Even with a divine GPS system, do you have enough strength to jump into the sea, trusting that it will split?
The Torah portion of “Beshalach” which means “to be sent away” (Exodus 13:7 – 17:16). As you might have guessed it – this week’s reading is all about the Exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh finally “sending away” the Jewish people. The Torah tells us that there was actually a quick route to the Promised Land but that God chose to take the Jewish people by way of a longer route. This is because God was worried that the quick route through the land of the Philistines would make the Jewish people regret their departure from Egypt should they encounter yet another hostile army.
This week’s portion also includes the first GPS system ever created! How does a nation of slaves know the way to the Promised Land? With a Divine GPS, of course. God showed the people which way to travel by means of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Moses took the bones of Joseph and all the founding fathers of each of the twelve tribes along with him for burial in the Land of Israel.
As soon as the Jewish people had left Egypt, Pharaoh did what he does best: he changed his mind. Again. He decided that he wanted the Jews back. He harnessed his entire army together and chased after the Jews in hot pursuit. The Jews were trapped. It was the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh and his army on the other side. The Jews were frightened. They panicked. God came to their rescue and placed His cloud between the Jewish camp and the Egyptian one. Any arrows that were shot at the Jews were absorbed into the cloud. Moses stretched out his hand as God has instructed him to do and the sea split.
The Jews made their way through the sea on dry land while the cloud continued to hold back the Egyptians so that the Jews could make a getaway. Eventually the cloud disipitated and the Egyptians charged after the Jews into the sea. The seabed was not dry for the Egyptians which caused their chariots to get stuck in the mud, making for a very bumpy ride. After the Jews had all crossed safely, Moses once again lifted his hands to the Heavens causing the sea to return to its normal position drowning the Egyptians in the process. This week is truly a fascinating and exciting Torah reading!
Allow me to share with you an important detail not explicitly written in the Torah but expounded upon extensively in the Talmud and related literature. We are taught that God did not simply come and split the sea. No. We are told that He waited until the Jews made the first move. God wanted to see some effort. There are no freebies. Do something to save yourselves He thought.
There was indeed one Jew named Nachshon ben Aminadav, later to become the tribal leader of Judah, who defied reason and sanity and just jumped into the sea. Yes. Nachshon jumped into the raging waters. No life boat. No life jacket. Not even a lifeguard. He told the people that God hasn’t let them down in the past and He certainly won’t start now. “Follow me!” he cried as he jumped into the sea. It’s only when God saw Nachshon’s faith, his effort, and his sincerity, that He went ahead and split the sea.
The lesson is clear. God does not want us sitting back and allowing Him to take care of all our needs. That’s not what He wants and He won’t even let it happen. God helps those who help themselves. God wants to bless us with everything good. God wants to help us in our relationships, God wants us to get that promotion, and God wants us to beat that addiction. He will split all your raging “seas” for you. He just wants you to take the first step. Show God you are serious in anything you want His help with and He’ll be there for you just as He was there for Nachshon.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
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