Parshat Va’Era, “It’s Not the Miracles”: We are heavy into the “signs and wonders” part of the Torah now, reading about the Ten Plagues sent against Egypt and soon enough about the Red Sea parting and the Revelation at Mt. Sinai.
While a great deal is made of the Mt. Sinai moment, and certainly for some of our Orthodox brothers and sisters heavy emphasis is laid on the experience of all the Jews at Sinai, the real reason this moment is important is not because of what happened or how, but the results – we received the Torah.
None of the miracles we read about are meant to be “the proof” for why someone should bother with Judaism. In fact, we see in our portion this week that it is particularly pagan to believe only because the miracles are “cool.” The Egyptian magicians and wisemen are beat by Moses and Aaron; the brothers can produce better miracles, and so the Egyptians accept them as legitimate.
Our great sage, Maimonides wrote, “Israel did not believe in Moses our teacher because of the signs he performed. When faith is predicated on signs, a lurking doubt always remains that these signs may have been performed with the aid of occult arts and witchcraft. All the signs Moses performed in the wilderness, he did because they were necessary, not to authenticate his status as a prophet . . . When we needed food, he brought down manna. When the people were thirsty, he cleaved the rock… So too with all the other signs. What then were our grounds for believing in him? The revelation at Sinai, in which we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears . . .” (Hilkhot Yesodei haTorah 8:1)
Again, the emphasis on Sinai is not because it was a miracle in and of itself, but because the resulting Torah was a profound gift of moral, spiritual, and social genius – that was the proof. A proof that continues to unfold and improve and reveal more about itself in every generation including our own. Truly we all do see it “with our own eyes” and hear it “with our own ears.”