Thursday, February 01, 2007

Beshalach: Awakening from Below

After triumphantly marching out of the ruins of a shattered Egypt, the Jewish People find themselves at the sea's edge. There seems to be no way forward, and the way back is blocked by the remnants of the Egyptian army, intent on reclaiming their escaping slaves. A frightened, hapless nation begins to question the whole enterprise. Moshe tells the people not to worry. This time, God will fight for them, and they may be silent (Ex. 14:14). Rashi and the Ramban quote a mechilta, and interject here that Moshe began to pray to God for salvation. The next verse (15) has God chastising the Jewish leader, "why do you cry out to me? Tell the children of Israel to proceed!"

Why does God speak tersely to Moshe at this time? What else should Moshe do but pray? Further, the second part of v. 15 is clearly a response to the prayer, implying that God accepted Moshe's intercession and now delivers his response! So, why does Hashem level such harsh criticism at Moshe?

The Or HaChayim answers in a greatly relevant way. Times of salvation are also times of judgment. Even when God's desires (if one may speak of God in such mortal terms) to act compassionately and miraculously, the element of judgment questions the merit of the Nation. After all, the Jews were not particularly deserving of redemption, and had to clinch the deal with the blood of circumcision and the blood of the paschal offering (Pesachim 96a). And so, Hashem, in his mercy, gives Moshe advice on how to lead a national assault on the prosecution in heavenly court: Act! Convince the Jews to act with faith, act with all their heart, and push forward into the sea before it splits! When Man acts with complete faith in God, we awaken the powers of redemption from below. This is necessary in order for the heavenly powers of salvation to be awakened on high. As the Vilna Gaon quotes the Zohar in Kol HaTor, it'aruta dil'tata (lower awakening) is first, and after that flows the it'aruta dil'eila (heavenly awakening).

The paradigm that the miracle of the Reed Sea teaches the Nation is that when salvation is near, words and prayers are not enough. Actions, specifically actions that highlight Israel's sole reliance on God, are necessary to bridge the gap between a hesitating dawn and a glorious sunrise across the horizon of geulah.

I venture to add my own insight. As we said, the mechilta adds the fact that Moshe began to pray to Hashem between v. 14 and 15. It is not implied by the Torah. The plain sense of these two verses is that Moshe calmed the People by telling them that they may settle down, for God will fight this battle. To that, Hashem responds, "Moshe, you are making a mistake. By telling the people to be passive and let Me act for them, you are effectively crying out to Me, putting the burden of salvation completely on Me. However, in order for Israel to be saved, they must act, as well. Only when they act with steadfast faith in Me, will I take over and split the sea."

May we internalize this message, in our momentous times of redemption, and avert the crisis of a geulah be'itah, a redemption coming because there is no time left, with pain and suffering, Heaven forbid. Let us catalyze a geulah of achishena, one that is hastened and glorious.