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Egypt, Iran & the Passover Miracle

Egypt, Iran & the Passover Miracle

God may guarantee the survival of the Jewish people, but individually, the existential threat is alarmingly real.

by

Sitting at the Seder this year, it's understandable that we Jews have more than the ancient Egyptians on our minds. Today we have good reason to be nervous once more about our survival.

An avowed enemy, making clear his intent to destroy us, is well on its way to having the nuclear capability to carry out his threat. In spite of the countless diplomatic efforts, the sanctions and the political pressure placed on the leadership of Iran, nothing appears to be swaying them from carrying out their version of the final solution.

Like Pharaoh, Ahmadinejad reflects the gravest danger, whose goal is not only to harm, but to totally destroy the Jewish people. And like Pharaoh, Ahmadinejad’s crime is so unimaginable that God promises to prevent it from happening.

Allow me to explain.

In the Passover story, the Jews were in Egypt for 210 years. They suffered for most of that time. Several generations were slaves. So what finally prompted God to appoint Moses and begin the process of redemption? What was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

The answer was symbolically given to Moses in his first dramatic encounter with God at the Burning Bush.

A simple reading of the story tells us that while tending his sheep in the desert of Sinai, Moses suddenly saw a bush that was engulfed in flames. Yet strangely enough, although the bush was burning, it was not consumed. That defies the laws of nature. Fire always destroys. Moses could not understand.

At this very moment, as Moses stood transfixed by the miracle before his eyes, God revealed himself and proclaimed, "I am the God of your fathers."

Superficially, the story seems to tell us that God performed this wondrous act to impress Moses before asking him to assume the mantle of leadership. God chose this sign so that Moses would grasp the meaning of Divine power. But this begs the question. Couldn't God have performed another miracle even more striking, more convincing, more indicative of his control over the entire world rather than just a single bush in the desert?

Rabbinic commentators supply us with a beautiful answer. God wasn't simply performing a miracle; He was sending a message. God knew what was uppermost in the mind of Moses. From the time he fled from Egypt and watched his brothers suffering under Pharaoh’s brutal oppression, Moses worried and wondered: Are my people still alive? And so the very first thing God did was to reassure Moses, not only for that time but for the future as well.

The bush burned but was not consumed. So too, the Jewish people will never perish.

The bush was a symbol of the Jewish people. The bush was burning but, against all laws of nature, it was not consumed. So too, the Jewish people, against all laws of history, would never perish. That was the Divine promise implicit in the first message that God gave to Moses at the dawn of his assumption of leadership.

Related Article: Israel's Vital First Strike

Eternal Promise

The miracle of the Burning Bush was the graphic representation of the miracle of Jewish survival. When Arnold Toynbee completed The Study of History, his classic 10-volume analysis of the rise and fall of human civilizations, he was troubled by one seeming refutation of his universal rules governing the inexorable decline of every people on Earth. Only the Jews survived in defiance of Toynbee's carefully-reasoned analysis. So Toynbee proclaimed the Jews nothing more than "a vestigial remnant," a people destined to shortly expire.

But somehow, in spite of all those brutal attempts at our destruction, Jews have demonstrated the ongoing miracle of the Burning Bush.

Jewish history defies explanation. It is told that when King Louis XIV asked his resident philosopher, Pascal, whether he believed in miracles, Pascal replied that he did.

Surprised, the King then asked, "Give me an illustration of a miracle that justifies your belief."

"The Jews, your Majesty. The survival of the Jews – that is certainly a miracle."

The reason for this miracle is the Divine promise made long ago to our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This promise that assured our ancestors that their descendents would never perish; that their role in history to be "a light unto the nations" would remain in effect until the fulfillment of the messianic dream.

And that explains why God chose the particular moment for Moses to begin the miracle of the national redemption from Egypt. When Pharaoh’s plans turned from oppression to extermination and the potential for the demise of the children of Israel, God's deliverance was undeniable and inevitable.

As soon as Haman determined to murder all the Jews, men women and children, the Purim miracle was a foregone conclusion and Haman was doomed to hang on the gallows. The disappearance of the Jews from the world’s stage had to be prevented, no matter how unlikely the many coincidences required to bring about the Divinely-desired conclusion.

Responding to Danger

As we prepare to celebrate Passover, and as we again face a Pharaoh-like figure who seeks our destruction, we need to remember two crucial things: On the one hand, all those who seek to destroy us invite the same Divine wrath as wrought on the Egyptians who perished in the Red Sea. But on the other hand, we need to assure God that we deserve His intervention.

