Parshas Beshalach: Effecting Salvation

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Beshalach, Pharaoh and his army give chase, running after the former Israelite – now newly freed – slaves.  When Pharaoh and his army catch up with the Bnei Yisrael camped on the shore of the Reed Sea, panic breaks out amongst the Israelite camp.  The Bnei Yisrael find themselves caught between the Egyptian army and the Reed Sea, with nowhere safe to go.  Ultimately, the sea splits with the great miracle of salvation, and the Jews pass through on damp land while the Egyptians drown in the churning waters.  This tremendous neis will lead to the famous Song of the Sea, when Moshe leads the men in song, and Miriam leads the women in song (Shemos 15).  Shirat Ha’Yam, which is so fundamental that it is included in our daily morning prayers, is referred to as “Az Yashir”, and expresses our thanks to G-d for the miracle that He wrought.   

However, before the salvation unfolds, as the Bnei Yisrael see Pharaoh and his army approaching, וַיִּֽירְאוּ֙ מְאֹ֔ד וַיִּצְעֲק֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶל־ה, the people are very afraid, and they call out in prayer (Rashi) to Hashem.  Turning their anger and fear to Moshe, they rally against him and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?  What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? 

To these words of uncertainty and fear, Moshe replies: אַל־תִּירָ֒אוּ֒ הִתְיַצְּב֗וּ וּרְאוּ֙ אֶת־יְשׁוּעַ֣ת האֲשֶׁר־יַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם, Do not fear!  Stand firm and see the salvation of Hashem that He will do for you today… היִלָּחֵ֣ם לָכֶ֑ם וְאַתֶּ֖ם תַּֽחֲרִשֽׁוּןHashem will fight for you and you will be silent (Shemos 14:10-14).

And yet, Hashem says to Moshe: Why do you cry out to Me?  דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּspeak to the Children of Israel and they shall travel! (v.15).  

Apparently, both faith in G-d that He alone would save them, and hishtadlus (putting forth effort to help oneself) were required here.  Stand by and you will see the salvation of Hashem, on the one hand, for G-d will save you; and journey forth, into the churning waters, on the other hand, for you must save yourselves.  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav, zt’l, teaches, “There are two types of divine intervention: one in which man plays no role, and one where man takes the initiative and G-d becomes a partner in the enterprise.  One would assume that G-d should be thanked more for the former than for the latter.  Yet the more man participates in the effort, the more he must thank the Creator.  Our gratitude is increased because we must bless G-d for the privilege of allowing us to be His partner.

“In the Exodus from Egypt, no one – not angel, not man – abetted G-d on the wondrous ‘night of watching’.  Yet strangely, at the time that the Jews left Egypt, neither Moshe nor the people sang hymns of praise for the amazing miracle that they had witnessed.  It was only seven days later, after the splitting of the Reed Sea, that Moshe and the people sang the Song of the Sea.  Why did Israel wait a week to give thanks?

“The reason lies in the fundamental difference between the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the Reed Sea.  G-d did not have, nor did He seek, man’s assistance: וְאַתֶּ֗ם לֹ֥א תֵֽצְא֛וּ אִ֥ישׁ מִפֶּֽתַח־בֵּית֖וֹ עַד־בֹּֽקֶרyou shall not go out, any man from the entrance of his house until morning (Shemos 12:22).  The Jews were to remain in their homes, eat of the paschal lamb, and watch as events unfolded.  In such a case, the expression of gratitude was attenuated.  

“In contrast, at the splitting of the Reed Sea, the Creator offered the Israelites a role in their own redemption.  He required a leap of faith: a jump into the water prior to the parting of the sea.  The shock of the cold water, the fear of drowning, became Israel’s minute ‘contribution’ to the miracle.  At that moment, they became partners with G-d, and as a result Moshe and the people full-throatedly sang the majestic Az Yashir in gratitude” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.116-117).  

While we recognize that all that we have and all that we are comes from Hashem, the nature of olam ha’zeh, our existence in this world, is such that G-d requires man to exert effort – hishtadlus – to help himself.  It is for his great gift – the ability of man to put forth effort, coupled with the tremendous divine salvation – that the people of Israel sang the song of thanks at the Reed Sea.

R’ S. R. Hirsch writes, “הִתְיַצְּב֗וּ (v.13) – stand by and you shall see the salvation of G-d – reveals Moshe’s view of the expected salvation.  He thought that G-d would destroy Pharaoh and his army without him (Moshe) or the people having to do anything at all.  Accordingly, while he calmed the people, his soul cried out to G-d, praying that He would bring the promised salvation.

“To this comes the reply: מַה־תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ, why do you call out to Me?  Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall journey forth! (v.15).  That is to say: the salvation is indeed dependent on the people.  The first step must be taken by them; they must first show themselves deserving of salvation by demonstrating their trust in G-d, a trust that leads to courage and fearless alacrity in action.  First let them go forward and march into the sea, without reservation or concern.  Only then will G-d pave the way of salvation… Not I alone shall act in effecting the salvation.  The people, too, must do their part, through courage accompanied by trust in G-d; and you, as My envoy, must do your part with your staff, attesting to the nature of the event as an act of G-d.  And, I (G-d), finally, will act to especially shape the event so that the Egyptians will have the daring to follow you into the sea.” (The Hirsch Chumash, Sefer Shemos, Feldheim, p.230-231). 

Olam ha’zeh is a place of striving, yearning, doing and being.  While we await G-d’s salvation and redemption, we must do whatever we can to shape our destiny and help ourselves.  דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ!  And with this as our approach to life, G-d will surely see our efforts and deliver the yeshua for which we all await.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


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