January 13, 2022 / 11 Shvat, 5782 • Parshat Beshalach
Issue 701
Dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Miriam Friedman

Moses said to the people, "Have no fear. Stand firm and witness the deliverance that G-d will perform for you today, for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again.

Exodus 14:13

The Jews were in a dilemma. They were standing without rafts in front of the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians were fast approaching. Four factions developed among them, each with another plan of action:

"Let us drown ourselves in the sea!"

"Let us surrender and return to Egypt!"

"Let us wage war against them!"

"Let us pray!"

Moses replied to each faction in turn:

Stand firm and witness the deliverance that G-d will perform for you today. —do not jump into the sea.

For the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again. —do not return to Egypt.

G-d will do battle for you. —do not wage war against them.

Your shall remain silent. —do not pray.

What, then, were they to do? Let them journey forth! —continue along on the path to Mount Sinai and all will be well.

These four factions reflect four erroneous attitudes that we, too, are liable to adopt in our confrontation with spiritual darkness:

At times we wish to "jump into the sea," to immerse ourselves in the pure waters of Torah and prayer and shut our eyes in oblivion to the darkness around us.

At times we do better saying, "let us return to Egypt"—we will deal with the darkness, but as slaves. We resign ourselves to our fate of living in a dark world; we do our job but without hope.

Even better is when we say, "let us wage war"—we feel the power of light and aspire to conquer the Pharaohs of dark our world. But when G-d instructs us to go on to Mount Sinai, it is not time to do battle. Furthermore, our motives for battle are questionable: do they stem from a commitment to goodness or from a desire to fight?

The fourth path is the highest—"let us pray." During prayer we become one with G-d, losing our sense of self, and desiring only to fulfill His wishes. We would not think of secluding ourselves from the world or losing hope that light will ultimately prevail. We would not think of waging self-strategized wars not commanded by G-d. But alas, prayer is passive, and this, too, is not the path.

Rather, G-d commands us to journey forth, to continue on our path to Sinai, to bring ourselves and the world around us closer to the Torah, one good deed at a time.

The common denominator among the four factions was that their plans of action originated in their own psyche. They lacked the absolute surrender to Divine consciousness that would have allowed them to hear the voice of G-d. When we reach the level of total surrender and "travels forth," the sea is split: the hidden becomes revealed. The deepest dimension of the soul—the aspect that is absolutely one with G-d—is manifest.

There is indeed a time for prayer. On a personal level, it is the highest form of connection to G-d. However, when action is called for, prayer is the wrong response. When the sea is waiting to be split, when G-d demands forward movement, it is not time to stop and worry about personal levels of connectedness.

This lesson is eternal, continuing to resound nowadays.

The sea is home to as much or more life as is dry land. The major difference is that its life forms are concealed by the water. There comes a point in our lives when we must "split the sea"—we must be able to see beyond the physical trappings and recognize the all-pervading G-dly vitality that is the source of all life. Every person is capable of this; all that is needed is the will. Assisting someone else in this process often enables us to accomplish it for ourselves as well.

This is G-d's message: now is a time for action. Sequestering oneself in a synagogue or study hall, as personally fulfilling as it may be, is not the proper approach. There are people who need our help; they are waiting for their personal Splitting of the Sea. It is necessary to go out, to "journey forth" and help ensure that the entire world joins in the victorious march through the challenges of the Sea of Reeds toward the final and complete redemption.

—From the Kehot Chumash