Vaeirah 2

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Nature of Nature 

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


The ten plagues start in this week’s portion. Whenever G-d metes out punishment it is never undeserving, and very often the punishment will have more than one purpose. The punishment received by the Egyptians was richly deserved for their brutal and sadistic behavior towards the Children of Israel. But there was also another element in their punishment: that the Children of Israel gain from it.  

What does it mean that the Children of Israel should gain from it? This cannot simply mean the resulting satisfaction in seeing the downfall of their enemies. In fact it says in Proverbs (24:17): “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.”

What it means is that it was meant to teach the Children of Israel the two levels of belief in G-d: the general belief that He has dominance over nature (that He created it), and the specific belief in Divine providence, that He cares about individual things such as specific people as opposed to only being involved in the generalities, “the big picture”.

When the Children of Israel saw all the water in Egypt turn to blood this was a sign that G-d was the creator of the world, and is worthy of our believing in Him. The Nile was the source of irrigation for all the agricultural growth in Egypt. The Egyptians saw it as a god, as an actual source of sustenance. When G-d showed His dominion over the Nile it was showing that it is He who is the source of all sustenance, not a river.

And although the Egyptian magicians were able to imitate certain things - in this plague, for example, they could turn basic water into blood - they were unable to do the more intricate parts such as turning the water that flowed underground into blood.

And when an Egyptian and an Israelite would drink from the same cup of water, the Egyptian would drink blood, and the Israelite water. This showed that G-d was watching over the specific details, and more than that, He cared about the Children of Israel.      

From our exile and our subsequent redemption in Egypt we learn many things, such as these two aforementioned concepts in our understanding of G-d.

Unfortunately, many people see nature as an entity independent of G-d, much as the Egyptians saw the Nile. Rav Dessler writes many times that in reality, nature itself is miraculous. He writes that if one looked through a keyhole, and only saw a pen writing, would it be a logical assumption that the pen was writing by itself?

During the Egyptian exile, G-d was essentially unknown to most of the Jewish people. Therefore, their first exposure to G-d had to happen in a grandiose way, through the manipulation of nature. But from our perspective of seeing the glorious history of the Jewish people as a whole, a history which is still happening, it is easier for us to see G-d's hand in “nature”, and to know He is involved in our existence, albeit in a less open nature than He was in Egypt.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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