On Sunday, April 14, Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, the Director of The Shmuz, spoke at Beth Gavriel on the subject of leaving your personal exile. Rabbi Tzachi Diamond of Ezra Academy introduced the program, and the shiur was hosted by Chazaq.
Rabbi Shafier began with a question: Why did Hashem need to take the Jewish people out of Egypt in such a miraculous way? He could have just killed off the Egyptians right away and that would have been that. The Ramban teaches that Hashem was revealing Himself to the Jewish nation and to the world at large: “I am the Creator Who maintains all, and orchestrates every activity on the planet.” This was a one-time occurrence in history; and we focus on that one time, thousands of years later, twice a day. “It’s the underpinning of our entire religion.”
The Egyptians lived through all these miracles, yet you don’t hear of them becoming baalei t’shuvah. Why? Actually, it’s the opposite. They fought to the bitter end. How could they live through these miracles and not see?
Rabbi Shafier taught that Egypt was the most powerful civilization at the time. Each of the plagues came with a three-week warning, and each plague lasted exactly one week. When the plague of blood came, all the fish in the Nile River died. Rabbi Shafier enacted how miraculous it was that an Egyptian and Jew could be drinking from the same cup of water and the Jew would drink clear water while the Egyptian choked on blood. Every Egyptian saw that water is clear because Hashem maintains it. “There is no such thing as nature. Teva is the organized systematic way that Hashem runs the world.” Hashem is called HaMakom because he keeps all the physicality in place. Rabbi Shafier taught that each plague had a specific message for the Egyptians. He was teaching them that we are not equals – that He is the Master of everything.
According to the Midrash, there was one giant frog that came up from the Nile, and when the Egyptians hit it, it split into two and they kept hitting and the frogs kept multiplying. Every room was filled with the sound of frogs. Frogs died al kiddush Hashem, jumping into ovens and into the throats of the Egyptians. Everywhere, at the end of the plague, there were piles of dead frogs. The Jews stopped working after the first plague hit, because the Egyptians were so distracted. Rabbi Shafier then described lice, which were 12 inches deep in every inch of skin.
Egypt, which was the wealthiest land, was now losing its wealth. Wild animals came and descended everywhere. They were tame for the Jews. He then described hail, which was ice that hit and then spread fire. When the final plague came, the Gemara tells us that the first born went to Pharaoh and said, “Let them go.”
There was an armed rebellion against Pharaoh. Then exactly at midnight every first born died. There was not a single house that didn’t have a dead person in it.
Three million people then marched out of Egypt, led by a powerful pillar of fire. Three days after this stupendous scene, Pharaoh says, “Let’s go after them.” They chase the Jewish nation. The entire Egyptian army is charging full speed. One of the clouds of glory stops them. They couldn’t get through. The Ramban says that a wind began blowing slowly and picked up speed. It slowly etched out lines in the sea. These etches became deeper until there were twelve clear paths cut through the sea. The cloud lifted, and the Jews walked into the sea. The Ramban says that Hashem wanted the Egyptians to be able to say that it was just a wind and not a miracle, and so they followed the Jewish nation into the sea.
Rabbi Shafier reiterated his initial question. How could the Egyptians do this after witnessing all the miracles? Rabbi Shafier then taught the Rambam’s answer: If you want to love Hashem, study nature. Look at the harmonious systems that Hashem created. People in our world today attribute incredible miracles to chance. They brush off miracles all around them and say it just occurred.
Rabbi Shafier then shared examples of miracles in nature, like how fruits and trees grow from a tiny seed or a human baby develops from just two cells. Everything points to the fact that a Creator designed this world and maintains it. He said that Mitzrayim in our age is in the universities.
He taught the difference between an angel and a human: that an angel sees with absolute clarity and sees the damage that a sin will do. He wouldn’t not listen to Hashem. A human, on the other hand, is pulled by his physical body, so he is filled with constant confusion. “If a person doesn’t want to believe, then nothing in the world can convince him.” He shared that “people can live with incredible miracles and they don’t get it.”
He taught that Pesach teaches us how to live as a Jew. “This is our job, twice a day, all year long.” We mention going out of Egypt twice a day in our davening. “G-d shows us miracles daily.”
This uplifting shiur can be viewed on TorahAnytime.
By Susie Garber