Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
One of the central insights in this week?s Torah portion is the Jewish concept that nothing acts independently in this world other than God. The Ten Plagues in Egypt were meant to clarify and strengthen this tenet of faith. God said to Moses, ?And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord? (Exodus 7, 5). This is also what Moses said to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, when he refused to set the Children of Israel free. ??in order that you should know that there is none like the Lord, our God? (Ibid 8, 6).
One of the nicest examples of this struggle is the miracle of Moses? staff turning into a snake and then turning back into a staff. Snakes were important in Egyptian mythology. Most of the pharaohs wore a sort of crown etched with a snake as a symbol of the power of their sovereignty. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and turned his staff into a snake and back again ? through a Divine miracle ? he was nullifying their pagan faith. The snake had no more power than that of a stick held by a person who does with it as he wishes.
It is interesting to discover that Pharaoh wasn?t the only person to get the message. Later we read that God explained to Moses that the plagues were meant for the Children of Israel as well, so that ?you will know that I am the Lord” (Ibid 10, 2). It was not only Pharaoh who needed to internalize the belief, but the faithful Jews as well. Faith is not an understanding that one reaches at a certain point in life and from then on it is permanent. Maintaining faith requires constant work of internalization and inner strengthening of its tenets.
We are used to thinking that idol worship is a thing of the past, at least in the western world. Indeed, it is rare to find primitive pagan worship to natural forces as used to be customary in ancient cultures. But this does not mean that human perceptions have improved in any essential way. Humanity has become more refined, its discourse more mature. But it has merely created new modes of idol worship, such as materialism that makes man dependent on a cruel destiny; enslavement to amassing fortunes that displace moral values; the faith in the limitless powers of the modern man to design his own life, and more. All these are essentially pagan concepts that do not recognize a Divine-cosmic administration of reality, creating a consciousness that rests on other loci of control.
One of the beliefs that Jewish faith opposes is the blurring between human effort and the result a person wishes to attain through that effort. It is easy to be tempted into thinking that effort inevitably leads to results. But this would be mistaken, judged by any person who sees the wide array of possible results of his efforts. Every human effort is dependent on a variety of factors, sometimes many of them, that are not in a person?s control. Effort never guarantees the desired result ? only God can guarantee that; man can only hope and pray to Him for success.
Attempts to redesign humanity are the same. There is no doubt that humanity has the responsibility to advance morally and make every effort for the benefit of all people. But trying to forcibly make reality seem utopian is only the result of a lack of humility. A person who knows his place in the world knows what he should do, but also recognizes his limitations. Man does not create himself, and does not create his surrounding reality. He must examine himself and his reality and think of ways of improving his condition. Human restrictions are not coincidental. All actions must always be accompanied by two traits: humility and modesty.