Torah Fax
Friday, January 19, 2007 - 29 Tevet, 5767

Torah Reading  VaEra (Exodus 6:2 - 9:35)
Candle Lighting Time 4:39 PM
Shabbat ends 5:43 PM

Low Lives?

This week's Torah portion highlights seven of the ten plagues that G‑d inflicted upon the Egyptian people. A question may be asked: why did G‑d take ten plagues to "convince" Pharaoh that it would be in his own best interest to let the Jews go? Couldn't G‑d have changed Pharaoh's mind about the need to have Jewish slaves after just one decisive plague?

Commentators point out that each plague, in addition to being a form of punishment and a means of coercion, served an educational objective as well.

Let us focus on just one of the plagues: number three, Kinim, lice. What was unique about the plague of lice and what constructive effect did it have on the Egyptians?

If we look closer at the Parshah, we will notice that this was the first plague that convinced Pharaoh and his court that Moses was not doing the plagues by means of magic. The first two plagues, blood and frogs, might have come about (according to Pharaoh's sorcerers) by way of magic, but after the lice came, the sorcerers proclaimed, "It is the finger of G‑d" (Our Parshah, 8:15). Evidentally, it was the plague of lice that convinced the Egyptians of the existence of G‑d - but how?

The Talmud, cited by Rashi, explains that the powers of Pharaoh's magicians only extended to larger forms - so they were able to turn water into blood and bring frogs into the land themselves and were thus not impressed with the first two plagues. With regard to smaller matters - things that were smaller than a "barley corn" - they were impotent. When the sorcerers saw that the Power Moses represented was able to create something as tiny as lice, they were convinced that they were dealing with a Being that surpassed their deities.

But is realizing that there is a Power that holds sway over objects smaller than those that the magicians can control such a convincing and sophisticated proof for the existence of an unlimited, all powerful G‑d?

To understand this, we must first understand a bit about how pagans view their deities. Maimonides writes that the original pagans believed in G‑d. They believed, however, that it was beneath His dignity to "personally" deal with the lowly affairs of our physical world. G‑d, they reasoned, must have delegated those responsibilities to other powers. Thus, for example, G‑d let the sun make sure that the crops would grow well, and if one wanted good produce, he had better worship the sun. After all, would a monarch who has to worry about the needs of an entire kingdom busy himself with the nitty-gritty details of his lowliest subjects?

Thus, the sorcerers didn't just believe that their deities didn't deal with things smaller than a barley corn - they felt that no deity would deal with such miniscule things. Clearly, they thought, it must be beyond the realm of involvement of any form of pagan power.

When they saw that the Power Moses represented did in fact relate to the most miniscule and insignificant of creatures, they realized that their original understanding of deities was mistaken. True, a finite power can be more partial to a higher level of life and indifferent to lower ones. But if there is a Power that deals with tiny insignificant lice, it must be because that Power is truly infinite. From the perspective of an Infinite Being, there is no difference between greater and lower forms of life. G‑d is no closer to (what can be viewed as) a more important creature and no more distant from an inconsequential one. Thus, the plague of lice educated the Egyptians of the Limitlessness of G‑d, and hence His closeness to every part of His world.

This concept is basic to Judaism as well. We know that the Torah deals with many minute details. What we eat, where we plant certain seeds, what we wear, etc. Why is such an Omnipotent G‑d interested in these seemingly trivial details? Shouldn't G‑d be more concerned with the more spiritually glamorous experiences of our lives, like if we pray with enough love? For that matter, why is G‑d so interested in humans at all? Don't angels have a much higher understanding of G‑d and a greater emotional attachment to Him? The answer is that since G‑d is absolutely infinite, He relates to all parts of creation equally. In fact, the more trivial the action, the more it expresses the "finger of G‑d," the existence and involvement of an all-powerful G‑d.

It is for this reason that Age of Moshiach will be in this physical world and not in heaven. G‑d's presence will be most felt and revealed when He shows His involvement in this material world - the place with which one would normally assume G‑d would have the least interaction. It is specifically the most "lowly" of places and the "physical acts" (read: Mitzvahs) we do here that will ultimately express G‑d's infinity.

Moshiach Matters

“The belief in the future Redemption is part of the belief in G‑d, which is the first of the ten Commandments, “I am the L-rd your G‑d.” When it comes to discussing G‑d, we find that in is common for us to discuss it and talk about it. However, when it comes to discussing Moshiach and the Resurrection of the Dead, we shy away from the subject!... Whoever is not totally involved in the complete belief of the Redemption and the resurrection is similarly incomplete in his belief in G‑d.” (Ohr Yechezkel, Rabbi Yechezkel Lowenstein, Ponovitz Yeshivah)
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