I dedicate this issue to my Rav’s father, HaRav Aryeh Leib: “May you have a speedy and complete recovery. Rav Aryeh, you should know that your Torah and leadership has made a profound and far reaching impact, and I am sure this is not the first time you hear this…this week! In Forest Hills, my friend and your congregant Danny Samuels speaks of you with such admiration and respect. And the Torah I have received is due to you. I hope these words offer some ease and amplify your health and strength. We all have you in our tefilos three times daily. I look forward to seeing you back on the boardwalk, and listening to another Torah insight from you, as in years past.”
In this week’s Parsha Beshalach, we read of the famous splitting of the Red Sea. Subsequent to this miracle, the Jews are without water for three days. They arrive at Mara, and find undrinkable, bitter water. (Exod. 15:23) The Jews murmur against Moses. Moses cries to God, and God shows Moses a wood, which, when thrown into the bitter waters, sweetens them. The Jews are informed that if they follow the Torah, they will avoid all the disease inflicted upon Egypt, “For I am God your Healer” God says.
Ironically, immediately following their encampment at Mara, they arrive; apparently close by, to Elimah where they find twelve springs and seventy date palms. Why does God not take them directly to Elimah? It is clear that God desired that the Jews first arrive at Mara, and experience the lesson that God is a “healer”. The purposeful nature of their arrival at Mara is derived from the close proximity of the plentiful Elimah. God avoided taking the Jews there first. Why was God’s capacity as a healer an essential lesson…and why now?
What had the Jews experienced about God until this point? They witnessed ten plagues…ten negative experiences. Even the splitting of the sea, although saving them, was a destructive nature, as the corpses of the Egyptians were washed up on the shore. Perhaps, the Jews might have harbored some view of God as an “afflicting” God. There was a balance that needed to be struck. God purposefully brought the Jews to Mara, so as to unveil His ability to perform “positive” miracles as well. This is why God concludes this lesson with the words, “I am God your Healer”. This lesson will now neutralize the Jews’ perception of God’s acts.
However, this healing quality is inextricably bound up with the Jews’ upholding of the Torah. This is clearly embodied in the fact that both ideas – the sweetened water and the Torah – are in a single Torah verse. And we know by tradition that all ideas connected in a single verse, by definition, are related. This is the very concept of a verse or “pasuk”. Pasuk means to end, or conclude. So we may state that each Torah verse ends one idea.
Perhaps there is another, deeper idea here as well…
Let us examine God’s words: “I am God your Healer”. God could have said, “God is your Healer”…why include “I am God”? Don’t the Jews know this point already?
We immediately associate to the numerous times in Parshas Kedoshim where God concludes all of those commands with the words “I am God”. The reason God says “I am God”, is to oppose the opposite sentiment: that one does NOT accept God, for various reasons.
Here are some examples:
“Observe my Sabbath, I am God.” This lesson is that we must not ignore God as Creator, so God reminds us in the command of Sabbath, “I am God”, meaning, “I am the Creator”, the very core idea of Sabbath.
“Don’t use faulty weights, I am God.” Here, we are reminded that God sees all. Our attempt to steal covertly with false weights is a denial of God’s omniscience. God therefore warns us, “I am God”…who sees all.
“Don’t perform idolatry, I am God”. Clearly, idolatry is a denial of the true, One God, so God reminds us that He alone is the only God.
But there may be another form of veering from God, and perhaps that was one matter God wishes to underline here. The Jews approached Moses with their complaint about having no water. They could have prayed to God, just as Moses did in response to their murmuring. And perhaps Moses prayed to God with a loud “cry”, so as to capture the attention of the Jews. The lesson is that when in need, God alone is the one to whom we must direct our requests. We must not approach man, not even Moses. This explains why God says, “I am God” your Healer. God could have simply stated that He was their healer. But He emphasizes, “I am God”…”to Me alone should you direct all your requests.”
This has much bearing on the theme of our recent articles, where we have addressed the popular practice of baking keys in challas, wearing red bendels, and barren women following pregnant women into the mikva with the hopes of some cure, or segula, as these prohibited practices are called. Not only do such practices have no basis in natural law, but also the Talmud prohibits such acts under the heading of Nichush, or magic. This is an Issur D’Oraissa, a Torah Prohibition. Maimonides teaches that the only ideas we are to accept are truths we witness, matters that we reason to be true, or the words of the Rabbis. Certainly, if a notion opposes God’s words, like magical beliefs, we are not to follow it…certainly, if the idea goes against all reason.
God teaches the Jews “He is God”. The universe has a Creator. There is a “Source” of our existence and our fate to whom we may approach. Let us abandon what is useless, when we can voice our needs directly to the only One who can answer.