When Miracles Intrude on Nature

The Midrashrelates1 that at the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, fruit-bearing trees sprouted forth from the seabed. Children picked the fruit and gave it to the birds, which joined the Jews in their song of praise to G‑d.2

There is a general principle in Jewish thought:3 “The Holy One, blessed be He, does not perform a miracle without a purpose.” This canon has a rational basis. Nature is one of G‑d’s creations, as stated by the verse:4 “I laid down… the laws of heaven and earth.” When G‑d structured nature, He did so with a specific intent. Since a miracle by definition involves a disruption of the natural order, G‑d will not work miracles unless it is necessary to do so.

Nature conceals G‑dliness. In that vein, Chassidus explains5 that the Hebrew word for nature, teva, טבע , relates to the Hebrew word טובעו meaning “sunk.” For just as an entity submerged in water cannot be seen, so too the natural order covers up the G‑dly light which maintains it.

“In His goodness, He renews each day, continuously, the work of creation.”6 Nevertheless, because the world follows a stable pattern,7 it is possible to think, heaven forbid, that it lacks a Master,8 and simply proceeds on its own. Man’s tendency to lapse into this error, however, does not impugn the fact it is G‑d who laid down and maintains the “laws” of nature, and He will not disrupt them needlessly.

An explanation is therefore necessary.9 In order to save the Jewish people, the splitting of the sea would have been sufficient. Why was it necessary that trees complete with ripe fruit sprout from the seabed? Ordinarily, it takes time from trees to grow, more time for them to bear fruit, and still more time for the fruit to ripen and become fit to eat. In this instance, the trees sprouted and bore fruit immediately, and that fruit was fit to be fed to the birds.

Also, the splitting of the Red Sea itself requires explanation. The water did not dry up. Instead, it continued to flow, and yet congealed on both sides, standing like walls protecting the Jewish people as they crossed, as it is written:10 “And the water was like a wall for them on their right and on their left.” Seemingly, it would have been sufficient for the Jews to have passed through the sea on dry land. Why was it necessary for the water to stand like walls?11

One must conclude that this secondary miracle (and similarly the miracle of the fruit-laden trees) was an intrinsic part of the splitting of the sea. For this reason, when the Torah relates the miracle of the splitting, it twice mentions the fact that the water stood like walls: once when the Jews first entered the sea, and once when they had completed the crossing.

What Made the Waters Stand?

On the verse, “And the water was like a wall for them on their right and on their left,” the Mechilta comments that at the time of the crossing of the sea, accusations were leveled against the Jews in the heavenly realms: “How is it possible that men who serve idols are allowed to walk on dry land in the middle of the sea?” And the Divine attribute of justice asked: Why are they better than the Egyptians, for “these are idolators, and these are idolators”?12

The Mechilta continues: What allowed the Jews to be saved? The walls on their right and their left. The right refers to the Torah which they would receive, as it is written:13 “from His right, a fiery faith.” And the left alludes to prayer or14 tefillin. Torah study and prayer represent vectors of Divine service which protected the Jews on either side.

This Midrash is also problematic. Why was it necessary for the Jews to have two merits protecting them, one on each side? Why was the merit of the Torah which the Jews would receive not sufficient?

The giving of the Torah demonstrated G‑d’s selection of the Jewish people from among the nations. (And therefore, when reciting the words “and You have chosen us from among all nations and tongues” before reciting the Shema,15 one should recall the giving of the Torah.16) This choice alludes to the differences between Jewish17 and gentile18 bodies. For the existence of a gentile’s body stems from the three impure kelipos, while a Jew’s body stems from kelipas nogah.19

The distinction between the three impure kelipos and kelipas nogah is as radical as the difference between the kelipos and the realm of holiness. For the three impure kelipos cannot ascend to holiness, while kelipas nogah has the potential to do so.20

Moreover, this potential will ultimately be expressed, for the sparks of holiness in kelipas nogah will certainly ascend to the realm of holiness,21 as implied by the expression:22 “No one will ever be estranged from Him.” Although entities stemming from kelipas nogah can temporarily descend to the level of the three impure kelipos, this is only a passing phase.

Since from the giving of the Torah onward the Jews were differentiated from non-Jews in such a fundamental manner, one would think that the merit of the giving of the Torah itself would be sufficient to protect them as they passed through the sea. Why was it necessary that the merit of Torah be coupled with the merit of prayer or tefillin?

When Right Meets Left

The splitting of the Red Sea involved two dimensions:23

a) It marked the conclusion of the physical exodus from Egypt. Although the Jews had passed Pi HaCheiros,24 the furthermost point on Egypt’s border, they were still pursued by Pharaoh and his armies. Only with the drowning of the Egyptians did the exodus become complete.

b) The splitting of the sea served as a preparation for the giving of the Torah.25 As explained in several chassidic texts,26 the sea was not split merely to save the Jewish people. That could have been accomplished through other means. Nor was it necessary to enable the Jews to continue their journey to Mount Sinai, since “the Jews ascended from the sea on the same side on which they descended.”27 Instead, the purpose was to prepare the Jews and the world for the giving of the Torah.

