Balance in the Metaphysical Realm
Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16 )
In a fascinating essay, the Maharal (16th century Prague) discusses the importance of maintaining a balanced lifestyle. He posits that ingrained in both the physical and metaphysical realms is a bias towards balance. He cites the unusual example of a dying person. It is not uncommon to see a patient given up for dead suddenly acquire a burst of strength and energy. But, just as one's hopes are rising for his recovery, the patient suddenly passes away.
Human beings, the Maharal writes, "are points of life, surrounded by death," and this last minute "flickering of the candle" - this final surge of energy - is the soul's final attempt to maintain the natural equilibrium that exists between life and death.
The Chida, the great Sephardic leader and mystic, also discusses the issue of balance. He writes that where the opportunities for spiritual advancement are greatest, one also finds the greatest challenges to spiritual growth. He cites the example of Purim, which is the day of the year when the heavenly gates of prayer are opened widest to us and we are given the greatest opportunity to have our prayers answered.
Under such circumstances, you might think we'd be spending all day in the synagogue! On the contrary, Purim is set up so that the very nature of the day - its merriment and celebration - act as a great obstacle to spiritual elevation. If one is not careful, Purim can be the day of the year when you have the least amount of concentration and success when praying.
In this week's Torah portion, we are told of the Jewish exodus from Egypt, of the confrontation between God and the Egyptian army at the Reed Sea, and of the subsequent annihilation of Pharaoh's forces. So stupendous and unexpected was the news of this Egyptian defeat that all the surrounding nations were paralyzed by fear of the Jewish People. "...Terror gripped the Philistines. The chieftains of Edom were frightened. Trembling gripped the powers of Moab. [It was as if] the inhabitants of Canaan melted away." (Exodus 15:14-15)
At this point, the Jewish People had the opportunity to cement this exalted status vis a vis the nations of the world. But alas, they faltered in their relationship with God, and the tide turned in favor of their enemies. Forgetting all the miracles and wonders God had performed for them, they muttered harsh words against the Almighty - blaming Him for the thirst they now felt in the desert.
This behavior created a tremendous imbalance in the metaphysical realm: On one hand, the non-Jewish nations possessed great awe of the Jewish God. But on the other hand, the Jews themselves lacked proper reverence for the Almighty.
As it stood, the Jewish People were benefiting unduly: The non-Jewish fear of God gave the Jews a tremendous military advantage. This imbalance had to be redressed, and it could only be changed in one of two ways: Either the Jewish People would become more God fearing, or the gentiles would lose their fear of the Jewish nation and their God.
Tragically, the Jews did not change. As a result, the Jewish People were attacked by the Amalekites, a nation famous for their disrespect toward God. Alone among all nations, the Amalekites are a people that fight willfully and directly against God. Though they do not deny His existence or power, the Amalekites pathologically choose to make war with the Almighty.
When the other nations saw the Amalekite attack on Israel, their own fears of the Jewish nation abated. A famous Midrash likens the actions of the Amalekites to the entrance of the first person into a very hot tub; until the first person steps into it, no one wants to go into the tub, but after that first step is made everyone is willing to enter. Until the Amalekites attacked, everyone was afraid of the Jewish nation. After the attack, much of this fear dissipated.
The imbalance in the metaphysical realm balance had been restored, albeit with tragic consequences.