Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance with Torah scrolls during the celebrations of Simchat Torah in a synagogue in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This week’s Torah portion begins with a seemingly trivial issue: The considerations in choosing the People of Israel’s route from Egypt to the Land of Israel, then called Canaan.
The shortest route from Egypt to the Land of Israel would be, of course, a direct march from south to north. But God was not interested in the People of Israel walking this way, since that route would lead Am Yisrael into the path of the Philistines who resided south of the Land of Israel on the shores of the Mediterranean.
The Philistines would surely not be happy with the arrival of the Israelites and would wage war against them. The nation that had just been released from slavery in Egypt had not yet developed the emotional strength to fight. It would not be unreasonable to assume that as war broke out, the Jews would surrender and return to Egypt defeated and degraded.
This route was too dangerous so an alternative route was planned: walking east, then south, and then crossing the Jordan River from east to west.
When we read about all these considerations, we can’t help but wonder: We just read about the many miracles that occurred in Egypt. Soon we will read about the famous miracle of the Parting of the Red Sea. Why then, in the case of the potential war with the Philistines, didn’t God suggest a similar solution? The God who taught us that He has the ability to change the laws of nature could have defeated the Philistines or caused them not to wage war at all, or given the Israelites the power to be victorious without a difficult or complicated battle, rather than change the entire nation’s journey route.
Indeed, there are those who learn from this that God prefers to minimize the number of miracles. When there is another, natural, solution, He prefers that one.
But it could be that there is a hidden message here for the reader, even one who reads the Torah thousands of years after it was written; a message that we can receive only through a change of route.
Every person’s life is paved with different challenges.
There are more difficult ones and easier ones; sometimes there are crucial and fateful decisions to make, and at other times we have insignificant choices to make. We face an array of emotional, financial, moral, familial and other challenges that accompany our lives and, truthfully, give our life tremendous meaning.
When we devote time and goodwill to dealing correctly with our challenges, we advance personally and become better people. By facing our challenges, we build our own character.
But sometimes we have to retreat. Sometimes people have to evaluate their abilities and seriously consider whether the challenge they are facing is surmountable.
When it is not, we are obligated to recalculate our route, to sincerely examine our abilities and draw the suitable conclusion. Just as the People of Israel was not able in those days to fight the Philistines, so too we occasionally cannot overcome certain challenges.
It is hard to admit, but Man is quite weak. Acknowledging this will prevent us from taking unnecessary risks. We can thus preserve our emotional energies for challenges we can overcome.
This does not mean that we should not face our challenges! Forty years later, the Israelites faced this same challenge and were victorious. We cannot move forward without challenges, and we should not take on challenges with no chance of overcoming them, but we must face our challenges and calculated risks with wisdom and with realistic chances of success.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites