Rabbi Baht Weiss
This week we experience one of the greatest miracles of all time: the parting of the Sea of Reeds. Just as the Egyptians are closing in on the Israelites, who are fleeing religious persecution and slavery, the waters miraculously part and the Israelites are safely able to cross dry land. Often, we ask, why don’t we experience miracles like these nowadays?
A story is told of a man who possessed a deep faith in God. He was traveling on an ocean liner when the ship sank. The frenzied crew offered him a life vest, which he declined, saying, “God will save me.” They offered him a seat in the life raft, and he said no, God will save me.” The ocean liner sank, and the passengers who could, departed on a life raft. As he paddled in the water, he was approached by a navy ship, then a submarine and finally by a fishing vessel. In each case, he refused their help, insisting, “I trust in God, God will save me.” Ultimately, the man drowned. Standing before the Throne of Glory at the gates of heaven, he finally faced his Maker and said, “I have just one question: why didn’t you save me?” And a great voice boomed,
“Who do you think sent all those ships?”
To me, the lesson of this story is that, while faith is important, we can’t be passive recipients of change. We are called the be the ones to read the signs and take the opportunities to implement change. Another way of looking at this phenomenon is in terms of a scarcity mentality versus an abundance mindset. Stephen Covey initially coined these terms in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Scarcity mentality refers to people seeing life as a finite pie, so that if one person takes a big piece, that leaves less for everyone else. An abundance mindset refers to the paradigm that there is plenty out there for everybody. It sees challenges as opportunities rather than limitations.
What could be a greater challenge that a sea in front of you and an angry army approaching?
Many of us think that when the Sea of Reeds parted the people simply walked across. Yet, in Exodus 14:15 we read “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה מַה־תִּצְעַ֖ק אֵלָ֑י דַּבֵּ֥ר אֶל־בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וְיִסָּֽעוּ׃
V’yomer Adonai el Moshe, Mah tetzack elai, daber el bnei Israel v’yisau
We notice a hesitation. A midrash elaborates on this and explains that when Israel stood facing the Sea of Reeds, and the command was given to move forward, each of the tribes hesitated, saying, “We do not want to be the first to jump into the sea. A man named Nahshon saw what was happening—and bravely jumped into the sea.
At that moment Moses was standing and praying. G‑d said to him, “My beloved ones are drowning in the stormy seas, and you are standing and praying? Moses replied, “Master of the world, what am I to do? God said, “You lift your staff and spread your hand over the seas, which will split, and Israel will come into the sea upon dry land. And so, it was. Following Nahshon’s lead, the Israelites entered the sea and were saved.
Rabbi Bahya Ben Asher explains “According to the plain meaning of these words, the word elai, (to Me) means that the matter does not depend on God at all but upon Israel. God hinted that as soon as the Israelites would move forward the sea would part to let them through. They only needed to demonstrate a little faith by moving forward.
Nahshon saved the people because he took the first step forward, he literally took a leap of faith. He dove into the sea, reading the signs around him.
Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson explain that Kabbalistic tradition offers a beautiful reading of the word elai to highlight the interconnection between faith and action. The mystics note that it is made up of three Hebrew letters. The first two spell “to” or “toward”-( אֵלָ, aleph lamed). The last is yud which is the first letter of God’s name. Rabbi Bayha relates the kabbalistic tradition that the Israelites were summoned to rise to a higher level of being, a level in which faith is made real through action, to rise to the level of yud.
We cannot simply wait for miracles to happen for us-we must work in partnership with God to bring about their fruition. Are we able to find the opportunities for abundance in our most challenging situations?