by Daniel Pinner
“Hashem said to Moshe: Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn, refusing to send away the nation. Go to Pharaoh in the morning…and say to him: Hashem, the G-d of the Hebrews, has sent me to you to say: Send out My nation, for them to worship Me in the desert… Thus says Hashem: By this shall you know that I am Hashem: Behold – I smite, with the staff that is in my hand, the waters of the River Nile, and they will change to blood”
Thus Moshe gives Pharaoh his final warning that he and his nation will suffer terribly if they do not submit to G-d’s plan for Israel. And Moshe hereby welcomes Pharaoh, Egypt, and all the Jews to the first open, revealed miracle in history.
A look through the entire Tanakh shows that miracles are definitely the exception, not the rule. We saw certain miracles before this – Noah’s Flood, Sarah giving birth to Isaac when she was ninety, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Jacob’s and Joseph’s dreams, and so on. G-d appeared to select people – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (though only in Israel, never in exile in Aram Naharayyim or in Egypt), and Moshe; angels appeared to others – Hagar, Ishmael, and Lot. But such miracles and visitations from G-d or from angels as happened were either private affairs, known to and witnessed by an individual or a small group of people, or else seemingly natural events which occurred without disturbing the ordinary laws of nature (see Genesis 17:1, 37:15, 46:15 and the Ramban there).
And now, with the first of the Ten Plagues, a new era begins, an era that would span about forty-one years. This is what we could call “the miraculous era”. The Ten Plagues were open, revealed miracles, which two entire nations – both the Jews and the Egyptians – would witness. The Plague of Blood ushered in a period that has not been paralleled since, and will not be until the final redemption and the Mashiach being revealed.
From the Plague of Blood until the Exodus was about a year. In that time, every Jew and every Egyptian would witness, and feel on his own flesh, open, revealed miracles – G-d’s direct interference in the course of nature. The calamities against Egypt would build up until the climax of the slaying of every Egyptian first-born, after which Israel left Egypt. The final miracle that the Egyptians would witness would be the Splitting of the Red Sea: “A slave-girl [presumably an Egyptian slave-girl, because the newly-liberated Jews had no slaves] saw what even Isaiah and Ezekiel never saw” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochay 15:2; Yalkut Shimoni, Beshallach 244).
Egypt was devastated, but we would continue to witness open miracles on a daily basis in the desert: the manna every morning for forty years (Exodus 16:35), the clouds of glory shielding us from the fierce desert sun by day and the pillar of fire protecting us from the bitter cold of the desert nights (Exodus 13:21-22), the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the miraculous Divine demonstrations of Moses’ authority (Exodus 15:23-25, 34:29-30; Numbers 11:18-25, 16-17, 20:7-11, etc.). After four decades, all these miracles must have become somewhat banal.
When Moshe died and Joshua took over the leadership (Deuteronomy 34:9), the miracles would continue, but only for a very short time after. Thirty-three days after Moses died (a 30-day period of mourning [Deuteronomy 34:8] followed by a three-day period of preparation [Joshua 1:11, 3:2]), Joshua led us across the River Jordan and into the Land of Israel. Joshua split the waters of the River Jordan, echoing Moses’ splitting of the Red Sea forty years earlier, so that we could cross the river on dry land (Joshua 3:9-17). This happened on the tenth of Nissan (ibid. 4:19), and the next day the manna stopped falling (ibid. 5:12). The miraculous era was drawing to its end.
Though the conquest of Jericho, in which the shofar-blasts destroyed the fortification walls surrounding the city (ibid. 6:1-21) was clearly miraculous, the conquest of Ai (ibid. 7:2-8:29) was fought as a conventional battle, as were the subsequent battles to conquer the Land of Israel over the next seven years. The only miracle still to come was in the battle for the foothills west of Jerusalem: “Then Joshua spoke to Hashem…and he said in the sight of all Israel: Sun, stand still in Gibeon; and moon in the Ayyalon valley. And the sun and the moon stood still until the nation had avenged themselves on their enemies… The sun stood in the middle of the heavens, and did not hasten to set for an entire day” (Joshua 10:12-13).
