The story of the liberation from Egypt is the cornerstone of Jewish existence. Or is it? Read the Torah portion again, and you will find that what is most striking is not the miracles — wondrous as they may be. What is particularly noteworthy is how quickly the Israelites forget about their redemption.

Crossing the Red Sea, from Dura Europos synagogue, 3rd century


Barely did they cross to freedom, when the people complained to Moses and to God. They complained about a lack of water, they complained about a lack of food, and they complained simply about no longer being surrounded by familiar–if hostile–Egypt. Miracles seem to be an ineffective way of inculcating a consciousness of God. In fact, the entire Bible can be read as a book about the consistent inability of God to teach the Jews to be grateful.

First, God tries an idyllic garden. That doesn’t work; Adam and Eve disobey anyway. Then God sends a flood. That fails as well. God then sends a liberator, and redeems them from Egypt. After ten miraculous plagues and a split sea, the Jews still act far from God’s expectations. God gives a Torah—the Jews ignore it. God sends prophets—the Jews rebel against them. The Bible seems to indicate that miracles don’t work. People marvel at them while they are in process, and then forget about them the moment they finish.

To change human character takes much more than “special effects,” no matter how Divine their origin. There is no need for a big drama, but rather constant and gradual education, reinforcement, and community.

The shift from biblical to rabbinic Judaism reflects the growing, divine insight that the way to mold a sacred people lies not in external miracles, but in inner transformation. That change is accomplished through small, prosaic progress. By gradually incorporating mitzvot into our lives–by moving a step at a time toward making Shabbat, Tikkun Olam, social justice, and study a regular part of our being–we can, with time, remake ourselves in the Divine image.

Such a transformation is much more difficult than merely splitting a sea. But the reward of such a transformation is precisely what God sought more than three thousand years ago— a Jewish community that puts God at the centre.

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Bradley Artson)