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The Doctor is In

By: Rabbi Eitan Mayer

This week's parshah spotlights Bnei Yisrael's dramatic escape from the pursuing Egyptian cavalry and their famous song of praise Hashem for saving them by splitting the sea. Surely, people who experienced such a miracle woud come away true believers, as the Torah confirms: "They believed in God and in Moshe, His servant" (14:31). But a closer listen to the parshah reveals some discordant notes among the celebratory chords.

Just before the sea splits, Bnei Yisrael turn to Moshe and sarcastically remark, "So, we came all the way out here to die because of the shortage of graves in Egypt?" Even after the sea splits and they are saved, the Torah reports that Bnei Yisrael return almost immediately to complaining – first about water, then about food, and then again about water. In between episodes of complaining, they violate Hashem's instructions about the manna, not fully believing that Hashem will provide for them every day and therefore squirreling away supplies for tomorrow against Hashem's instructions.

What's wrong with Bnei Yisrael? After what they've seen, why do they have so much trouble trusting in Hashem? How can they look nostalgically back at life in Egypt, wishing they had never left?

In order to answer this question, we need to ask another question. When Hashem provides water for Bnei Yisrael following their first complaint, showing Moshe a tree which will somehow sweeten the bitter water, He adds a mysterious comment to Bnei Yisrael: "If you will obey Hashem, your God… then all the sicknesses with which I struck Egypt, I will not strike you, for I am God, your healer." Your healer? God is our healer, our doctor? Of all the metaphors we could imagine to describe our relationship with Hashem – our King, our Father, our Savior – why, of all things, would we or should we think of Hashem as our doctor?

At the very least, Hashem certainly meant that He intends to relate to us with chesed – for the Egyptians, He transformed sweet water into undrinkable, stinking red liquid; for us, He now transforms undrinkable, bitter liquid into sweet water. But that alone would make Hashem merely our Benefactor or Savior.

What makes Hashem our Doctor, our Healer, is that He makes Himself the address for our complaints when we're suffering, just like the physicians we seek out when we're ill or injured. Hashem could understandably have been annoyed at Bnei Yisrael for their habit of complaining, for their questioning "whether God is truly among us or not" (17:7), for their repeated wish to return to good old Egypt. Having experienced the eye-popping plagues of Egypt, watched their taskmasters humbled and broken, and stood at the shores of the sea as the drowned Egyptian cavalry floated in, they could have been expected to believe in Hashem for good –or at least for more than the three days it took them to start complaining and wishing they had never left Egypt. Instead of showing impatience and anger, however, Hashem simply sweetens their water and explains to Moshe, "The Doctor is in."

After hundreds of years of slavery and even longer in the pagan environment of Egypt, Bnei Yisrael are struggling with a deep spiritual illness. Though momentarily inspired by Hashem's power and thankful for His help, they inevitably slip back into habits molded by centuries of dependence on Egyptian masters and devotion to the pagan pantheon of Egypt (see Ezekiel 20). How can they truly trust Hashem, the Invisible God, Whom they know only through the legends passed down by their ancestors? This mysterious Deity is here today, but will He be gone tomorrow, leaving us to die of hunger or thirst in the desert?

The patient is in dire straits and must be rushed to Intensive Spiritual Care, where a personal Doctor will stand by his bedside and administer powerful doses of TFG (True Faith in God). The way toward complete health will be a roller-coaster of ups and downs, moments of inspiration and faith balanced with times of despair and doubt. The Doctor diagnoses the patient carefully, appreciating the full spread of the disease, and He understands that the recovery will be slow and painful, two steps forward and one step back.

He orders a new diet for the patient – manna in place of the Egyptian bread, meat, and vegatables – and though the patient rebels and complains, the Doctor knows that with patience and the right therapies, the patient will recover and even thrive. He arranges special exercises for the patient in which he will be deprived of essential needs like food and water, causing him to cry out and giving the Doctor the opportunity to return to bedside with everything the patient needs. The result: The patient slowly learns to trust the Doctor. The Doctor is utterly committed to this patient, and He is always on call.

Perhaps the reason these episodes are recorded for us is because they are our own story as well. Each of us has moments in which we feel Hashem's presence and see His hand in our lives, as well as moments when, beset by doubt and wandering alone in moments of spiritual desert, we wonder whether Hashem is with us and why He seems to have cut us loose. It is at these moments that we may recall the similar wanderings and wonderings of Bnei Yisrael, and remember with hope that the Doctor is always in.




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