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Miraculous or Natural?

Friday, 28 June, 2013 - 3:00 pm

What do you do when you suddenly become the owner of something you never expected? Whether it is the unforeseen inheritance of a house, the abrupt responsibility of caring for children, the immediate promotion to a higher position with greater responsibility – in all these instances you do not have the luxury of preparation. Due to the unexpected nature of these events you cannot ease into your newfound reality.

The Jewish people left Egypt as newly freed slaves. They had forty years to adjust to freedom. But they were about to enter Israel – and they had never been there before. Logic would dictate that the Jews should settle into the land and gradually get to know their country before dividing it up.

But this week’s parsha, Pinchas, tells a different tale. Before the Jews cross the Jordan River, G-d lays out the instructions for the division of the holy land, as follows:

To the more numerous you shall increase their inheritance, and to the fewer you shall lessen their inheritance... Nevertheless the land shall be divided by lot... whether many or few (Bamidbar/Numbers 26:54-55).

Taken at face value these verses contradict each other. Was the land divided by lottery or was it divided based on population numbers?

Various Rabbis offer explanations to reconcile this apparent contradiction. All the commentaries agree, however, that both the supra-rational lottery and logical census numbers were utilized.

In essence, the inheritance of the Holy Land for each Jew is both miraculous and natural. The lottery underscores the miraculous bond to the piece of land; whereas the calculation based on numbers represents the logical connection to the parcel.

The lesson is somewhat obvious: In matters of holiness we ought to embrace both modalities. On the one hand I should strive to serve G-d and help others in the most natural way – without relying on miracles. I should dedicate the necessary time for prayer and volunteering at the hospital – the minutes and hours won’t miraculously create themselves. On the other hand, when nature seems like an insurmountable obstacle to my spiritual goals, I should remember that even nature itself is a miracle of G-d.

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