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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Beshalach

Parashat Beshalah

Epoch-Making Events

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Jewish history exists of many epoch-making events. However, these events have not all made an inroad into the consciousness of the Jewish people. For this to happen, the event must become, as the Jewish philosopher Emile Fackenheim calls it, a root-experience, a moment in which the hand of God becomes most apparent through His active participation in Jewish history. Still this alone is not yet sufficient. It is also necessary that the experience take place in front of the multitude, as in the case of the splitting of the Red Sea, when "even the maidservants saw what the prophet Yechezkel ben Buzi could not see." However, above and beyond all, a third element is necessary. It must be possible for later generations to have access to this vision. Only then can one speak of an actual root-experience. If a vision cannot be shared with later generations, it will turn into a claim of the past and lose much of its religious value within Judaism. The most important quality of a miracle is not that it is supernatural, or super-historical, but that it is a moment which, even when it can be argued away in terms of science and brought into the nexus of nature and normal history, remains miraculous in the eyes of the person to whom it occurred. This is what happened at the splitting of the Red Sea.

The event of the establishment of the State of Israel was no doubt an epoch-making event. The most important religious dimension of this event is the abiding astonishment which it caused after the events of the Holocaust. Only when the establishment of the State of Israel is seen in the light of the miracle at the Red Sea, will its fascination continue. And this is exactly where the greatest danger towards Israel’s continued existence lies. Just as we are informed that the miracle at the Red Sea lost its religious impact on the Israelites and normalcy became the call of the day, so we see a mentality of psychological denial and existential dullness in the State of Israel in which many people, but most of all its leadership, no longer understand the wonder of the State’s very existence. And just as the Israelites in the desert paid a heavy price, so will Israeli society, if it does not force itself once again to look through the clouds, see the miracle and rejuvenate itself through it.

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