The Torah readings that we’re now getting involved with describe a horrible reality in Egypt and the beginnings of the plan for redemption. We’re very familiar with the events of Egypt and the steps of Divine salvation that occurs through the upcoming plagues. We engage in the age-old Jewish debate that pits justice against mercy, and we anchor our perspective within the plague texts. We read of our redemptive moments and of the women who affirmed life, regardless of nation, religion or culture.
But one subtle point we don’t focus on is the role of nature and its relationship with God.
From the very beginning, with the plague of blood, nature is woven into the plagues. We’re so overwhelmed with the description of what’s happening that we forget to ask fundamental questions about nature and the plagues. What is the relationship nature has with God? Is God bringing the plagues because God is omniscient or omnipotent?
In other words, if God knows nature is about to do something anyway and God takes advantage of that opportunity and frames a plague around it, God is manifesting an all-knowing, or omniscient, aspect of God’s relationship with nature. However, if God is commanding nature to behave in a certain way and nature is obeying the command, God is manifesting an all-powerful, or omnipotent, aspect.
Some people argue the plagues were miraculous in their timing, but nature does these things anyway. This would lead to a more subtle involvement of God in the world, in that God isn’t initiating events but is blending Divine interaction with the flow of nature. Others argue that these are grand commandments, and God interacts with creation through commandment and it’s our duty to obey. This would lead to a more structured and overt involvement of God in the world.
But why does any of this matter?
One of the fundamental Jewish questions that’s often asked is, “Where was God?” Whenever there’s a tragedy or crisis, we ask “Where was God?” And while some of us can answer in a way that satisfies us personally, there’s no answer that satisfies us nationally.
The breakdown in answering the question lies somewhat in the fact that we didn’t understand the question we were asking. If we believe God saves through omniscience, we’re looking for different things than if we believe God saves through omnipotence.
We’re so focused on the relationship humanity has with God that we neglect to learn of the relationship God has with all creation. And yet learning of that relationship will ultimately help us answer the questions of our heart.
The sages long ago understood this point when they stated that the entire world understood the language of creation and that the whole created world could communicate with each other. Humans are the only creatures that have forgotten this language.
Rachael Turkienicz is director of Rachaelscentre.org.