Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pesach 5631 Last Days First Ma'amar

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיָשֻׁבוּ .../Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to return …” (Shmos 14:2)  The children of Israel had left Egypt three days earlier.  God commands Moshe Rabbeinu to instruct the nation to turn around and head back towards the Egyptians.  Pharaoh will think that the nation has lost its way in the desert and will be goaded into pursuing them.  When he confronts the nation of Israel, God will destroy him and the Egyptians.  The question that jumps out at us as we read these p’sukim is, “Why?”  What was to be gained by returning?  If God wanted to destroy the Egyptian army, He certainly had ample opportunity beforehand.

God took us out of Egypt, not because we deserved it but rather to fulfill His promise to our forefathers.  But God wanted us to be redeemed on our own merits.  So, he gave us the opportunity.  He instructed us to double back towards the Egyptians.  Such a counter-intuitive act required a very high level of faith in God.  Chazal teach us that due to this faith, God split the sea for us.[1]  Furthermore, Chazal tell us that at the time of the splitting of the sea, we were being judged to see if we were worthy of such a miracle.[2]  In other words, God wanted us to deserve being saved. 

This explains why we were fearful when the Egyptians came and why Moshe Rabbeinu cried out to God.  When you think about it, it seems strange.  God instructed us to return so that He could wipe out the Egyptians before us.  We knew this.  And yet, when we saw the Egyptians coming, the Torah relates that we were very afraid.  Not only were we very afraid, but Moshe Rabbeinu cried out to God.  Why?  Moshe Rabbeinu certainly knew that God was going to save us.  We knew it as well.  The answer is that the children of Israel of course believed that God was going to save them.  Our concern was that we would not be saved on our own merit.

With this idea we can understand the difference between a miracle we do not deserve but which God performs anyway in His infinite kindness and a miracle that we deserve.  Both Egypt and the sea represented barriers, challenges that stood between the nation and freedom, physical freedom and spiritual freedom.  It is important to see these barriers for what they really are, namely challenges put in our path.  They have no independent existence apart from this.  They are placed between us and our goals so that we may overcome them and earn closeness to God.  Overcoming the challenge and looking back, we see it for what it really is.  However, if God takes us past the challenge in His kindness, the challenge still appears real and tangible to us.  When God took us out of Egypt in his infinite benevolence, even though we did not deserve it, the barrier remained.  In our minds, Egypt was still there. 

When God saved us at the sea because we warranted it, however, the barrier itself was removed.  This is why, according to Chazal, the sea did not split until the water reached their noses.[3]  God only split the sea because of the faith we had in Him.  We find this same idea in Hallel, “הָיְתָה יְהוּדָה לְקָדְשׁוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל מַמְשְׁלוֹתָיו: הַיָּם רָאָה וַיָּנֹס .../Yehudah became His sanctuary, Yisrael His dominions.  The sea saw and fled …” (Tehilim 114:2-3)  The sea is no more than a challenge, an obstacle in our path.  When we walked into the sea we showed that we were unwilling to allow the sea to stand between us and God.  We came close to God.  The sea saw this and fled.  This is the meaning of another Midrash[4] which says that when Moshe Rabbeinu stretched his hand over the sea it refused to split.  It only split when it saw God.   

When God helps us and through his lovingkindness moves us past barriers that stand between us and our goals, those barriers are still real to us.  They may pop up again in different circumstances.  However, when we work on ourselves to serve God and come close to Him notwithstanding the impediments that stand in our way, those impediments, having served their purpose, fall.

[1] Mechilta BeShalach 2:3
[2] Zohar 2:47a
[3] Shmos R. 21:10
[4] Mechilta BeShalach 2:4

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