Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Does God Experience Difficulty?

In the middle of parashat B’shalach, we encounter the great miracle of God splitting the Red Sea. The sages in the Talmud (Sotah 2a) used this great supernatural phenomenon to declare that matching men and women for the purpose of matrimony is as difficult “as splitting the Red Sea.” The Talmud states that God Himself is the ultimate shadchan (matchmaker)!

This begs the question: Why, from a theological perspective, is anything difficult for God? Would not a component of Divine omnipotence be that no task is too difficult for the Almighty?

This very question is often posed in the presence of a bride and groom, whether at the wedding, or during the subsequent festive week of Sheva Berachot. The Maharal of Prague understands this “difficulty” as altering the laws of nature, which were put into place during Creation. What was difficult was not facilitating the miracle, but justifying it in a world God set up governed by the laws of nature and physics.

Others suggest that the “difficulty” described is not splitting the Sea, per se, but keeping it split so the timing worked out. When God split the Red Sea, He did so for the sake of the Jews who passed through it on dry land. God waited until only Egyptian soldiers were in the dry land within the sea, before returning the waters to their rightful place. Knowing when to split and when to return the waters was the “difficulty.” The lesson imparted to the bride and groom is that while the wedding itself is magical, the “challenges” will come afterwards, and often, they are about properly managing timing.

Others point to a different “difficulty,” offering another message for brides and grooms. The Midrash (Yalkut Reuveni, B’shalach 82: 89) relates that when God prepared to cross the Jews through dry land and drown the Egyptian militia, the angels challenged God: “These (the Egyptians) are idolaters and these (the Children of Israel) are idolaters. Why are you saving these (the Children of Israel) and drowning these (the Egyptians)? There is no difference between them!” After all, Jewish tradition teaches that the Jews had almost totally assimilated into Egyptian society, as reflected in this Midrash. The “difficulty” of splitting the sea was not the breach of the natural order, but the justification. God responded that he saved the Children of Israel solely because of the covenant He forged with the forefathers. The salvation of the Jews was not merit-based. In the context of a marriage, the support and fidelity husbands and wives have for one another is not earned or even justified logically. It’s part of the covenantal nature of marriage, where love and support must be unconditional.

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