NES-cafe is a NATURAL Brew
RABBI WAGENSBERG ON PARSHAS YISRO
“NES-cafe is a NATURAL Brew”
Parshas Yisro begins with the words, “And Yisro – the Minister of Midyan – the father–in– law of Moshe, heard everything that Elokim did to Moshe and to Israel His people, that Havaya had taken Israel out of Egypt” (18:1).
One technical question on this verse is, “Why does this pasuk begin by referring to Hashem as ‘Elokim’ and conclude by referring to Hashem as ‘Havaya’? Why is there a lack of consistency?”
Rashi (ibid; based on Meseches Zevachim, chap. 14, “Paras Chatas”, pg. 116a) asks, “What did Yisro hear about that motivated him to come to the wilderness and convert to Judaism?” Rashi answers this question by saying that Yisro heard about, “Keriyas Yam Suf (which is the opinion of either Rebbi Eliezer or Rebbi Elazar ben Ya’akov) and Milchemes Amalek (which is the opinion of Rebbi Yehoshua).”
Another question is, “Where is there a hint in the verse itself which indicates that these were indeed the events which Yisro had heard about?”
Since Yisro heard about Keriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek, we must take a peek into last week’s parsha where these events are recorded.
When it came to Milchemes Amalek, Moshe went to do battle with them in a natural way. We see this from the fact that Moshe sent Yehoshua with troops to engage in warfare (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8-9).
However, when it came to Keriyas Yam Suf, Moshe went to do battle with them in a supernatural way. We can see this from the fact that Moshe told the people, “Hashem will make war for you, and you will remain silent” (Parshas Beshalach, 14:14). This meant that the Jews would not have to lift a finger or fire a shot because Hashem would do miracles for them.
This brings us to yet another question which is, “Why did Moshe choose to wage war against the army of Amalek in a natural way, whereas he chose to battle the Egyptian army in a supernatural way?”
Speaking of Amalek’s attack on the Jewish people, the Jews had asked a question which was, “Is Hashem among us or not?” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:7). The very next verse tells us that Amalek battled with Israel in Rephidim (Parshas Beshalach, 17:8).
Rashi (ibid, 17:8) quotes the Medrash Tanchuma which points out that this story of Amalek’s attack was juxtaposed to the verse about the Jewish people’s question (“Is Hashem amongst us or not?”) because this was Hashem’s way of conveying to the Jewish people that He (Hashem) is always amongst us, prepared to provide for all of our needs. Since the Jews had the chutzpa to ask if Hashem was with them, He sent a dog (Amalek) to bite them. Then they would cry out to Him and learn very quickly where Hashem is.
This begs us to ask, “How could the Jews ask such a question? How could they have forgotten about all the miracles that Hashem had performed for them? They saw the miracles of the plagues and Keriyas Yam Suf with their very eyes. Therefore, how could they ask, ‘Is Hashem with us or not’? Were they suffering from some sort of a mental illness?”
In his Emek Davar (Parshas Beshalach, 17:7), The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin; 1816 Belarus-1893 Poland; Rosh Yeshiva of the Volozhiner Yeshiva) answers this last question by saying that it is true that the Jewish people saw all of the plagues and Keriyas Yam Suf. Yet, the Jews thought that Hashem only performed miracles for them which were transcendent and supernatural, because such miracles are only temporary, and because they only happen in the merit of Moshe Rabbenu.
The Jews thought that once Moshe would die, they would revert back to “normal” life, which is governed by the laws of nature. It was concerning the natural world that the Jews asked, “Is Hashem with us or not?” Meaning, “Does Hashem govern nature? Is Hashem in control of nature, or, is nature left to other forces such as the planetary bodies and stars?”
Therefore, even though the Jewish people witnessed supernatural miracles, in no way does that prevent them from asking, “Is Hashem in our midst or not?” Witnessing obvious miracles does not contradict this question, because they were asking, “Is Hashem in our midst,” meaning, “Is Hashem found with us even within the natural world? Can we depend upon Hashem even within the world of nature? Is Hashem taking care of us in the day-to-day humdrum of life?”
One of the principals of faith is that Hashem is very much in control of nature. However, since the Jewish people demonstrated a lack of faith in this principal, Hashem sent Amalek to attack them in order that they should witness how Hashem is with them even within the laws of nature. They would see this from their victory against Amalek in battle. The Jews were an untrained army, and yet they won the trained army of Amalek. How could they possibly win such a war? The answer is that Hashem performed a miracle for them within the natural world order.
The Netziv goes on to answer a question that we did not even raise above. That question is, “Why did Moshe not lead them into this battle against Amalek?” As king of the Jewish people, Moshe should have been on the front line. Why did he remain behind and appoint Yehoshua to go instead (Parshas Beshalach, 17:9)?
