Parshat Beshalach: Jump into the water!

When we want to make a positive change in our lives but face difficulties, the way to cope is to “jump into the water” – believe in ourselves.

Torah reading 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
Torah reading 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem /The Jerusalem Post)
The Children of Israel had just been liberated and had left Egypt with their heads held high. Only six days had passed since their release from the chains of bondage and here they were again in great distress. In front of them was the sea, and behind them – the huge Egyptian army was chasing them. To their left and right was barren desert with nowhere to escape.
At this difficult time, the nation turns to their liberating leader, Moshe, and complains to him: “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to bring us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it were better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14, 11-12)
Difficult and incomprehensible words! For a full year, the nation observed the wonders of the Ten Plagues, saw with its own eyes how God punished the Egyptian nation for the degrading and oppressive treatment of Am Yisrael, experienced the incredible miracle of the sudden redemption, and already yearns to return to slavery?! Already with the first hardship, desperation prevails and replaces the hopes for liberation the nation had dreamed of?! Is this what their outstanding leader and savior deserved? How could this be?
What does the Torah wish to teach us with this story? What moral can we take for our lives from this desperate event?
Am Yisrael waited for redemption for a long time. They had received a fateful promise from their forefathers that the day would come and they would be freed from Egypt, leaving with great possessions. But long years of slavery and humiliation left their mark on the nation. When they faced difficulties during their first steps of freedom, they remembered the days of slavery when they did not have to cope as a free nation, days when they did not have to make important and critical decisions, days of being small-minded... and they missed them!
Every person faces the need for change in his life. There are situations when a person recognizes that he must take his fate into his own hand and make brave decisions. Sometimes, the person is not courageous enough to make the needed change. Even if a person desires and tries to change, with the knowledge that the quality of his life will improve and he will only benefit from the change, sometimes he finds it hard – and breaks down. How are we supposed to cope with the difficulties of being freed from the ties which bind our lives?
Our sages tell the story of one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, who was there along with the entire nation but was not overcome by desperation. Nachshon experienced the distress just like everyone else, but he saw the Egyptian army getting closer, and he also saw the sea before them, and he made a decision. He jumped into the stormy waters. The water reached his chest and he kept going. The water reached his nose and he was about to drown, but he kept trying to swim, and then – the sea split and the miracle of Kriyat Yam Suf – the Parting of the Red Sea – occurred.
That is the way we should cope: Not despair, but jump into the water and then salvation will appear.
When we want to make a positive change in our lives but face difficulties, the way to cope is to “jump into the water” – believe in ourselves, believe that there is someone who leads us and assists us in making the right decisions, and not despair. Then, the difficulty will disappear and the stormy sea will part. If we act courageously through faith, and if we do not miss the life of slavery, we will discover that God parts the sea for us and that we manage to find the correct and safe path through the storm of life.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.