There is a common mentality out there, that all of the open miracles that Hashem performed in Mitzrayim to prove His existence, are very impressive. However, that was a very long time ago. All I need is one small open miracle today and I would believe in Hashem with all of my heart.
The truth is, however, that history clearly proves this mentality false. You see even WHILE the actual nissim were happening in Mitzrayim, still, not everyone believed in Hashem. In fact, most of Mitzreeyim did NOT believe in Him. Even after the Mitzreeyim were eyewitnesses to many open miracles - they still refused to even suspect that Hashem is real. For instance, let us look at Kriyas Yam Suf (splitting of the sea) discussed in our Parshah. When the Yidden were surrounded by the Mitzreeyim on one side, and the sea on the other, Hashem literally split the waters of the sea to save them. Hashem not only split it, according to the Midrash (Mechilta), He made the waters rise in such a way that there were 12 separate paths, one for each shevet to pass through.
Additionally, the ground that they walked on was firm and dry, there were fruit trees growing along their paths, and many more open miracles. This was the climax of Hashem openly demonstrating that He truly is the Master of the Universe.
The incredible part of all this is that the Mitzreeyim saw this with their own two eyes yet, they still did not even hesitate before risking their very lives by running into the sea, which ultimately led to their deaths! Can you imagine? Wouldn't we expect that they would at least SUSPECT that there was a Higher Force at play? Shouldn't they have at least "scouted out the area", by first sending in only a few men as a test? How is it possible that after they personally experienced open miracle after open miracle, they did not even suspect that maybe, just maybe, there is a Gd of the Jews Who is running the world and causing the waters to defy all laws of nature? How can we even begin to understand this?
-Believe it or not, people indeed truly possess an uncanny ability to ignore the truth, even if doing so can risk their very lives. A modern-day example of this was Steve Jobs, one of the wealthiest and brightest business men in the world who, according to his biographer Walter Isaacson, fought a terminal disease for 9 months with diet and supplements, while refusing a surgery that could have “easily” cured him. Why? On a 60-minute segment with CBS, Isaacson commented, "I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don't want something to exist, you can have magical thinking [and the problem will go away]”.
Nine months later, when Steve Job’s terminal illness had spread beyond repair, he finally accepted the option of surgery, but unfortunately, it was too late. Had Steve Jobs had the surgery sooner when he was first diagnosed, he might still be alive. Although unfortunate, this is an illustration how even smart and capable people can ignore facts if they want to, even if doing so can put their lives in danger.
-In the 1980’s, Stanford students were recruited for a study. The students were handed packets of information about a firefighter named Frank. However, without knowing it, half of the participants got one packet while the other half got a packet that said something different:
The packets included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the “Risky-Conservative Choice Test”. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option.
In the other version, Frank was regarded as a lousy firefighter, because he always chose the safest & least risky option.
Midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs: What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have?
The students who’d received the first packet praising Frank for being a firefighter who avoided risk, concluded with confidence that all good firefighters avoid risk. On the other hand, the students in the second group who had read the opposite study, concluded with confidence that a good firefighter would embrace risk.
The interesting thing is that they all concluded this even AFTER being told that the information they had read was absolutely FALSE.
The researchers noted that “even after the evidence for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs”.
“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant”. The Stanford study became famous for demonstrating that reasonable-seeming people are often close-minded to things they have made up their mind about, unless they work to overcome it (for additional studies on this topic, see footnote below*).
The answer to our question, as illustrated by our Parshah, is that we clearly see that people have the ability to believe only what they want to believe or already believe. Everything else, can be ignored, even if one’s life is on the line. The only way to see the truth is to be open to it, and to actively pursue it.
As noted earlier, people feel that they would serve Hashem better if they openly saw a sign of or from Him.
The truth is that we all DO see open signs of and from Hashem all of the time. We simply have to work to internalize it and to not ignore it.
Allow me to explain: if one went to a forest, and saw carved into a tree the simple sentence, “Jake was here”, any reasonable individual would conclude one of two things: 1) Jake was there and carved his name into the tree. Or, 2), someone wanted you to believe that Jake was there & carved it. Regardless, no reasonable person on the planet would conclude “well, this is a forest. Most likely, wind blew around some of the pebbles, which chipped the tree, and eventually it spelled out this sentence; it happened by itself”. Virtually nobody would even consider that as a possibility, let alone conclude it with authority.
Yet, we live in a world INFINITELY more complex than that simple 3 word sentence “Jake was here”, with systems infinitely more impressive and strategic than it as well. It should be abundantly clear that Someone, with a capital “S”, created it all.
But, how many people walk around the world with a clear sense of awe that they are walking around G-d’s planet? Instead, we tend to ignore it – partially because most of the world does not act like Hashem exists (because they follow what they were taught as kids, instead of looking at the world objectively & seeing the infinite design), and this influences us to one degree or another, unless we actively work to combat it. Additionally, it is partly due to our subconscious ability to ignore the truth, which as illustrated above, is quite an easy trap to naturally fall into unless we work to defeat it.
If we want to connect to Hashem, we have to make an active effort to see Hashem’s involvement & constantly choose to believe it & not ignore it, on a deeper and deeper level.
May we all make sure to never, even to the slightest degree, make the same mistake as the Mitzreeyim. Let us make sure to study the world, and much more importantly, study the Torah, and stay in awe of Hashem without having to experience “open” miracles. For if we can’t bring ourselves to do so despite the infinite open design in this world, then like the Mitzreeyim, we too won’t be able to recognize Hashem even if we personally see and experience the greatest open miracles in history.
This week's dvar Torah is based off and inspired in-part by a shmuz given by R' Ben Tzion Shafier (theshmuz.com).