This Shabbos begins the Jewish month of Shvat. For those whose lives have been touched by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the month is of special significance. For it contains the yahrzeit of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, who passed away on Yud Shvat 5710, and more significantly for us, that day was also the day on which the Rebbe accepted leadership of the Lubavitch community.

The story to follow is in many ways a microcosm of the message of the Rebbe’s leadership. In the 70’s, a young, successful educator who graduated YeshivahUniversity came to see the Rebbe. In truth, he came for a personal matter. He and his wife had been married for several years and had not been blessed with children. The Rebbe gave him a blessing for children (and his first daughter was born twelve months later). But the Rebbe did not spend an excessive amount of time granting that blessing. Instead, he sought to convince this young Rabbi to open a school for American youth who had no background in Torah study. “There are numerous schools for youth from observant homes, while youth from non-observant homes do not have many alternatives.”

The young Rabbi listened to the Rebbe and thought. A few weeks later, he made his decision and opened such a yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael. The yeshivah was very successful and started many youth on their path back to Jewish identity. On one of his trips back to the States, the young Rabbi decided to visit the Rebbe and thank him for his advice and guidance.

The Rebbe inquired into all the details of the yeshivah, including even its location. “It’s in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem,” the young Rabbi answered.

“Where?” the Rebbe asked.

“On Rechov Kiryat Moshe near the traffic circle.”

“Oh, above the grocery store,” the Rebbe replied, displaying total familiarity with a neighborhood he had never seen.

Parshas Vaeira

This week’s Torah reading presents us with a problematic issue. G‑d sees the suffering of the Jewish people in Egypt and reacts. He sends Moses to warn Pharaoh to let the people go and when Pharaoh doesn’t, G‑d punishes the Egyptians with ten severe plagues. He breaks the natural order to show His love for the Jewish people and redeem them.

That isn’t problematic. On the contrary, we understand that. If we were G‑d, we’d probably have done the same thing. The question is, however, what happened afterwards? It’s over 3300 years since the exodus from Egypt and we’re still talking about the same miracles. At one point or another, each one of us has asked the question: “G‑d, where have You been lately?” We each can point out several pockets of evil that we would like G‑d to destroy. If He did it then, why doesn’t He do it now? Why don’t we see miracles today?

The first reply to this question is that we do, we are just not sensitive to them. Even nature is nothing more than a series of miracles. If someone would try to predict the probability of our lives being as they are: that everything would fall into place so that we could live our lives as comfortably as we do, it would be in the billions. Why aren’t we overjoyed with happiness over all the good fortune that we have? Because we’re used to it. It’s just the ordinary way our lives are lived, so we don’t stop to think how wondrous and amazing it is.

G‑d treasures this natural order. Because if G‑dliness was overtly apparent, the existence of our material world would not be necessary.

To explain: The world was created from absolute nothingness. There wasn’t even a vacuum. Nothing was there. G‑d didn’t have to create it; He did so because He wanted to. Why did He want to? Our Sages tell us He wanted a dwelling in the lower worlds: that He create a world where His presence is not evident and that realm become a home for Him, a place where He manifests His presence as comfortably as a person does in his own home.

So if G‑d were to nullify the natural order and make the ordinary framework of existence reveal His presence, then the entire exercise would have been in vain. A continuous sequence of overt miracles would defeat His entire purpose. Therefore, He hides His miracles in nature. But that doesn’t stop them from being miracles. Indeed, there are many occasions when were we to sit back and look objectively at what is happening to us, we would be startled at how evident G‑d’s hand is. Moreover, there are times when even such contemplation is unnecessary. Each of us can point to events that he has witnessed in which G‑d has miraculously assisted him and/or the Jewish people as a whole.

So, once in our national history, at the time of the exodus from Egypt, G‑d performed a series of overt miracles where everyone had to admit their Divine origin. Afterwards, the general pattern returned to its previous state and G‑d’s presence was concealed. Only from time to time is His hand perceived openly. Nevertheless, even when we cannot see His hand at work, that does not mean that He is uninvolved. Instead, at all times, whether or not we are aware of His presence, He is involved in our existence, guiding it to its ultimate perfection.

Looking to the Horizon

Both conceptual motifs mentioned above; G‑d’s maintenance of the natural order and the fact that He is not bound by it, will find expression in the era of Mashiach. For this reason, our Rabbis have explained that there will be two phases in the Era of the Redemption: one when “there will be no difference between our world and the era of Mashiach except [Israel’s] subjugation to the kingdoms [of the world],” and a second phases when the natural order will give way to overt miracles.

The first phase is necessary to fulfill the motif of a dwelling in the lower worlds: i.e., to show that as the world exists in its natural state, without miracles, it can serve as G‑d’s dwelling. Within life as we know it, man will devote all of his energies to a life of connection to G‑d through the Torah and its mitzvos.

This, however, is only an intermediate phase. Ultimately, the natural order will give way to the miraculous. For if our world is to be G‑d’s home, He will become manifest here without any restrictions or limitations. This will bring about miracles, for nature’s limits cannot contain Him.