Whenever Jews are threatened, our response must be guided by repentance, prayer and charity.

In no way do I mean to minimize the danger of the current situation. Whenever we find ourselves threatened, our response must always be guided by the traditional threefold approach of repentance, prayer and giving of charity. The Hamans of history may by doomed to Divine destruction, but we must still do all in our power to mitigate the results of their evil by strengthening our commitment to God and to Torah.

We can be confident that God will not abandon us; He guarantees our collective survival. But individually, the existential threat is very real. There is genuine cause for fear, an alarming fear that should wake us up and stir sincere teshuva.

This Passover, when our joy is tempered by the ominous warnings from Israel's neighbors, let us gain hope (not apathy) from the words of a famous author who, although not Jewish, understood well the message of the Burning Bush. Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, a Christian best known for penning War and Peace, wrote in 1908:

A Jew is the emblem of eternity. He who neither slaughter nor torture of thousands of years could destroy. He who neither fire, nor sword, nor Inquisition was able to wipe off the face of the earth. He who was the first to produce the oracles of God. He who was been for so long the Guardian of prophecy and has transmitted to the rest of the world. Such a nation cannot be destroyed. The Jew is as everlasting as eternity itself.

Published: March 25, 2012


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Visitor Comments: 10

(9) Doreen, April 14, 2012 2:46 AM

Well said Rabbi !!

I agree with every word you have said. I am carefully watching events in Iran because I do not want to miss the moment when G-d steps in. I am not a Jew but based on history I know G-d will act so I join with you in encouraing all Jews to "repent, pray and give charity". As often as possible I pray Psalm 83 for the land of Israel with Iran in mind. I know G-d will deliver - we just don't know when (hope it's very soon)

(8) Yakova, April 10, 2012 2:07 AM

we are to be example L-RDS REMINDER

well spoken, truth exposed, giving thanks unto L-RD, for your insight wisdom the L-RD has bestowed upon you, keep up with truth, L-RDS WORD TRUTH, YOUR GIFTS TALENTS GIVEN ,YOU ARE A VESSEL IN THE MASTERS HAND, BLESSING FROM THE BLESSER, THE L-RD I AM PRAISE G-D FOR HIS MERCY GRACE LOVEINKINDNESS SHALOM

(7) Anonymous, April 1, 2012 10:50 PM

Re interpretations of the meaning of the burning bush

Re Israel's G-d given role to be a "a light unto the nations", would that best be interpreted in the sense of being predicted because of G-d being outside of time and mysteriously knowing the past, present, and future? And in the sense also of G-d's approval because of the light that Israel was destined to be. If it is, as the article suggests, interpreted as indicating miraculous protection of Jews, it might cause resentment in the wider world, because good living people abroad might think how it would be unfair if they are not miraculously protected also. Could this be a problem connected with extending the miracle of the burning bush to encompass more than it was intended to? That is to say, perhaps it was only intended to confirm and encourage Moses' faith (and Moses would, with the revelation of the Ten Commandments and the associated laws, lead the nation of Israel along the right moral path - for example, unlike the other nations of the time and/or surrounding Israel, there would be no idol-worship, nor human sacrifices (at the time David's Psalms were written, Europe was between the bronze and iron ages and the religion was evil Druidism in which the Druid priests offered human sacrifices***), nor other cruel pagan practises, nor prostitution (as in the pagan temples), nor other sexual immorality such as Roman orgies, and no cruelty to animals such as tearing a limb from a living creature (currently, apparently, some fishermen abroad are guilty of cruelly cutting the valuable fins off sharks while they are still alive and then throwing the poor sharks back into the sea), nor killing animals for food in an inhumane way, and Israel was set on the road of fairness, and social justice - care for the poor and disadvantaged, such as orphans and widows. ***Re Europe's human sacrifices, Trevelyan's 'History of England', page 13. Probably the gentiles have never wanted to draw this comparison.

(6) emil, April 1, 2012 1:50 AM

excellent article to remind enemies of the nation of Israel WHO they are really dealing with.

.

(5) Richard Peter White, March 28, 2012 9:53 AM

God is Great 7 Mighty

You are the light to the world YOU WILL NOT be PUT OUT as long as the sun shine and the moon shows it glow you are a reflection of His Light So let light it so shine and I hope the world will see.

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