hashem for all the miracles that He did for us, and for taking us out of Mitzrayim, both physically and spiritually.

The Achronim ask why the Rambam doesn’t count zechiras yetzias Mitzrayimin the minyan ha’mitzvos (the list of the 613 mitzvos). Reb Chaim Brisker gave two answers. His first anwers is that the Rambam holds that remembering yetzias mitzrayim all year round is part of the mitzvah of Krias Shema. The Rambam in the beginning of Hilchos Krias Shema seems to hold that the recitation of all three paragraphs of Shema are a full-fledged d’Oraysah obligation. The third paragraph of Shema contains zechiras yetzias Mitzrayim. Therefore, the Rambam holds that it is not a separate mitzvah, but a part of the mitzvah of Krias Shema.

Reb Chaim’s second answer is as follows. The Mishnah in Brachos says that Ben Zoma expounded on the words kol yemei chayecha the teaching that the mitzvah of zechiras yetzias Mitzrayim applies also to the nighttime, which is arguing with the Chachamim that darshened kol yemei chayecha to include the Messianic era. It would seem, then, that Ben Zoma does not agree with the Chachamim that there is a mitzvah of remembering yetzias Mitzrayim during the days of Mashiach. The Gemara explains Ben Zoma’s opinion as follows: since the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim will pale in comparison to what will happen when Mashiach will come, those erstwhile miracles will be totally overshadowed, and we will no longer have an obligation to remember yetzias Mitzrayim. There is a general rule that mitzvos einan beteilos, meaning that mitzvos will never become null and void, and all mitzvos will be just as applicable following the final redemption as they are now. For a mitzvah to be included in taryag, the list of the 613 mitzvos, it has to be a mitzvah that will never become null and void. The Rambam paskens in accordance with the opinion of Ben Zoma that the mitzvah of zechiras yetzias Mitzrayim will not be applicable in the era of Mashiach, and therefore did not count it in taryag. (Audio recording)


Quotables    “During the times of year when there is a long stretch without any Yamim Tovim, it is worthwhile to inject some excitement in to your avodas Hashem by engaging in a project. For example, you can spend a few weeks making a conscious effort to say brachos with greater kavanah.”


Vignettes     I recall an occasion, towards the beginning of my marriage, that I burned the food that I cooked for a meal. Obviously, as a young wife, I was distressed about this. When I informed my husband, though, he reacted with aplomb. “Don’t worry about it at all,” he told me, “we Twerskys love burned food!” (Rebbetzin Twersky)

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