Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Keeping the Faith
"If only we had open miracles, if only we can see the hand of G-d." Too many individuals think that clearly supernatural phenomena and experiences would change their perspective on life and would bolster their religious observance. They would be set for life, having personally experienced and witnessed the supernatural.
Parshas Beshalach and the incredible miracle of kriyat Yam Suf, however, proves them wrong. We are taught that immediately after Bnei Yisrael sang (Shemos 15:18), "Hashem shall reign for all eternity" they traveled for three days in the desert but did not find water. They arrived at Marah but could not drink the waters of Marah as they were bitter. If we were writing the story, we would have thought that as challenging as the crisis seemed, they would have stayed as calm as possible, having personally experienced His benevolence. The same Hashem that provided water in Egypt when their masters only had blood, that spared them from all the other plagues, and three days earlier had performed the miraculous salvation on their behalf, would somehow rescue them from this situation as well. After all, we are taught that after seeing their former masters washed ashore in front of them, thereby alleviating their fears that the Egyptians had emerged from the waters just as they had, the Torah proclaims (Shemos 13:31), "They had faith in Hashem and in Moshe, His servant."
Sadly, and unfortunately, a different reality presents itself. Rashi (15:25) teaches in the name of the Mechilta that instead of coming to Moshe and asking him to pray for water, they complained. What happened to their emunah? What is especially noteworthy, is the understanding of our Rabbis in the Talmud (Bava Kama 82a) that when the Torah records that they went three days without water, in addition to being understood literally the text is also to be understood to refer to Torah, that water is a metaphor for Torah and their disconnect from Torah for three days weakened and diminished the charge of emunah they had recently acquired. The Talmud records that either the prophets that immediately succeeded Moshe, or, as the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 12:1) teaches, Moshe himself, instituted that the Torah be read/taught on Shabbos, Monday, and Thursday so that the Jewish people will not go three days without Torah. The Tikunei Zohar (Shemos 60a) teaches that Hashem, His Torah, and Israel are one and inseparable. Torah is the great connector. When the Jewish people are connected to Hashem through the Torah, then their emunah can uplift and sustain them. When, however, they are disconnected from Torah, miracles by themselves do not have a long-term effect.
Case in point; in Kings (I, chapter 19) we read of the miraculous descent of fire orchestrated by Eliyahu haNavi on Mount Carmel. We are taught that the many spectators who previously could not decide where their allegiance lay, either to Hashem or to Ba'al, responded to the fire by immediately bursting forth with, "Hashem, He is the G-d, Hashem He is the G-d", and they then slaughtering the four hundred and fifty false prophets of Ba'al. Sadly, they soon returned to their former ways. The exalting effect of miracles dissipates very quickly. The reason this is so is to restore man to his state of freedom of choice, free will.
The immediate proximity of the story of Marah and its bitter waters, placed between the splitting of the sea and their traveling to receive the Torah at Sinai, seems a bit out of place. Why record this incident altogether? I believe the Torah is teaching that to bolster and sustain the impact of miracles one needs the study of Torah. The study of Torah attaches the individual to G-d, which is in effect perpetuating the miraculous.
Miracles were most necessary. The Ramban explains regarding the first of the ten commandments, that Bnei Yisroel accepted Hashem as their G-d because they personally experienced through the miraculous events in Egypt that He is the Creator and Legislator. However, the effect of miracles dissipates very quickly.
In addition to literally imbibing godliness, the study of Torah maintains and sustains our emunah. We see how the prophecies of the Torah have come true, and it reinforces our belief that all the future prophecies will be fulfilled.
The Ohr Hachaim, at the beginning of Parshas Tetzaveh, cites the Zohar that we were redeemed from the three prior exiles of the Jewish people in the merit of the three Patriarchs. We will be redeemed from the fourth exile in the merit of Moshe, and this exile is so long because Moshe does not wish to redeem a people who are not involved in Torah study. We pray that the recent Siyum Hashas not only united so many Jews worldwide, rallying them around the accomplishment of completing Shas, but hopefully has also aroused many more to dedicate time and effort to the study of Torah, thereby enhancing their life and hastening the redemption.
Finally, in keeping with Tu B'shvat, this forthcoming Monday, the double miracle at Marah was that the bitter tree sweetened the bitter waters. The Mechilta teaches that the verb "vayorehu" - that Hashem showed Moshe a tree - was chosen instead of "vayarehu" because the former has the additional connotation of teaching and instruction. Hashem showed Moshe teachings of Torah that are compared to the tree that nourishes, and the teachings of Torah sweetened both the waters and the people who had become embittered. Tu B'shvat is not only a day to partake in the fruits of Eretz Yisrael and thank Hashem for the bounty of our blessed land, but it is also to appreciate the sanctity of the land which comes from its being the ideal place for the observance of Torah and mitzvot.