My favorite time of day is twilight, and especially so on campouts: The day’s activities are over, many hours of camping fun and accomplishments leave us with a kind of satisfying fatigue, dinner has filled us up, and we are ready for a few hours of relaxation. Nature is turning, as well: We hear the owl, the whippoorwill and the bullfrog, the last rays of the Sun fade, the Moon and stars fill the sky, and wood smoke calls us to the campfire.
This Shabbat, we read about the beginning of the world, in Parsha Bereishis. God creates the universe in six “days” (Maimonides says these are not 24-hour days, but Rashi says they are) and, on the seventh day, God rests. In the moments of the end of day and the start of night for the first Shabbat, God gave us some very special gifts.
Our Sages, in Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), tell us that in the twilight of the that first Shabbat, God placed ten miracles within nature for the benefit of our ancestors. These are unusual things, that we would not expect to see, because we are used to nature being a certain way. But God, knowing the difficulties our ancestors would encounter, created these miracles to Be Prepared to help them in their times of need:
(1) the mouth of the Earth, that would open up and swallow the rebellious Korach and his followers,
(2) the mouth of the well of Miriam, which was a rock from which water flowed that followed the Children of Israel through the Wilderness,
(3) the mouth of Balaam’s ass, which would tell Balaam (when he was riding to curse the Children of Israel on behalf of the king of Moab) that he was about to run into an angel standing in the road,
(4) the rainbow, God’s sign to Noah that God would never again flood the Earth,
(5) the manna, that fed the people in the Wilderness,
(6) the staff of Moses that he used to work signs and wonders in Egypt,
(7) the Shamir, the worm that cut stones for the construction of the Temple because no iron instrument could be used, as iron tools were used for war,
(8) the script, which was the form of Hebrew letters used to inscribe the Ten Commandments,
(9) the inscription of the words of the Ten Commandments (they were cut out and free floating within the tablets), and
(10) the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments themselves.
If you look at these ten things, you may see that each has both a physical and a spiritual aspect. For example, the rainbow is beautiful and reminds us of God’s control of nature. The staff of Moses was made of wood, but in the hands of Moses and with God’s help, it freed the Children of Israel from soul-crushing slavery. The mouth of the well and the manna not only nourished the bodies of those in the Wilderness, but also were daily reminders of God’s love for them.
So the physical thing exists to make the world of the human spirit better, and to help us Be Prepared to learn what God wants us to do. As you pass through the physical world, think about whether there is a spiritual meaning to what you encounter.
I look forward to another hike through the Torah during the coming year. Let’s go!