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5 Shevat 5763 - January 8, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Mitzvos, Miracles and Prayers

Compiled from the lectures of HaRav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita

Part I

"Remember His wonders that He has wrought, His marvels and the decrees of His mouth . . ." (Pesukei Dezimroh; Tehillim 105:5)

An essential aspect of the mitzvah of tefillin is to recall all the miracles and wonders that Hashem did for us when we were redeemed from Egypt. For we are commanded (Shemos 13:16) that tefillin "shall be an os upon your arm and a totafos between you eyes, for with a strong hand Hashem took us out from Egypt."

If so, then there is much more to tefillin than just wearing them. This mitzvah is called an os, a sign; something that should compel us to take notice and to remember.

Therefore, while fulfilling the mitzvah of tefillin we should, according to the Shulchan Oruch (Orach Chaim 25:5) bear in mind that Hashem, "has the power and the control over that which is above and that which is below -- to do with them as He wishes." These thoughts are so important to the mitzvah that they are printed specially in most siddurim, so that we should think about them while wearing tefillin.

Clearly, Hashem expects more from us than a dry act of wearing tefillin; He wants us to remember what He did for us when He took us out of Egypt.

Beyond even this, we are expected to realize something more profound, for the Ramban zt"l, at the end of his commentary on Parshas Bo, writes about the crucial importance of our believing in all the miracles and wonders that took place in Egypt. "As a result of the tremendous open miracles, a person will acknowledge concealed miracles -- for they are the fundamental basis for the whole of Torah. A person has no share in the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu until he believes that all things and every occurrence, all of them, are miracles; that they do not operate by any natural or automatic process, either for the masses or for the individual. If we observe mitzvas, success will be our reward; and if we transgress them, destruction will be our punishment, since everything is decreed by the Will of Hashem."

Every one of the Ten Plagues, each in its own special way, proved that this universe has a Creator directing it Who is its sole Master -- and He is our G-d. Everyone in Egypt saw, experienced and knew this.

According to what the Ramban is teaching us, these great open miracles are the means to achieve a full understanding of the infinite miracles of our daily lives, the wonders which are hidden behind the facade of what is called nature. This is the important lesson behind all the great marvels of our redemption, and the profound significance of the mitzvah of tefillin.

The true reality is that all of Creation is constantly subject to the Will of its Creator. This belief is the crux of our relationship with Hashem and it is critical for our understanding the message of those miracles that Hashem did for us when we were slaves in Egypt. Hashem alone, without an intermediary, delivered us from our Egyptian bondage, bondage at the hands of a mighty nation that took pride in the fact that a slave never successfully escaped their midst. Klal Yisroel did not lift a finger in revolt or raise a hand in defiance of their taskmasters. Everything was from Hashem; even Moshe and Aaron were only Hashem's envoys.

No greater display of Divine might, supremacy and grandeur ever took place. The whole guise of nature was removed. The world could clearly see that Hashem guides His world and if He so desires, as in this case in order to redeem His people, He will change nature and even the course of world history through open miracles.

When we wear tefillin, we must grasp and remember this. However, to do this properly, the concept of miracles needs to be understood, because what Chazal refer to as miracles may not necessarily match our intuitive definition.

In the fifth perek of Pirkei Ovos we are taught: "Ten miracles were done for our forefathers in the Beis Hamikdosh: A woman never miscarried because of the smell of the sacrificial meat; the sacrificial meat never spoiled; no fly was seen in the place where this meat was butchered. The Cohen Godol on Yom Kippur never had an impure emission. Rains never extinguished the fire of the Altar pyre. The vertical column of smoke from the Altar was not dispersed by the wind. No disqualification was found in the Omer, the Shtei Halechem or the Lechem Haponim. The people stood crowded together yet bowed down completely, with ample room. Neither a serpent nor scorpion ever caused injury in Jerusalem. Nor did any man say to his fellow `There is not enough room for me to stay overnight in Jerusalem.'"

We usually think of a miracle as a single outstanding isolated event. Here we see that it is not the case. Millions of people were witnesses to these daily occurrences that continued for more than four hundred years! How can a daily occurrence be called a miracle? Something that is commonplace is "natural." If so, the word "miracle" seems inappropriate.

Some were minor. A fly was never seen or a snake never caused any harm. Day after day, even the miraculous could become familiar and then, who would take notice and give it significance? Chazal focus our attention on these wonders -- to notice and understand that these were miracles. They teach us that the Divine manipulation of nature contrary to its normal course -- constantly -- causing the abnormal to become the norm; this is a miracle!

