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Parashat 01/12/2011

Parashat Beshallach

submitted by Robert Rabinoff

Ani H” rofecha – I am H” who heals you (15:26)

V’rapo y’rapei – You shall surely cause him to be healed.(Parashat Mishpatim, 21:19)

Rashi (ibid): “He pays the doctor bills.”

Ba’al HaTurim: The feh (in rofecha in 15:26) is soft, for healing from Gd’s hands is gentle and soft.  But healing from human hands is hard, thus in 21:19 v’rapo y’rape the peh is hard.

Our Sages learn from the verse in Parashat Mishpatim: “from here we see that the physician has permission to heal.”  The question immediately arises, why should the physician need permission to heal (other than from the Board of Health)?  On the other hand, if H” promises us that He will heal us, isn’t it a sign of lack of faith if we go to a doctor?  Furthermore, if someone is ill and there is even a chance that his life may be in danger, one is required to seek medical help, even if it means desecrating Shabbat (piku’ach nefesh) – for example if a woman goes into labor on Shabbat she is to be driven to the hospital.

There is another example of this question in our Parashah.  When Israel was trapped by the Egyptian army on one side and the Sea on the other, they “cried out” to Gd – that is they prayed (see Rashi to 14:10).  Gd’s response? “Why are you crying out to me?!?  Tell the people of Israel to get moving!”  Aren’t we supposed to pray in times of trouble?  Instead, Gd tells us to stop praying and start acting.  Furthermore, Moshe has to raise his staff against the Sea, and Gd must make an east wind come to dry up the sea.  Is Moshe’s action the cause of the Sea’s splitting, or is it the east wind?

Finally, consider what Moshe tells the Israelites at the Sea (14:14):

H” yilachem lachem v’atem tacharishun – H” will battle for you but you must be silent

However, in a stunning play on the words “will battle for you” and “be silent” the Chassidic masters translate: “HaShem will give you bread (yilachem from lechem, bread), but you must plow (tacharishun from cheresh, plow).”  Does Gd give us bread?  Before we eat any bread we say “hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz” – Who brings forth bread from the earth.  It’s understandable that Gd makes wheat grow, but after all, we are the ones who put in all the hard work of plowing, sowing, reaping, gathering, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grinding, sifting, kneading and baking (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2)!  Or, according to the plain meaning of the verse, we can understand that without Gd there is no victory, but without our fighting the battle, would there be victory?  When Amalek attacks at the end of our Parashah, does Moshe not instruct Yehoshua to pick men for the battle?  And is it not Yehoshua’s sword that weakens Amalek?

All these questions boil down to one question: If Gd is infinite and all-encompassing, and the whole finite realm, including humanity, exists in some sense within Gd, what is the nature of human action vis-à-vis Gd?

A wise man compared the infinite to the ocean, and the variegated, finite creation to waves on the surface of the ocean.  All the activity of the waves is nothing other than the ocean, moving within itself, expressing itself in surface activity, while remaining unchanged and unmoving in its essence.  And the waves themselves are not separate from the ocean in any way – the water which is their essence is no different from the water of the ocean.  Thus (Bereishit 1:2) v’ru’ach Elokim m’rachefet al p’nei hamayim, which we might translate “The spirit of Gd fluttered on the face of the waters” – making them rise in waves of creation (cf. Devarim 32:11 for “fluttering”).

Of course, from the point of view of an individual wave, it is indeed separate from the other waves, yet it interacts with them – it acts and is acted upon.  However it is a great general rule of physics, that whenever apparently disparate phenomena interact with one another, they are actually different expressions of the same underlying, more abstract level of existence.  For example, electricity and magnetism, originally thought to be two separate fields, were discovered to interact with one another (electricity going through a coil of wire creates an electromagnet, and a magnet going in and out of a coil of wire generates an electric current).  Eventually they were united into one field – the electromagnetic field.

Thus the answer to the questions we have posed is: “it depends on your point of view.”  In our ordinary state of awareness, we see ourselves as separate, individual entities, with needs and desires, and we have to interact with our surroundings to satisfy those needs and desires.  If we need bread, we must plow and plant and harvest and bake.  In other words, we must act: By the sweat of your face will you eat bread.  As long as our perspective is finite, we must act, we must plunge into the sea, we must stretch out our hands and engage the world.

Yet there are times when our perspective broadens fully, and we realize directly that we are just a wave on the ocean.  Instead of being caught up in our boundaries, our awareness is suffused with boundlessness (“a maidservant saw more at the splitting of the sea than the Prophet Yechezkel ben Buzi”) and we identify with the ocean rather than with the wave.  At those moments we see all our activity in a new light, as nothing more than our own essential, unchanging nature rising in waves within itself.  Gd is acting; He may be using our bodies, our senses, our intellect, our emotions to carry out His plan for the creation.  Our actions, which once seemed so personal, now are nothing more than part of Gd’s own internal dynamics; we become truly part of Gd’s inner life as it were.  And we understand that this is, was, and will always be the case.  In Moshe’s words at the end of his life, “HaShem is Gd in Heaven Above and on the earth below, there is nothing else.” (Devarim 4:39)

Torah is not an overtly philosophical work.  It hints to us about the ultimate reality behind the manifest creation, but perhaps more important, it gives us pathways and techniques by which we can refine ourselves and our perception, so that the ultimate reality may become a permanent feature of our awareness.  This is living in the light of Gd.  It is up to us to move forward; when we do, Gd will be there to receive us with open arms.