The Netziv answers this question by saying that Moshe did not go out in front of his soldiers in battle because Moshe Rabbenu was very much connected to the world of miracles. Moshe was like their miracle working rabbi. If Moshe would have led his troops into battle, people would have said that we won that war because he (Moshe) waived his magic wand and brought the Amalekites to their knees through open miracles. That would have defeated the purpose of this war which was to teach the Jews that Hashem is with them even within the world of nature. Therefore, Moshe chose to remain behind and sent regular soldiers into a normative battle.
Now it becomes obvious why Moshe chose to wage war against the army of Amalek in a natural way, and yet, he chose to wage war against the Egyptian army in a miraculous way. It is because Moshe wanted to teach us that Hashem is with us in both worlds, whether in the world of miracles and even in the world of nature.
Based on all of this we will be able to appreciate the following verse even more so. Prior to the battle against Amalek, Moshe told Yehoshua, “I will ascend on top of the hill, and the staff of Elokim will be in my hand.” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:9). Reb Shlomo Kluger (1785-1869, Ukraine), in his Chochmas HaTorah (Parshas Beshalach) explains this verse based upon the teaching of the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovaro, 1522-1570, Tzfas) in his Pardes Rimonim.
He says that the reason why Moshe emphasized that the staff was the staff of Elokim was because whenever a miracle beyond nature happens in this world, it comes from the spiritual energy of God’s Name Havaya. However, whenever a miracle occurs in this world within the confines of nature, it comes from the spiritual energy of God’s Name Elokim. In fact, the numerical value of the Name Elokim is the same as the numerical value of the word Hateva (the nature). Both equal 86 exactly. This numerical equivalency supports the notion that miracles within nature stem from the spiritual energy of the Name Elokim.
Therefore, Moshe was meticulous to say that he was going to be holding the staff of Elokim so that he would awaken the spiritual energy of Elokim which would bring about a miracle within nature.
This approach will explain the following Mishna in a deeper way. The Mishna itself is based on the verse regarding Milchemes Amalek which says, “It happened that when Moshe raised his hands Israel was stronger” (Parshas Beshalach, 17:11).
In Meseches Rosh Hashana (chap. 3, “Ra-uhu Beis Din”, Mishna 8, pg. 29a) the Mishna asks, “Did the hands of Moshe make it (war) or break it (war)?” “Rather,” says the Mishna, “so long as the Jews looked heavenward and subjugated their hearts to their Parent in Heaven, they would overpower Amalek, but if not, not.”
There is a very strong question that a person could ask on this Mishna. How could the Mishna ask, “Did the hands of Moshe make it or break it?” The answer should be a resounding, “Yes!” Moshe had an incredible track record when it came to raising his hands. Every time Moshe moved his hands, things happened. For example, Moshe raised his hands and the waters of the Yam Suf parted (Parshas Beshalach, 14:21). Moshe raised his hands again and the water came crashing down upon the Egyptians (Parshas Beshalach, 14:27). So, what was the Mishna asking?
The Shvilei Pinchas answers this question based on the Netziv above. The Netziv said that when the Jews asked, “Is Hashem in our midst or not,” they were asking if Hashem was with them within the world of nature. Therefore, by Milchemes Amalek, when the pasuk said, “When Moshe raised his hands Israel was stronger,” the Mishna meant to ask, “Did the hands of Moshe make it or break it in a natural way?”
This means to say that the Chachmei Hamishna were well aware of the magical powers that Moshe possessed in his hands. However, the war against Amalek was meant to demonstrate that Hashem was even in complete control of nature itself. Therefore, the Mishna asked, “What was Moshe doing raising his hands during the battle against Amalek?” The battle against Amalek was supposed to be a miracle within nature, but Moshe’s hand-raising belonged to the world of the supernatural. So, why was Moshe raising his hands during that battle?
The Mishna answered its question by saying that, in this instance, Moshe’s raising of his hands had nothing to do with transcendent miracles. Rather, Moshe merely raised his hands to attract the Jewish people’s attention so that they would look up and remember that God was with them and that God was giving them their success. Moshe’s message was, “Yes, we have a military with tanks, soldiers, jets, and an iron dome. However, the success of these tools is totally dependent on Hashem.
As a means of an extension to this idea, we find that Amalek’s timing was impeccable. This is because the verse stresses that Amalek attacked us on the way when we were leaving Mitzrayim (Parshas Ki Seitzei, 25:17). Why does the Torah connect Yetziyas Mitzrayim to Milchemes Amalek?
