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Appreciating Nature

The splitting of the Red Sea is rightly lauded as one of the most incredible miracles of all time. Each element is incredible; the magnitude of the miracle; the upending of the entire natural order; in just the nick of time; helping them not only escape, but vanquishing the entire enemy force; in one fell swoop, all come together for one of the most memorable stories in our pantheon.

The miracle itself had two distinct components, where Moshe activated parting of the waters, and then again when he deactivated them and restored their natural state:

וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה נְטֵה אֶת יָדְךָ עַל הַיָּם וְיָשֻׁבוּ הַמַּיִם עַל מִצְרַיִם עַל רִכְבּוֹ וְעַל פָּרָשָׁיו – Hashem said to Moshe; “Stretch your hand over the sea, and the water will crash back onto the Egyptians, their chariots, and their horseriders.” (14:26)

We’re talking about miracles here, so we’re deep in the uncharted realm of speculation. But in a sense, we might think it quite logical to require Moshe to do something to activate the miracle to split the waters. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Moshe would have to do something to end the miracle and restore the natural order. We might reasonably expect that once the last straggler made it to safety, the miracle was no longer necessary, and it would return to its default natural state.

But God required Moshe to activate the return of the natural order as well. Why didn’t the miracle end by itself?

R’ Shimshon Pinkus observes that this suggests an essential lesson, that from God’s vantage point, nature and miracle are the same, and there is no default condition; that Moshe wasn’t deactivating a miracle, merely activating another miracle, that natural order we take for granted.

If it sounds a little overly credulous, Jewish tradition has endorsed our cosmic wonder at natural phenomena for centuries, with blessings over the waxing moon, first blossoms of spring, the configuration of the starry expanse, and the sweet smell of flowers, down to the food we eat, the healthy body, and something as simple as going to the bathroom.

Don’t take any of it for granted.