Parshat Beshalach

The parting of the sea

Faith, Trust, and Fear
In the last couple of weeks we looked at the hardened heart and the constricted soul. Pharaoh represented our yetzer hara, our inclination to close our sense of vulnerability and openness. We now reach our redemptive moment, the moment when the heart breaks open and the soul is set free. What are the conditions for that moment? How do we not lose it?

Shemot (14: 15)
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go foward …”

Sotah 37a
Rabbi Yehuda said to Rabbi Meir: … this tribe said, I am not going into the sea first, and that tribe said, I am not going into the sea first. Then in jumped the prince of Judah, Nahshon ben Amminadab, and descended into the sea first, accompanied by his entire tribe … Nahshon’s prayer at that moment: “Save me God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul. I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing … let not the water flood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up” (Psalms 69-2-3, 16). At that time, Moses was prolonging his prayer. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to him: My beloved ones are drowning in the sea and you prolong your prayer to me? Moses said before Him: Master of the Universe, but what can I do? God said to him: “Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward. And you, lift up your rod and stretch out your hand.”

Going through the Talmud passage line-by-line, how do you understand it? What is Nahshon’s jump about — why is it a jump? What does his prayer mean? Is it about belief, faith, trust … or surrender? Why does God criticize Moses? What did Nahshon do differently than Moses?

Shemot (14-15: 30-1)
And the LORD on that day delivered Israel from the hand of Egypt, and Israel saw Egypt dead on the shore of the sea, and Israel saw the great hand that the LORD had performed against Egypt, and the people feared the LORD, and they trusted in the LORD and in Moses His servant. Then did Moses sing, and all the Israelites with him …

Rabbi Henach Leibowitz
B’nei Yisrael would not have merited Hashem’s Divine Presence and the gift of shirah, despite all the miracles that surrounded them, had they not worked on themselves to purify their hearts and acquire fear and belief in Hashem. The Midrash teaches us that we must exert ourselves to internalize the myriad of miracles constantly taking place around us — from the perfect arrangement of the cosmos, to the incredible complexity of every cell in the body. If we work on ourselves, we can also reach lofty heights of fear and belief in Hashem.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
The emunah referred to in the Torah is not the basic knowledge that there is a creator. Rabbi Wolbe goes on to explain that it is the awareness and understanding that God interpenetrates all of existence, and the fragility and vulnerability of our existence. “the facade of nature crumbles in His presence.”

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
How can I keep feelings of spiritual uplift from dying out? … this high will inevitably die out by itself; these feelings are intangible, and it is impossible to enter them for extended periods. However, by transforming these feelings into action and giving them a practical expression, we can preserve our spiritual highs, because we will always retain the ability to hold onto the action it engendered.

Being open to and holding onto peak moments:

  1. Purification (remove distractions)
  2. Awe / Fear of God (awareness of the complexity of universe, fragility of life)
  3. Emunah / Trust (seeking connections, underlying unity, and meaning)
  4. Physical actions (example, singing)