Mother Nature's Father

This week's dvar Torah is by Moshe Rapps.

Contact Editor
YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

Hashem identifies Himself in many ways throughout the Torah, but perhaps most commonly He presents Himself as “the G-d who took us out of Mitzrayim (Egypt).” This is how He introduces Himself at Har Sinai (“Anochi Hashem Elokecha Asher Hotzeisicha Me’Eretz Mitzrayim”), and the event of Yetzias Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, is presented as the foundation for many mitzvos, including Shabbos, tefillin, ribis (interest), and many others. 

Clearly, Yetzias Mitzrayim was a fundamental event in our history, an event during which we “met” Hashem for the first time on a national level, and after which we officially became the People of Israel, Am Yisrael.  However, the Ramban writes that Yetzias Mitzrayim represents something even more fundamental – it is the foundation of our entire approach to understanding the natural world.  The Ramban explains that the miracles Hashem performed during the entire event of Yetzias Mitzrayim showed us that everything that occurs in the natural world happens because Hashem wills it to occur, not because it is natural.  Miracles underlie what appears to us as rules of nature, or natural order. 

It was during Yetzias Mitzrayim that we truly became acquainted with Hashem.  It was during this time that we were able to see firsthand that He could break the rules of nature, which showed us that the rules of nature are not really natural but also controlled by Him.  Indeed, nature has rules – the sun always rises in the East, the apples seeds never produce orange trees, and gravity always pulls objects downward.  But the miracles we experienced in Egypt showed us why those things occur: because Hashem wills natural law to govern the everyday events of the world.  It is for this reason that Yetzias Mitzrayim is so prominently featured throughout the Torah.

The Ramban explains that this knowledge, the understanding that Hashem is in control of everything that happens in the world, allows us to then understand the reason for the creation of the world, the creation of mankind, the giving of the Torah, and the commandment to fulfill His mitzvos.  The Ramban writes that the purpose of all mitzvos, and by extension all of existence, is “shenaamin b’Elokeinu v’nodeh eilav she’hu boreinu,” that we should believe in Hashem and acknowledge that He created us. 

Our job in this world is to expose the fact that Hashem is in control of the entire world and all events that occur therein.  Rav Asher Weiss explained, in a shiur this past week, the reason we are known as “Yehudim (the Hebrew for 'Jews', from the root 'Yehudah', Judah).” After all, Yehudah is only one tribe, one twelfth of Am Yisrael, so why are we identified specifically as his descendants? The answer is that Yehudah’s name means to acknowledge. 

When Leah named him, she said, “hapaam odeh et Hashem – now I will acknowledge and give thanks to Hashem.”  Yehudah’s entire essence was one of recognizing truth (as we see in the story of Yehudah and Tamar), and as a people, our national ethos follows this model as well. We are all Yehudim because we live in order to ackowledge our Creator and recognize that there is nothing outside of Him - “ein od milvado.”

May Hashem assist all of us in our quest to see His hand in all areas of life, and may we truly have the ability to call ourselves Yehudim.