This week’s Torah reading mentions the eternal problem that all fundraisers for institutions face – namely, that though one may have been successful in raising great sums of money for buildings, it is much more difficult to raise funds for the necessary daily maintenance of the institution and for the salaries of those who are involved with it on a daily basis.
The Jewish people truly appreciated and sang God’s praises for extricating them from Egyptian bondage and splitting the sea to allow their exodus to be complete. But they found themselves in the midst of a trackless desert without visible supplies of food, water and shelter. In short, the building has been built but the question of how it would be maintained was still a problem?
The Lord’s answer, so to speak, to this fundamental issue is intriguing and instructive. Just as the entire process of the Exodus from Egypt was wholly miraculous, unexpected and beyond mere human comprehension, so too was the sustenance of the Jewish people as they wandered in the desert of Sinai for forty years. It was miraculous, unexpected, unpredictable and also beyond human comprehension.
The line between the miraculous and what we deem to be natural is a blurred one as far as Jewish thought is concerned. Everything in the world is miraculous and everything is also natural and in some ways can be explained rationally.
The rabbis of the Talmud summed this up in the pithy statement of that indigent scholar who had no money with which to buy oil for the lamp. So he used vinegar instead and confidently stated: “The One Who commanded and ordained that the oil should burn will also command and ordain that vinegar should burn.”
Bringing forth wheat from the ground and grinding it into flour and baking it into bread is no less a miracle than manna falling from heaven to sustain millions of people for decades.
The education of the Jewish people, in the forty year course of their initial schooling as a unique and special people, was aimed to make them realize how thin the line is between what we humans consider to be natural and rational, and what is miraculous and beyond our understanding.
It is fairly clear that many times we live in a world that seems to be completely irrational and beyond our understanding and control. However, instead of being humbled by this realization, many times we retain our hubris and arrogance and claim to have true understanding and lasting solutions to difficult problems that constantly arise.
We certainly have to make every attempt to do our best and industriously try to solve our problems. However, at the end of the day, we should realize that we are all sustained by manna from heaven, in whatever form it is received by every generation. The drawing forth of water from the rock by Moshe is certainly to be considered a miraculous event. However, the ability to desalinate salt water from the sea, a process attributed to human creativity and invention, realistically viewed, is no less miraculous. And this overriding lesson that the Torah teaches us in this week’s reading, is a basic axiom of Judaism and Jewish life.
Rabbi Berel Wein