The Chossid Yaavetz zt"l, in his commentary on this Mishnah explains why and how such "miracles" could happen. "Before the sin of Odom Horishon, there was not the slightest defect in the world. With his sin everything was ruined. Hashem created the world that it should conform to Torah. Therefore, in the Beis Hamikdosh where the Shechinah was present -- how could there be any imperfection? Imperfection is not the normal state of the world, for what Hashem does is flawless, as it is written (Bereishis 1:31), `And G-d saw all that He had made and behold it was very good.' In this way, all the miracles that are mentioned in the Torah are natural. If they are called miracles, it is because it has been decreed so, because of the sin of Odom Horishon -- that the routine of the world shall be as it is today -- until the coming of Moshiach. Then, on that day Hashem shall be One and His Name shall be One and subsequently, everything will be in a state of joy and perfection."

As long as Odom Horishon followed the dictates of his Creator, the world was in harmony with Hashem; this was Gan Eden. After the sin, Hashem created a barrier of so- called nature, giving us the impression that Hashem has withdrawn from direct contact with His world. The way Hashem rules His universe became concealed; what we call hester ponim, which means that we can not now easily perceive the splendid workings of Hashem's Wisdom in a direct fashion.

Transgression of Hashem's Will, as revealed to us in the Torah and through Chazal, causes an apparent alienation -- the obscurity of hester ponim -- between Hashem and His world. Also, the direct and open flow of Hashem's goodness to this world is hampered, for Hashem, so to speak, allows the "natural laws" of the universe to operate automatically.

This darkness of hester ponim depends on us, for the degree of concealment is all in proportion to our failure to learn Torah properly and to obey Hashem's commandments. Hence, our learning Torah and our observance of mitzvas will remove this interference and the darkness it produces, just as it was removed in the Beis Hamikdosh and in Jerusalem.

The perfection that existed in Gan Eden, the Beis Hamikdosh and Jerusalem can be part of our lives too. Granted it will be to a lesser extent, but nonetheless, if we properly heed Hashem's commandments, miracles will happen.

The gemora Brochos (33a) is an example. "It once happened that in a certain place a lethal reptile was harming people. The people came and made this known to Rebbe Chanina ben Dosa. He told them to show him the burrow of the reptile and they showed him the hole. He placed his heel on the opening of the hole. It came out and bit him and the reptile died. He took the reptile onto his shoulders, brought it to the beis hamedrash and declared, `My children, it is not the serpent that kills, rather it is the sin that kills.'"

Just as in Jerusalem, where scorpions and snakes did no harm -- because it was the world's focal point of Torah, kedusha and emes the Shechinah -- neither could the serpent harm R' Chanina ben Dosa. The "miracle" occurred due to the absence of sin. The real natural law was permitted to operate while the disguise, the hester ponim of nature, was suspended. The bite of a poisonous snake has no power to kill if it is not the Will of Hashem that it be so. Likewise, when the Shechinah was present in Jerusalem "miracles" were commonplace -- they were the teva there.

The gemora Bava Basra (11a) is another instance. Not so open and direct, but nonetheless a miracle. "They told over about Binyamin Hatzaddik, who was the appointee in charge of the charity funds, that once a woman came before him during years of famine and said, `Rebbe, supply me with food.' He said to her, `Ho'Avodah [an empathic expression indicating an oath] there is nothing at all left in the charity fund.' She said, `If you do not supply me, a woman and her seven sons will die.' He immediately supplied her from his own resources. Some time later he became deathly ill. The angels spoke before HaKodosh Boruch Hu and said, `Master of the universe! You have said that anyone who sustains one nefesh beYisroel is considered as if he sustains a whole world. Shall Binyamin Hatzaddik, who gave life to a woman and her seven sons, die at a young age?' Immediately his decree was rescinded."

The gemora concludes by saying, "that twenty-two years were added to his life." A miracle!

The power of tzedoko pushed away the "forces of nature," as it is written in Mishlei (10:2), " . . . and tzedoko saves from death." Clearly, there is no power to nature in and of itself. To think so, Heaven forbid, is apikorsus.

It is vital for us to realize that miracles are not simply the opposite of nature, for that presumes that there is an authenticity to "nature," and that miracles are exceptions to the norm. Not true!

The whole of Creation is the expression of the Will of Hashem Yisborach and miracles -- whether they be minor or grand, hidden or open, noticed or not -- all stem from the same source; the One True and Living G-d.


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