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Seeing in the Dark

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
January 16, 2019

How will the most expensive divorce in history affect Amazon?

The world’s richest man Jeff Bezos is splitting from his wife of 25 years – Mackenzie.

Amazons founder Jeff is worth $134 billion, but a 50:50 split would mean he would no longer be the world’s richest man. The flipside would be that Mackenzie would become the world’s richest woman with a potential share of $67 billion making her the fifth richest person in the world!

Of course one can argue, when they were married they were a strong unit – the richest in the world. Splitting only seems to ruin each individual’s position, especially when children are involved.

This week’s Parasha we learn about a different splitting – the splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Yam Suf)

One of the world’s most mystifying miracles. The Egyptians were chasing after the Bnei Yisrael who had triumphantly left Egypt; Millions of people surrounded by the sea on one side and the Egyptians on the other, found themselves now cornered with nowhere to go.

Whilst Jeff and Mackenzie split might be difficult and complicated, nothing seems “difficult” for G-d. Yet the Rabbis comment that two areas of life are as “difficult” as the splitting of the Yam Suf: securing a livelihood, and finding a spouse (Sota 2a).

Why are these two areas in a person’s life considered difficult for G-d?

Let’s take a time machine and imagine being there at the time. Around you are men women and children who had delighted in the exodus, now witnessing their treacherous tormentors angrily approaching. The site of the ten plagues seemed too far away and a new reality dawned in. What would your reaction be?

Our ancestors were believers. They didn’t question whether G-d would intervene rather they questioned how.

Perhaps G-d would bring another hailstorm upon the pursuing Egyptian army; or, maybe He would bring some deadly disease that would kill or incapacitate their pursuers. The last thing they could have possibly expected was that the waters in front of them would split and they would cross to safety. This was not an option they considered; many different possibilities likely crossed through their minds at those moments, but the splitting of the sea most certainly was not one of them.
This miracle thus demonstrated to the Bnei Yisrael more clearly than any other the limitless nature of Divine Power, the fact that G-d can intervene in any manner, even in ways that one could not possibly have imagined.

The Midrash [Bereishit Rabah 60] says that there were four people in history who made improper requests. Three of these people were fortunate, in that even though their request was articulated improperly, G-d answered them kindly. The fourth person received a terrible response. These four people were Eliezer, Kalev, Shaul, and Yiftach.

Eliezer said “And it will be the girl that says ‘Not only will I give you to drink, but I will give your camels to drink’ will be the girl who will marry my master’s son.” [Bereishit 24:14] The Midrash says that this was not an appropriate way to ask. What if a maidservant had come out and met all of Eliezer’s conditions? Fortunately, G-d sent Rivkah.

Kalev promised to give his daughter in marriage to the person who would capture the city of Kiryat Sefer [Yehoshua 15:16]. Kalev did not know what kind of person would conquer the city. What if a slave would have conquered the city? Fortunately, Otniel ben Kenaz conquered the city.

Shaul promised his daughter to the person who would kill Goliath [Shmuel I 17:25]. Again this was a rash promise, but again G-d was kind and David killed Goliath.

However, there was one man whose improper request resulted in tragedy. Yiftach was praying for success in battle against Ammon. Yiftach said to G-d, “If You deliver Ammon into my hands, the first thing that comes out of my house to greet me, I will offer as a sacrifice…” [Shoftim 11:31] Unfortunately, his daughter was the first to greet him. (According to the commentaries, Yiftach either sacrificed his daughter or sent her away for the rest of her life. Either way, this was a punishment for Yiftach’s improper request.)

The Beit Av asks; Eliezer, Kalev, and Shaul also asked improperly. Why were they fortunate and why was Yiftach struck with tragedy?

He offers a beautiful insight. The common denominator of Eliezer, Kalev, and Shaul was that their requests all involved marriages. When it comes to finding a proper mate, that is one area regarding which a person can legitimately say “G-d — take care of me!” When it comes to finding a person’s life mate, the rule is that this comes from the Hand of G-d [Yalkut Shimoni 117]. Regarding searching for a spouse one is allowed to play with Providence and rely on G-d’s intervention.

Yiftach’s pledge had nothing to do with a marriage. When one utters an irresponsible pledge like that, anything can happen.

In a very famous pair of verses in Tehilim (121:1-2), King David exclaims, “I raise my eyes to the mountains; from where does My assistance come? My assistance comes from G-d, Maker of the heavens and earth.” Some commentators explain that King David drew inspiration during times of crisis from the mountains. He looked to the mountains and contemplated the fact that G-d brought forth the mountains from sheer nothingness. Before creation, nothing at all existed; G-d produced everything from a vacuum. Thus, David exclaims, “I raise my eyes to the mountains – My assistance comes ‘Mei’ayin’!” Although “Mei’ayin” is generally understood to mean “from where,” it could also mean “from nothingness.” David came to the realization that divine assistance can surface “from nothingness,” even in dilemmas with no foreseeable solution. Just as the mountains emerged from nothingness, so does G-d’s assistance come in ways that could never have been anticipated.

Livelihood and finding a spouse are ‘difficult’ for G-d because they represent the needs to overcome the preference to leave the world to ostensibly natural flow of cause and effect.  When G-d engages in obvious suspension of nature that is called ‘difficult’.

At TAL we take pride in bringing people together, inspiring and connecting them with Jews around the world. Last week we celebrated two TAL engagements. Ask the couples and they will admit they never saw it coming. The greatest split in history is not in our times; rather it occurred 3331 years ago at the Sea of Reeds. It taught us that although we each have difficult areas in our lives, problems and dilemmas for which we can see no realistic solution, nevertheless by reminding ourselves of God’s ability to provide assistance through the most unforeseeable means, we can feel confident in His ability to find solutions to even life’s most unsolvable dilemmas, and help us surmount even the most ‘impossible’ obstacles.

Always expect the unexpected.

It’s when we least conceive it that G-d shows us His Hand Print onto our future.

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