The process of the Exodus from Egypt ranks among the highest instances of public divine intervention since the creation of the world. Yet, as Rav Hirsch points out, just moments after hundreds of years of servitude are abruptly interrupted by Par’oh's unprecedented role reversal of slave master to emancipator, Bnei Yisrael are not impervious to despair from adversity. Their tendency to flee from all thoughts of danger causes Klal Yisrael to be redirected to a longer path, lest they see war and run back to Mitzrayim. How could such a thing happen to them? How could Bnei Yisrael not have faith in Hashem after all they had seen Him do for them?
A famous Midrash (Midrash Rabbah Shemot 26:2) presents a parable describing Bnei Yisrael's lack of appreciation for Hashem's providence and the subsequent attack of Amaleik. A tired child is sitting on his father's shoulders and receives multiple items from his father. At some point the child asks one of his friends, “Have you seen my father?” The father, disgusted by his son’s lack of appreciation and awareness, had cast his son down among enemies, in order that he realize who, in fact, his custodian is. Again, one must ask how, after seeing the Clouds of Glory and the Pillar of Fire which miraculously guided them in the desert, Bnei Yisrael forgot that Hashem was carrying them on His shoulders.
The revelation at Har Sinai remains the most explicit expression of Divine glory in the post-Genesis world. In fact, according to Ramban, while Klal Yisrael may have once associated Moshe’s leadership and the miracles that he performed with sorcery, their doubts as to Moshe’s legitimacy melted away at Har Sinai when the entire nation felt Hashem's presence (Shemot 19:9 s.v. BeAv HeAnan). Yet within 40 days of this tremendous event, Bnei Yisrael have built a golden calf to replace their leader. What happened?
Despite their initial war phobia, after 40 years in the desert Klal Yisrael indeed make their way into Eretz Yisrael. Despite the many wars that are fought, there is almost no record of Jews fleeing back to Egypt and there are almost no reports of a separate colony made up of Jewish pacifists (save for an isolated incident that occurred in the panic that ensued after Aharon’s death). What was the shift that gave Klal Yisrael the Emunah to face adversity and overcome their enemies?
A beautiful and deep insight by Rav Yosef Elefant of Yeshivat Mir Yerushalayim can answer our questions. Simply put, one cannot realistically expect to have an inspirational experience and instantly be aware of Hashem’s power to the extent that one will never sin. Even bearing witness to multiple supernatural events will likely not instill enough awe that one will never sin willingly again. Only if one is acutely aware of God’s existence at all times will one never sin. One performs Aveirot when one does not have this belief firmly entrenched into one’s psyche. Klal Yisrael may have experienced tremendous Gilui Shechinah during Yetzi’at Mitzrayim and at Har Sinai, but as long as they are not constantly reawakening their Emunah, they are susceptible to relapse. One can suggest that after 40 years in the desert eating the Man, manna; witnessing the daily activities in the Mishkan; and learning from the greatest Rabbeim of all time, Moshe and Aharon; they are finally prepared to face adversity and enter Eretz Yisrael.
If this idea is at all true, then it is incumbent upon us to constantly reawaken our awareness of the divine. This can manifest itself by contemplating the existence of any of the beautiful creations that were put into this world. One can recognize God’s hand through a simple apple. A small seed from an apple planted in the ground, will, over time, take root and eventually grow into a tree that will produce additional apples. Despite the logic-defying transformation of a single seed into large tree, the tree that results will never sprout an orange. It will only ever sprout apples (see Ramban Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 2:2). We should look to nature for this constant inspiration.
It is no wonder why, as Ramban famously writes at the end of Parashat Bo, Jews have an obsession with constantly remembering the Exodus from Egypt. We are not allowed to let a day go by without mentioning this event at least twice, and if that is not enough, for seven days a year we celebrate Pesach, a holiday on which we ceaselessly discuss Hashem’s interaction with this world in the context of the Exodus. The reality, as Ramban writes, is that Hashem does not perform open miracles on a daily basis. But by contemplating God’s intervention on the macro scale, we will come to the realization of His existence on a micro scale.
As readers of the Torah, and thus students of Jewish history, let us not repeat the mistakes of the past. Hopefully our ancestors’ shortcomings can serve as a reminder of the necessity to constantly reawaken our Emunah and feel the presence of the Creator of this world. By doing so, we have a fighting chance to religiously persevere and prosper.