The miraculous era had finished. And from then until the present day, there has not been a single similar miracle. Every miracle since then has fallen into one of two categories: either it was known to the nation as a whole, but it was an event that the sceptics could explain away as being a natural occurrence; or it was clearly a miracle, but witnessed only by an individual or by a relatively small group of people. In the first category are events such as Samson’s superhuman strength (Judges 14-15), the Israelites’ defeat of a vastly superior Aramean army (1 Kings 20:15-29), the death of Sennacherib’s entire army by plague in one night while they were besieging Jerusalem (2 Kings19:35, Isaiah 37:36, 2 Chronicles 32:21), the narrative of the Book of Esther, and King Cyrus’ granting permission to the Jews of the Persian Empire to return to Israel (Ezra 1:1-3, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23) in accordance with the prophecies of Jeremiah (chapters 25 and 29). In the second category are such events as the angel appointing Gideon as military leader (Judges 6:11-26), G-d appointing Samuel as future leader (1 Samuel 3:1-14), Elijah’s miraculous sacrifice on Mount Carmel proving that G-d, not the Baal, is the true G-d (1 Kings 18:20-39 – the most widely-witnessed miracle: well over a thousand people were there), Elisha’s resurrection of the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18-35), and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) surviving Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace in Babylon as a punishment for refusing to bow to his idol (Daniel 3:1-29).
There are endless prophecies throughout the Tanakh promising that the miracles that will accompany the final redemption will be even greater than those of the redemption from Egypt. Not only will the miracles that we have witnessed until now (such as Israel’s miraculous victories in wars against vastly superior armies; the thousands of Kassam rockets fired at Israeli cities, with the connivance of the Israeli government, the overwhelming majority of which do almost no damage; the elimination of the prime minister who was collaborating with Arab terrorists to murder Jews; the punishment inflicted on a later prime minister who plunged the thousands of Jews of Gaza and northern Shomron into refugee status; the list goes on) pale into insignificance when we witness the open miracles that G-d will yet perform for us; even the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt will seem minor by comparison. “Behold the days are coming, says Hashem, when it will no longer be said, ‘As Hashem lives, Who brought the Children of Israel up out of the land of Egypt’; but rather, ‘As Hashem lives, Who brought the Children of Israel up from the northern land, and from all the lands into which He cast them out’. And I will return them to their Land which I gave to their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14-15).
Rashi explains this by paraphrasing Berachot 12b: “Our Rabbis expounded: Not that the Exodus from Egypt will be uprooted from its place; but the final redemption is the main thing, and the Exodus from Egypt is subordinate to it”.
And this casts upon us – every single one of us, particularly those Jews who are still in exile – a massive responsibility. The Talmud quotes a verse from the Song at the Red Sea: “Until Your nation will pass over, O Hashem, until this nation that You have acquired will pass over” (Exodus 15:16), and explains why the verb “will pass over” is repeated (Rashi’s comments in square brackets): “‘Until Your nation will pass over, O Hashem’ – this refers to the first entry into the Land of Israel [when they came in the days of Joshua]; ‘until this nation that You have acquired will pass over’ – this refers to the second entry into the Land of Israel [when they came up from the Babylonian exile in the days of Ezra]. The Sages learned from this that Israel would have been worthy of having miracles wrought for them in the days of Ezra [to come with a high hand, echoing the high hand of Exodus 14:8], just as happened in the days of Joshua, son of Nun; but this was prevented by the sin” (Berachot 4a).
Rashi explains what “the sin” was: “They did not go [back to the Land of Israel] until they had permission from Cyrus; and throughout the period of the kings of Persia they were subservient to them – to Cyrus, to Ahashverosh, and finally to Darius”.
A contemporary gadol ba-Torah, Rabbi Meir Kahane (Hy”d) explains: “Clearly, the sin to which this explanation refers was their failure to fulfil the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel” (Peirush ha-Macabbee on Exodus 1:21, page 58). So many Jews chose to remain in exile even when they had the opportunity to return home – a mere 42,360 returned to Israel (Ezra 2:64) – that the nation did not deserve miracles on the level that they had seen at the Exodus from Egypt.
And this applies no less in our days, too. More than half the Jews in the world still live in exile, even when it is easier and more convenient than ever before to make aliyah, and even when disaster is already breathing down the necks of Jews in an increasingly anti-Semitic and violent USA, in an ever-more Islamified Europe, in an increasingly unstable world. It is the failure of the Jewish nation as a whole to return home (and what a sweet ring the word “home” should have to every Jew after 2,000 years of wandering) that prevents the open, public, revealed miracles of the final redemption from happening.
History is waiting – G-d Himself is waiting – for all of us to return to Israel. We are welcome to the miracles of the final redemption, they are ours for the taking: we need but take the last few oh-so-simple steps of getting on a plane and returning home to Israel, to usher in the final redemption, to bring Mashiach, and to bear witness to miracles that will make even the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt seem minor by comparison.