Torah Portion: B’Shallach (After he had let go) Exodus 13-17
HafTorah: Judges 4:4-5:31
Why does Torah say, “When Pharaoh sent out the people?” Would it not be more accurate to say, “When G-d took Israel out of Egypt?” After all it was not Pharaoh’s idea to send them out. In Exodus 14:8 we see where they went out with an upraised arm. So did they go out as free men or as fleeing slaves? Which is correct? Actually there were two exoduses, a physical one and a spiritual one. And that is what I want us to look at over the next minutes. Physically the people did leave as free men but spiritually it was a different matter. When people have been intertwined for over 400 years much more is involved in separation than just the physical leaving. It is somewhat like the breakup of a marriage. It is complicated and always carries a good bit of internal trauma.
Think for a minute about what was happening here. For the people it may have been somewhat like jumping off a cliff. Life in Egypt had not been a bed of roses but it was predictable and in a way secure. Decisions were made for you. Each day had a pattern. It was secure and each day was like the one before. They were about to enter a desert where there was no food no water, no shelter except what they may have brought with them. And what they brought would quickly run out. They were to face enemies who were trained for war while they knew how to make bricks.
My point here is that to be a participant of the Exodus meant to abandon your entire sense of physical security, to lose that predictability of life and place yourself and your family and your future entirely in the hands of G-d. As their food and water ran out they encountered doubt. Maybe they thought, “This was not such a good idea.” Then in Exodus 16:6-7 we see Moses and Aaron tell them that they are about to see the glory of G-d. So, only after they had come to the end of taking care of themselves did G-d provide. Think about it, what if for 40 years we were being asked to live those years with no savings, no real house, no source of new clothes or even food for the next day. Why?
Then we come to Exodus 16:4 where G-d says, “so that I can test them.” What was being tested? I believe G-d was testing their ability to trust Him. The test was for them. Would they be able to entrust their lives into G-d’s hands? The people and us need to internalize this lesson of what they chose when they left Egypt. The test was to be able to overcome the innate feeling of anxiety that arises out of the human need to feel that our future is secure as long as we maintain control. Are we ready to turn control of our lives over to the Hand of G-d? Any trust or security that we feel from our possessions or our own abilities is forever an illusion. The real test is that the only security we can have is in our faith of a loving G-d Who holds it all in His Hands. This was the spiritual Exodus that the people had to take. The physical one was a snap. This exodus was the one that was and still is a day to day battle for them and for us.
Let us look at Exodus 13:18 where the word armed, in Hebrew, can also mean one fifth. So the idea, if we look at it like that, is that maybe only one in five chose to make the trip out of Egypt. The rest could not leave the bondage of Egypt. It was not that they did not believe in G-d. It was that they just could not face a life of insecurity that Moses was asking them to take in the name of G-d.
Now when they had left Pharaoh possibly thought they could not emotionally leave him so he set out after them. Maybe he had sent them out to teach them the lesson that they needed him, not this G-d who he had earlier said he did not even know. We see their insecurity in Exodus 14:10-12. Moses answered him in Exodus 4:1-3 that the G-d of the Hebrews happened upon us. Remember the word Hebrew means at its root, “one who has passed over to the other side.” This is what we see here physically and also to an extent spiritually. There is a thought in Judaism that as the people passed through the water it was as if G-d carried them in the palm of His Hand. So during this crossing the children of Israel were living in the miracle of G-d’s provision and in fact continued each day living in that miracle, a miracle where everything came to them directly from the Hand of G-d.
I know none of us can continually stay in this miracle, the pressures of the world get to us from time to time. Our test however is to more and more each day, increase our spiritual muscles to believe and accept that the Lover of or soul is really there. He has control over our life and we can pass over to the other side in the palm of His Hand.