Based on a fundamental teaching from the Ramban (Parshas Bo, 13:16) we will start to understand this connection. The Ramban says that the purpose of the revealed miracles which Hashem had performed to bring us out of Mitzrayim was in order that we should realize that there is something called a miracle. Hashem expected us to take the next mental step to realize that there are also miracles which happen within nature. More than that, Hashem wanted us to realize that nature itself is miraculous. In other words, the miracles which occurred at the time of Yetziyas Mitzrayim were supposed to introduce us to the concept of miracles which was then supposed to trigger a series of thoughts leading us to the conclusion that everything is a miracle.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that this idea of the Ramban is hinted to in the pasuk which says, “And you will know this day and take to your heart that Hashem – He is the God in heaven above and on the Earth below, there is none other” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:39). There are two expressions in this verse. They are: 1) in heaven above, and 2) on the earth below. These two expressions represent two categories of miracles: 1) supernatural miracles which stem from above, and 2) the miracles which occur on Earth below within the laws of nature.
Regarding both types of miracles that very same verse says, “Know this day that Hashem – He is the God.” Meaning, Hashem controls both kinds of miracles.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why the Torah emphasizes that Amalek attacked us on the way when we left Egypt. It is because Hashem had performed open miracles for us when we left Mitzrayim so that we should come to realize that Hashem also operates in a miraculous way within nature itself (as the Ramban taught us above).
This is why Amalek attacked us precisely as we were leaving Egypt. It is because they wanted to inject us with thoughts of heresy which dictates that Hashem does not govern nature. This is why we began to ask, “Is Hashem in our midst or not.” We began asking this question because we were already starting to feel the influence of Amalek who was a nation of atheists who did not believe in God at all.
The reason why Amalek wanted to imbue us with their heretical philosophy specifically when we were on the way leaving Egypt is because Amalek wanted to undermine the entire purpose of the miracles which Hashem had performed for us at that time. Since the supernatural miracles of Mitzrayim were meant to teach us that Hashem governs nature as well, and that nature itself is miraculous, Amalek wanted to uproot such thoughts. Amalek wanted us to adopt their philosophy.
Now we can understand why the verse links Amalek’s attack to Yetziyas Mitzrayim. This comes to teach us that Amalek wanted to ruin the lessons that we were supposed to glean from Yetziyas Mitzrayim.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that now we can see how Rashi and Chaza”l knew, from the verse itself, that Yisro had heard about specifically Keriyas Yam Suf and Milchemes Amalek. The answer is based on Rabbi Shlomo Kluger and the Pardes Rimonim mentioned above who said that a supernatural miracle occurs from the spiritual energy of the Name Havaya, whereas a natural miracle within nature occurs through the spiritual energy of the Name Elokim.
Therefore, when the opening sentence of this week’s parsha said, “And Yisro heard everything that Elokim did for Moshe and Israel,” Chaza”l understood that the Name Elokim represented the miracle within nature which transpired during the war against Amalek.
When that same pasuk went on to say, “[And Yisro heard] That Havaya had taken Israel out of Egypt,” Chaza”l understood that the Name Havaya represented the supernatural miracle which occurred at Yam Suf. With the Names Elokim and Havaya, this verse hints to us that Yisro heard about Amalek and Yam Suf.
Now it is obvious why the opening verse of our parsha is inconsistent by first referring to Hashem as Elokim and later referring to Hashem as Havaya. It is because this pasuk is teaching us, what it was specifically, that Yisro heard about. He heard about 1) Milchemes Amalek – a miracle within nature – that stemmed from the Name Elokim, and 2) Keriyas Yam Suf – a supernatural miracle – that stemmed from the Name Havaya.
Before concluding, perhaps we could add that this explains the essence of Purim. After reading Megillas Esther one realizes that the entire miracle was one in which Hashem operated within nature, manipulating and moving the political pawns around in such a way that brought about salvation to the entire nation of Israel.
The reason why Purim’s miracle was camouflaged within nature was because our primary enemy at that time was Haman. Haman was a descendent of Amalek (Megillas Esther, 3:1)., and Amalek was a nation who denies God’s governance of nature. Therefore, the entire miracle of Purim happened within nature to teach us that Hashem is even involved in the natural world.
This week, there are two practical take-aways:
Let us pay a little bit more attention to the end of the first paragraph of Aleinu which says, “And you will know this day and take to your heart that Havaya is Elokim in heaven above and on Earth below, there is none other” (Parshas Vaeschanan, 4:39). This verse says it all. The Name Havaya represents supernatural miracles that come from heaven above, and the Name Elokim represents miracles within nature that come from the Earth below.
When saying this liturgical passage, let us be reminded that God not only performs supernatural miracles, but He is also in complete control of what we call natural events.
Each day, after Shacharis, say, “Keriyas Yam Suf, Milchemes Amalek” (Note: Milchemes Amalek is anyway one of the six remembrances). When we say these words, let us be reminded that just as it was obvious that Yam Suf was a miracle, so is all nature a miracle. Let us be reminded that Hashem is with us even in the most mundane and challenging times.
So, may we all be blessed, like Yisro, with the awareness to hear and to understand that Hashem is with us in our everyday lives, in every situation, and in every circumstance, and in that merit, may we live to witness the transcendent miracles that Hashem will bring during the Final Redemption, which will teach the world, once and for all, that God governs every aspect of what we call nature.