The giving of the Torah represents the fusion of the spiritual with the material.28 In preparation, it was necessary for G‑d to “transform the sea into dry land,”29 overturning the natural order.

To explain: The “sea” refers to the G‑dly energy invested in the natural order and covered up by it, just as the sea covers the entities it contains. “Dry land” refers to what is revealed. At the splitting of the sea, the Divine energies which are usually hidden became openly revealed.

At the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, this revelation was of a temporary nature, serving as a preparation for the giving of the Torah, at which time every Jew was given the power to reveal G‑dliness in this world, fusing the spiritual and the physical together in a permanent bond.

From the Microcosm to the Macrocosm

The narrative of creation begins with the word Bereishis, interpreted by our Sages30 as beis reishis, i.e., the world was created for the sake of two entities called reishis, “first”: the Torah and the Jewish people. As such, every activity which a Jew performs, even a private act, has repercussions throughout the world.31

We can therefore appreciate that the revelation of the G‑dliness enclothed in the world came about because of the revelation of the G‑dliness within the souls of the Jewish people.

For this reason, for the sea to split, it was necessary for the Jews to have the merits of both Torah study (the right side) and prayer or tefillin (the left side).32 For it is through Divine service in both these areas that a Jew reveals the G‑dliness in his soul.

Were a person’s Divine service to be limited to a single thrust, he would be lacking. Even were he to devote himself to his mission with all his powers, dedicating himself with mesirus nefesh, self-sacrifice, his service might remain merely an expression of his individual nature be it the nature of his animal soul or even the nature of his G‑dly soul but something to which he feels a personal inclination. True and complete bittul implies a transcendence of self. This is accomplished by serving G‑d with two opposite thrusts.

A person cannot perform Divine service of this type as an expression of his personal nature, for each person’s nature is defined by only a single thrust. How can one combine opposite thrusts? By giving oneself over to G‑d entirely.33

Thus when the Jews’ Divine service encompasses both the right and the left vectors, it expresses how their devotion to G‑d transcends their nature. What is the source of this commitment? The hidden G‑dliness which every Jew possesses in his soul, for the soul is “an actual part of G‑d from above.”34

Everything that happens in the world depends on the Divine service of the Jewish people. By revealing the G‑dliness hidden in their souls through the twofold service mentioned above (or through the merit that they would manifest such service in the future), the Jews precipitated a change in the world at large. The sea, the hidden G‑dliness, was revealed, and stood as a wall on both their right and left sides.

A Purpose Beyond the Saving of Life

There are still concepts which require clarification. The repetition of the verse: “And the water was like a wall for them on their right and on their left,” can be explained as referring to the two purposes for the splitting of the Red Sea: the salvation of the Jewish people, and the preparation for the giving of the Torah. The first time the verse is mentioned, it refers to the salvation of the Jewish people, and the second time, to the preparation for the giving of the Torah.

This explains how the splitting of the sea served as a preparation for the giving of the Torah. With regard to saving the Jews from the Egyptians and silencing the accusations against them in the spiritual realms, however, it might seem that the merit of one type of Divine service would have been sufficient. In particular, this applies with regard to the merit of the giving of the Torah, when the Jews were chosen from among the nations.

Why was the merit of both vectors of Divine service needed to save the Jews as they entered the sea?

The difficulty can be resolved as follows: The giving of the Torah was the ultimate goal of the exodus from Egypt. Thus when G‑d first told Moshe about the exodus, He also told him: “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d on this mountain,”35 i.e., receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. And the first of the Ten Commandments affirms this connection between the giving of the Torah and the exodus, stating: “I am G‑d your L-rd, who took you out of the Land of Egypt.”36

For this reason, at the outset of the final stage in the exodus from Egypt, it was necessary that the connection to the giving of the Torah be expressed through Divine service in both vectors. Were the objective to have been only to save the Jewish people from the evil influence of Egypt, twofold service would not have been required. Indeed, any commitment to Divine service takes one beyond the reach of evil.

But the purpose of the exodus and the giving of the Torah was to take the Jews beyond all limits. And this requires a service that employs both the right and left vectors.

Leaving Egypt Entirely

There is a deeper dimension to the above concepts. Not only is Divine service with one vector not an adequate preparation for the giving of the Torah, it would not even have enabled the Jews to leave Egypt.37

To explain: Every entity on the material plane has a counterpart in the spiritual realms.38 The Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, resembles the word meitzarim, meaning “boundaries” or “limitations.” The counterparts of Egypt in the realm of evil are the boundaries and limitations that exist in the realm of holiness, causing one to serve G‑d with a limited commitment. It matters not whether these limits are established by the nature of the animal soul or by the nature of the G‑dly soul.39

Thus when one serves G‑d in a limited fashion, one is not totally protected against the evil of Egypt. Since one has not totally nullified oneself, the boundaries and limitations of holiness remain, and the possibility exists that Egypt’s influence will be effective. The way to ensure that the evil of Egypt will have no influence is to go beyond both the physical and spiritual limits of Egypt by making an unbounded commitment to G‑dliness. Such a commitment is expressed in the twofold Divine service described above. By rising above one’s natural tendencies, a person can nullify any connection to Egypt.

