Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 29, 2005

Passover, and the Divine’s silence

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:08 pm

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo has a fascinating article in Jewish World Review on the absense of overt miracles in modern times, and a comparison with their presence in biblical times. An excerpt:

When the Israelites left Egypt on their way to the land of Israel, Divine intervention was very apparent. The Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea and the many other smaller and larger miracles showed full evidence of G-d’s intervention in man’s affairs. Consequently, our general reading of those years make us believe that anyone living under such miraculous conditions would not have had any other option but to be a deeply religious person.

The foremost commentator, Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, gives us however a totally different version of the events:

“As the result of the sin of the spies in which they spoke evil about the land of Israel, G-d no longer spoke with Moshe for 38 years” ([commentary on] Lev. 1.2)

This is a most remarkable and far-reaching observation. What we are told is that most of the time that the Israelites traveled through the desert, there was no special Divine providence. G-d did not speak to them and consequently the Israelites had to deal with the question of G-d’s interference not much differently from the way modern man does. Although the miraculous bread, manna, fell and other smaller miracles did take place, it becomes clear that these events no longer had any real effect on the religious condition of the Israelites.

After a few years, these must have just seemed “normal,” not miraculous.

True, we are told that water and food was miraculously provided. However, once G-d stopped speaking with them in the middle of the desert and they realized that this thundering silence of G-d could continue day after day, this Godly silence must have been more dreadful than anything we can imagine. This coupled with the frightening awareness that they had nothing to fall back on if G-d decided to stop providing them with water and food. Being used to revealed miracles and then suddenly overnight finding oneself in an icy absence of any divine interference, right in the middle of a desert, must have been too much to bear. G-d’s “indifference”, no doubt, created a devastating traumatic experience without precedence.

While the words of the Haggadah relate the miracles, the “empty spaces” between the words tell us of the frightening Divine silence of these very 38 years. And just as our forefathers must often have wondered what happened to G-d’s presence, during all these years, so do we. But just as they came through so must we.

The art is to hear G-d in His silence and to see His miracles in His “absence”. It is in the balance of these two facts that life takes place.

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