God or Nature II


Moshe Ben-Chaim



Last week I misquoted a verse, referring to Hail, when the plague I should have quoted was Boils.


To reiterate, there were three sets of three plagues each:

[Set I] A. Blood, B. Frogs, C. Lice;

[Set II] A. Wild Beasts, B. Animal Deaths, C. Boils;

[Set III] A. Hail, B. Locusts, C. Darkness.

(“Firstborns” was a separate plague).


In each set, “A” required Moses’ warning of Pharaoh at the Nile at “morning time”[1], “B” required Moses to warn him to “come” before Pharaoh in his palace[2], and “C” came without warning.


We stated last week that God desired the plagues to contain “God’s” warnings, and did so in two manners: 1) via predictions (the first two in each set) or through their undeniable, Divine nature, as God delivered the third plague of each set, unannounced. We stated that these two methods were used to provide undeniable proof of God’s existence and control over the universe. To do so, God manifested His control with either at predicted moments or via miraculous feats. Predictions and overt miracles cannot be explained away by nature, and are clearly what God engages when He desires an unambiguous signals His disapproval of our actions. Thus, when something natural occurs, it is not God’s warning, for God would not leave a message open to natural attribution. We cited Malachi 3:6, “I am God, I do not change” teaching that God continues to use these two modes of evidence of His will. And when these two modes are absent, man has no right to suggest an event is God’s will, targeting some people or region.


The error I made last week was in citing Hail as the sixth plague, when in fact, Boils is sixth. I will now correct my error: As proof, we read the following in connection with the third plague of each set: “it (lice) is the finger of God” (Exod. 8:15); “And the astrologers could not stand before Moses due to the boils…” (Exod. 9:11); “And God gave grace to the Jews in Egypt’s eyes, also the man Moses was exceedingly great in the land of Egypt; in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants and in the eyes of the Egyptian people.” (Exod. 11:3) This last verse was after the plague of Darkness, when the Egyptians favored the Jews and Moses.


In all three sets of three plagues, in the third of each (viz, Lice, Boils and Darkness) the Egyptians are described as recognizing God or Moses, even without a predicted arrival of that plague. For the third plague in each set came unannounced, and yet, produced the Egyptians’ reactions quoted above.


Therefore, we learn that God either predicts a plague via Moses’ warning, or constructs a plague like these three, where the Egyptians validate of God’s “finger”, His servant, or His nation, respectively. Again, the Egyptians admitted to God’s “finger” (lice), Moses’ greatness (Boils), or expressed admiration (Darkness).


A progression may also be seen in theses successive plagues; at first the Egyptians attested to God’s hand (finger) in the plague of lice. Then, with their inability to stand before Moshe due to their boils, they conceded to Moses’ superiority over themselves. And finally, we read, “And God gave grace to the Jews in Egypt’s eyes, also the man Moses was exceedingly great in the land of Egypt; in the eyes of Pharaoh’s servants and in the eyes of the Egyptian people.” Not only did they concede to Moses, but an admiration followed, for Moses and the Jewish nation. The plagues evoked a positive emotion in the Egyptians. This was God’s plan all along, that Egypt admires God, not merely seek the avoidance of His plagues. Similarly, we are to strive towards a love of God, and not simply fear Him. For a love of God, means we understand and admire the wisdom that He embedded in the universe, arriving at a positive draw (love) towards the Source of the universe: it requires we use our minds to apprehend truths. However, fear is a lesser level of existence.


Now, some readers have voiced opposition to the view that natural occurrences as simply, “natural”, and not God’s will. However, their position would suggest that wind, rain, the sun (heat/growth), the moon (tides/light), air pressure, and temperature, are always functioning to teach mankind some Divine lesson, and never for the sake of sustaining this Earth naturally. This must be their position, for a hurricane is nothing more than the wind and rain interacting with changes in temperature and air pressure. Since the aforementioned elements and phenomena are essential to life, God created them. And since they exist, severe weather patterns must occur.


God created the Earth in a manner that wind is necessary, even if we are all perfect individuals! Will rain cease one Messiah comes? Will lightning and tornadoes also end at that time? Of course not. The Rabbis teach that the only change to occur in the days of the Messiah will be that our subjugation to other powers will end. All else continues, just as it exists today. All natural elements and phenomena are essential for life. They will not cease, and must continue, as God states, “Furthermore, all the days of the Earth, planting and reaping, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will never cease.” (Gen. 8:22). Now, if these are never to cease, then there will be times when they combine, as they are intermingled by nature (there’s that word “nature” again) and this mix must generate reactions in the weather patterns.


If we are wise, we can use our minds to best avert problematic forces of nature. But realize something: God’s plan that nature follows sustained and repeated behaviors is truly a blessing: such repetition in behavior affords our very understanding, and actually enables our accurate forecast of nature’s occasional, powerful displays.


Another verse from the Torah states one of Adam’s punishments for violating God’s single command not to partake of the Tree of Knowledge, “thorns and thistles will sprout…” (Gen. 3:18). A wise Rabbi explained this to mean that the physical world will now contain frustration: you will plant one vegetation, but it will be overcome with thorns, metal will rust, meaning…the physical will now be a frustrating pursuit. What purpose did this Divine punishment serve?


The Rabbi explained that as Adam and Eve possessed all foods essential to their lives, and yet, violated God’s command for the unnecessary fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, displaying an aspect of human nature that strives for what is not needed. They demonstrated an unruly part of the human design. God’s mercy responded by altering nature, to spare them and us from further, unnecessary pursuits that might destroy us. How did God curb the desire for unnecessary physical pursuits? He did so by arranging the physical world to contain inherent frustration: things will break, novelty wears off of new purchases, overexertion breeds weariness, and indulging in any physical pleasure cannot be sustained. God made this so, that we redirect our energies from the temporal, physical world, towards the eternal world of His wisdom, to Torah. This area actually contains no pain, but the most pleasure once breaks his emotional attachments to his regular, physical lusts.


So in the course of our day or week, when something goes wrong, it is nature at work: a nature which God designed to redirect us away from overindulging, as did Adam and Eve. This design of the physical world is by “design” for our good, but it is not happening “to me”. I am not necessarily a victim of God’s direct will when my new car gets its first dent: objects move, and metal dents. Simple. But we can use that accident to gauge how much the dent bothered us. If I was upset, it means my values are misguided: how does a dent in my fender change my pursuit of a Torah life? The same holds true when a hurricane develops: laws are constantly following their “design”, meaning, repeating patterns of behavior, and not the Divine targeting of victims.


I will leave you with one final thought: Why has no one noticed that hurricanes continue to exists only in certain regions, and only at certain times in the year? I mean, if God is all-powerful, and wants to warn us with a hurricane, wouldn’t His anger with us be more apparent, if a hurricane developed not in the summer, but in the dead of winter, over Central Park, NY? But the converse is true: hurricanes form yearly, at this time, and in only these regions. Does this not teach that “nature” is causing them, and not God?


[1] The word “boker” (“morning”) is found in each of these first plagues: Exod. 7:15, 8:16, 9:13

[2] The word “bo” (“come”, as in “come before Pharaoh in his palace) is found in each of these second plagues: Exod. 7:26, 9:1, 10:1