Horizons Without End

On this basis, we can appreciate the reason for the mitzvah of recalling the exodus from Egypt every day.40 This mitzvah is incumbent upon every Jew, whether he is a complete tzaddik or at the other end of the spiritual spectrum.

A tzaddik must recall the exodus every day because his Divine service brings him into contact with G‑d. Just as G‑d is infinite, so too there are infinite levels within a person’s Divine service. For no matter how high a level a person reaches, his efforts are still limited. Therefore he must strive to transcend these limitations every day.

But how can the spiritual “exodus from Egypt” of a tzaddik be compared to a sinner’s escape from his Egypt? How can the two be included in the same mitzvah?

The answer is that the exodus at the highest level shares a connection with the exodus at the lowest level. If a perfect tzaddik becomes content with his Divine service, and ceases to strive for further advancement, he will not be protected against the possibility of falling into the Egypt associated with evil. Although he is on a high level of Divine service, since he does not want to ascend any further, he is confined within “the Egypt of holiness,” and from there a downward path leads albeit via a multitude of intermediate phases straight to the Egypt associated with evil.

The only way to avoid all connection with the Egypt of evil is to make a commitment to advance without restraint or limit. Regardless of the heights a person has reached, he must resolve as was the practice of chassidim, as related by the [Previous] Rebbe41 that tomorrow, his Divine service will be on a different plane altogether.

When Potential Is Realized

Based on the above, we can now understand why trees sprouted from the seabed and grew fruit ready for the birds to eat. These elements were part and parcel of the miracle.

To explain: When a kernel is planted, it contains in potential the entire tree which will grow from it, with its fruit.42 All that is necessary is for this potential to be revealed. It is merely a matter of time.

Moreover, this potential is part of the power of growth vested in the earth. By means of this power exists, in potentia, everything which will later grow from the earth. (And so, the expression of such power in not on a par with the power that brings things into existence ex nihilo).43

At the time of the splitting of the Red Sea, the Jews’ Divine service caused the hidden G‑dliness to be revealed, not only within their own souls, but within the world around them. Therefore, in order to enable the Jewish children to feed the birds, the potential hidden in the seabed was revealed and it sprouted trees. Moreover, the inner potential within the trees was also revealed, for they bore ripe fruit.

A Spiral of Ascent

The seabed is inert matter, the lowest form of existence. Thus the revelation of the hidden G‑dliness that occurred at the splitting of the Red Sea affected even inert matter.

This began an upward spiritual spiral. From the inert matter grew fruit-laden trees, members of the plant kingdom. The fruit was fed to the birds, living beings, becoming part of their flesh and blood. And the birds praised G‑d together with the Jewish people, pointing to the ultimate goal of all mortal experience: unity with G‑d.44

Thus at the splitting of the Red Sea, the inner G‑dliness invested in inert matter was revealed and elevated through the intermediaries of the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, and humanity to such an extent that it became one with G‑d.

Heralding the Ultimate Revelation

All the stories in the Torah provide guidance for our daily lives. This is particularly true with regard to the splitting of the sea, which we are obliged to recall every day.45

Every day a Jew must endeavor to reveal the G‑dliness in his soul. This will be expressed by serving G‑d without reservation, employing all of one’s potentials, even those with opposing tendencies. Such a commitment to Divine service protects one from the evil influence of Egypt, and prepares one for the ultimate goals of the exodus the giving of the Torah, and the future Redemption. As our Sages commented:46 Had the Jews not sinned, the redemption from Egypt would have been the ultimate Redemption.

At the time of the future Redemption, the G‑dliness which permeates even inert matter will be revealed. This also took place at the splitting of the sea.47 Yet at the splitting of the sea, the revelation was only temporary, while in the Era of the Redemption it will endure.

The temporary revelation at the splitting of the sea empowered the Jews, granting us the potential to integrate the transcendent revelation of the Torah within the world through our Divine service.

For this reason, great tzaddikim are able to appreciate the ultimate outcome of their Divine service. When looking at inert matter, they are able to perceive the G‑dliness enclothed within it. As the Alter Rebbe once said:48 “I do not see the beam. I see the G‑dly energy which brings it into being.”

In the near future, this degree of perception will be shared by all. “The glory of G‑d will be revealed, and all flesh will see… that the mouth of G‑d has spoken.”49 The G‑dliness enclothed in all created entities will be recognized by everyone. May this take place in the near future.

(Adapted from Sichos Shabbos Beshallach, 5723)