Why Earth Exists
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
Witnessing 10 devastating plagues over a year, and then the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Reed Sea, what impression of God might the Jews have? The Jews then arrive at Marah, named for its bitter (mar) undrinkable waters, and God miraculously sweetens the waters, saying, “All the disease that I placed on Egypt I will not place on you, for I am God your healer” (Exod. 15:26). Thus, God reverses His negative reputation generated by the plagues (Rashi Exod. 17:5 says similarly). His healing of the waters—a positive act—intends on neutralizing the negative image of His wrath against Egypt. This was necessary, if the Jews were to appreciate that God in fact wishes good for mankind; punishment is not His preference, “For I do not desire the death of the wicked, but in his repentance and in his life” (Ezek. 33:11).
The Torah also says, “There [in Marah] He gave a statute and a judgement, and there He tested them” (Exod. 15:25). Why did laws accompany God’s improvement of the waters?
The Jews then alight upon Eilim: a destination with 12 water pools and 70 date palms. It is clear: God had planned Israel’s good fate from long ago (these resources weren’t suddenly created at that moment: Ibn Ezra, Exod. 15:27). 12 water pools parallel the 12 tribes; 70 date palms parallel the 70 elders (Ibid., Rashi). Not only does God manipulate nature by remedying man’s problems (sweetening bitter water) but His very formation of the Earth—12 water pools and 70 date palms—was designed to favor those who follow Him.
Pirkei Avos 5:6
Ten things were created on the eve of the [first] Shabbat at twilight. And these are they: The mouth of the earth [that swallowed Korach in Numbers 16:32]; and the mouth of the well [that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness in Numbers 21:17]; and the mouth of the donkey [that spoke to Bilaam in Numbers 22:28–30]; and the rainbow [that served as a covenant after the flood in Genesis 9:13]; and the manna [that God provided the Israelites in the wilderness in Exodus 16:4–21]; and the staff [of Moshe]; and the shamir (the worm that helped build the Temple without metal tools); and the letters; and the writing; and the tablets [all of the latter three, of the Ten Commandments]. And some say, also the mazikim, and the burial place of Moshe, our teacher, and the ram of Abraham, our father. And some say, also the [first human-made] tongs, made with [Divine] tongs.
This mishnah states the same idea: during Creation, God created alterations in natural law to favor those who follow His will, and these alterations include the Ten Commandments.
During natural wonders on Sinai, a voice teaching Torah spoke from amidst the flames. Sinai, Marah and Eilim teach a fundamental: God of the universe is the same God of Torah; creation and Torah are intimately connected. From Earth there emerged 12 pools and 70 date palms for those destined to arrive there…the 12 descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their 70 elders, who will follow the “statute and the judgement” given at Marah. The message is fundamental and consistent: the Creator of the universe is the source of the Torah. The Two Tablets again reiterate this theme: natural sapphire contained Torah commands formed in their very crystalized structure. The 10 Commandments were not subsequently etched into the tablets, but they were formed by the sapphire’s crystallization process. The commands grew inside the sapphire tablets in their formation.
God repeats His theme of combining the natural world with Torah directives. The message: Earth exists for the purpose of man following God’s will as expressed in the Torah. “[Sabbath was] last in action; first in His thought” is the Sabbath Licha Dodi prayer. Sabbath came last in creation, but it is creation’s primary purpose: a day removed from physical pursuits, for the sole purpose of studying God’s creation and His Torah. Studying God is the purpose of the Earth. But to live pursuing anything else, King Solomon taught is “futility of futilities” (Koheles 1:2).
Aside from Torah, the Earth does not have purpose. Enjoy the sweetened water, provided you listen to the “statute and judgements” given there. Enjoy the 12 pools and 70 date palms, provided you recognize their numbers parallel the 12 tribes whom God loved, as they discovered the same truths revealed in the Torah, and lived by those truths.
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received [the tradition] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say: “If you have learned a lot of Torah, do not credit it favorably for yourself, because for this you were created” (Avos 2:8).
As Rabbi Israel Chait cited on this mishnah, Rashi says:
For this reason the world came into existence. God made a stipulation with creation: “If Israel does not accept the Torah, the world would be returned to it primordial chaos.” We find that a great obligation was placed on it [Israel].
And the two sapphire tablets containing the 10 Commandments serve to display these lessons in eternal stone: stone—the Earth—contains Torah.
Thereupon Moses turned and went down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, tablets written on both their sides: they were written on the one side and on the other. The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, incised upon the tablets. (Exod. 32:15,16)
On this verse, Maimonides states:
“And the tablets were the work of God ” that is to say, they were the product of nature, not of art” (Guide for the Perplexed, book I, chap. lxvi)
Now, if by “they were written on the one side and on the other” Torah means that they were etched “on” the tablet’s surfaces, one might suggest Moshe etched those words. Furthermore, how is etching significant that God must tell this to us? Or, as some hold, if the writing hollowed through the tablets from one side to the other, both sides being legible is an impossibility, as the letters must be inverted on one side. To suggest the letters were legible on both sides is impossible, and God does not perform impossibilities (Maimonides “Guide,” book III, chap. XV), like making a square a circle at the same moment. If its a square, it is not a circle.
I believe “written on both their sides” means that the commands could be “seen from both sides,” not that they were etched onto the surfaces. Sapphire gems stones are translucent; an artifact inside the stone can be seen from both sides. The 10 Commandments were “inside” the sapphire tablet—not on their surfaces—something impossible for man to create through artisanship. This was the miraculous significance of the tablets formed during creation mentioned in Avos 5:6. What an amazing sight that must have been: naturally formed letters and 10 Commandments “inside” the sapphire tablets.
This is why it is so significant that God tells us that the commands could be seen from “both sides,” and why Maimonides goes out of his way to write about them, “The writing was God’s writing” means a natural phenomenon, not human artistic etching subsequent to the tablets’ formation. Trees are natural and are “God’s work,” but chairs made from their wood is art, man’s work. The letters grew into shape and positioning as the sapphire formed. This is the meaning of “God’s writing.” The tablets were as amazing as sawing a tree open, and finding Hebrew texts forming the interior tree rings.
What is this lesson? God teaches us that Earth exists, provided that man follows God’s Torah. Earth has no purpose otherwise. And if man follows God’s instruction, nature will accommodate—natural law will even be suspended. This is the lesson of God’s Torah commandments formed inside a stone; nature exists as a means for man’s Torah study. It is the message of all miracles, which are performed only for God’s followers.