With this week’s parshah, we complete the recounting of the 10 plagues that G-d brought on the Egyptians; in particular, on Pharaoh.
Pharaoh finally learned, however briefly, to let the B’nai Yisrael leave.
Yet, historically, it’s the B’nai Yisrael, not the Egyptians, who recount this story year after year, to learn from it. Archeologists have uncovered no mention — no memory — of it anywhere in Egypt itself. Some people assume that such absence suggests that the Y’tziat Mitzraim — the Exodus — never happened. Perhaps. Or, perhaps it suggests that the Y’tziat Mitzraim was something the Egyptians didn’t want to remember!
But we can certainly understand that the Egyptians and the B’nai Yisrael each had their own perspective on the events. There were differences in what each learned.
Subsequently, we can see that we all read the same Torah each week, but each of us learns something different from it. Not only that, but each of us learns something different from what we learned previously, each time we read it. The text is always the same. Our perpective is always changing.
G-d, the greatest Teacher, takes that into account.
Through one event, G-d can teach an infinite number of lessons to an infinite number of people — simultaneously. It’s one of the things that is meant by “Divine Wisdom.” Even in an event as shocking as Sept. 11, 2001, G-d is speaking to each of us on our own unique level, in our own unique spot.
Because each of us comes to it from a different perspective, it teaches each of us something unique to us; something different.
How can this be so?
Imagine a one-room schoolhouse.
On the chalkboard, the teacher writes: “2 + 2 = ___.”
The youngest student practices writing the numbers and computational signs.
A slightly older student completes the problem.
A student slightly older again begins to learn multiplication by it.
Another student feels bored with school.
A student a few years older contemplates that “2 + 2” always equals four — anywhere in the world; in the entire universe, even in heaven; it’s there-fore a universal law.
An even more advanced student infers that the presence of a universal law implies an orderliness in creation that strongly suggests intelligent design.
A very advanced student, perhaps, is willing to take the step of believing in a Divine Designer, because of that apparent design.
The most advanced student, the “wise” child of the Passover seder, asks, “What are these laws and how may I live without violating them?” Or better, “How may I live in harmony with the Designer?”
And if, perhaps, one of those students is a “tzadik nistar” — a “lamed vavnik;” one of the 36 hidden holy people without whom the world can’t continue to exist — he or she might bless G-d, saying, “2+2=4, Baruch Ha-Shem.”
Yet, they’re all looking at “2 + 2 = ___ ,” written by their teacher on the chalkboard before them.
Can you look on all the things that happen to you as learning experiences being taught to you, especially for you, by G-d?
(I originally wrote the “One-Room Schoolhouse” analogy as part of a piece about 9/11. Since then, I’ve used it at Pesach seders that I’ve led. I was also very honored when Reb Yosef ben Shlomo ha-Kohen, z”l, asked to share it with a learning group in Yerushalayim, in 2003.)