The beginning of our parsha finds the newly-freed Jewish people cornered at the Sea of Reeds with the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other side. Bnai Yisrael were extremely frightened, and according to Ramban, reacted in two different, almost contradictory ways; half of them prayed to G-d to save them, and the other half complained to Moshe for taking them out of Egypt under false pretenses. Moshe responds to the second group first by giving them a pep talk about G-d’s strength.(“וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ הִתְיַצְּבוּ וּרְאוּ אֶת יְשׁוּעַת ה- And Moshe said to the nation; do not fear, stand strong and see G-d’s might'”) Then, something very unique happens:
“וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, מַה-תִּצְעַק אֵלָי- G-d said to Moshe: why are you crying out to me? Go!” G-d tells Moshe, and through him, the first of the aforementioned groups of Jews, to stop praying to Him, and get going. This directive should be more than a little confusing to us- isn’t the Jewish people’s first line of defense always our prayers? As King David wrote in Tehilim 20, said almost every day in tefilot, “אלה ברכב ואלה בסוסים ואנחנו בשם ה’ אלקינו נזכיר- They (our enemies) have their chariots and horses, but we (the Jewish people) remember and mention G-d’s name.” Why would G-d tell us to specifically bypass this for a more action-oriented approach?
Rashi answers that G-d’s message here to the Jewish people is that with zechut avot (the natural merit of our forefathers), they had almost enough merit to cross the Sea. All they needed to do was enter the Sea and add the merit of their faith, and between this zechut and zechut avot, they would be on the level to earn a miracle to save them from the Egyptian Army.
This idea is expounded even further in Em Habanim Semecha, a famous sefer on Religious Zionism by Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtel. Rav Teichtel quotes Rav Shabtei ibn Yosef’s Siftei Chachamim, which teaches that the splitting of the sea would only have come about through the Jews’ faith in Hashem- no matter how much zechut avot they had, if Bnai Yisrael didn’t enter the ים סוף, there couldn’t have been a miracle of kriat yam suf. This leap of faith was what Hashem was referring to when He said “מה תצעק אלי”- He was saying that right now, the Jews’ safety couldn’t come through prayer, but only through action- “דבר אל בני ישראל ויסעו-Tell the Jews to get going”
Rav Teichtel takes this a step further by quoting an idea of the Rambam in his philosophical work Moreh Nevuchim: “כל אמונה שאין בה מעשה אין לה קיום-Any faith without action is not lasting faith.” In other words, true faith can only come through action. This idea is shown explicitly in our parsha: Previously, we saw that “ובני ישראל יוצאים ביד רמה- The Jewish People left Egypt in strength.” This strength was their belief and faith in G-d, which was at its peak after He took them out with signs and miracles. However, this faith hadn’t been tested yet, and as a result, Bnai Yisrael panicked at the Sea and many of them quickly lost their belief at its first trial. To restore their emunah and take it to a new level (that of אמונה קיימת, lasting faith), G-d commanded them to go into the Sea, even before it was split (“ויבאו בני ישראל בתוך הים- The Israelites went into the midst of the Sea- before it was dry land), and only once they entered, G-d split the sea leaving dry land in the middle. This test of their faith gave the Jews a chance to elevate their belief in G-d to a new level; through their actions, and, as we see at the end of the perek; “וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בה’ וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ- They believed in G-d and Moshe His servant”- even the ones who had previously doubted Moshe finally had faith in him and in G-d.
Rav Teichtel continues that this same idea applies to our belief in the mashiach. Among the 13 principles of faith in Judaism that were originally taught by the Rambam, the twelfth is “אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח ואף על פי שהתמהמה אם כל זה אחכה לו בכל יום- I have complete faith that the mashiach will come, even if I must wait every day of my life, I know he will come.” While all Jews seemingly believe in this, we can see from the lesson of emunah at the Red Sea that this isn’t necessarily true. We have learned that belief itself was not sufficient for the Jews of the Exodus- why should it be any different now? We must follow the example of the Jews at the Sea of Reeds and take our belief in the mashiach a step futher by taking a leap of faith and moving to Israel (or at least taking concrete steps towards aliyah), because without this action, our faith in the mashiach is not complete and we cannot say the above עיקר אמונה with complete honesty.
Conversely, one who refuses to take action and instead chooses to wait for the mashiach to come to him to take him to Eretz Yisrael shows that he does not truly believe in the mashiach! His faith, merely external, causes him to fool himself that he has faith, but in truth, he is like the Jews who left Egypt with strength in their faith only to discover how shallow their faith was once confronted with a challenge. However, one who takes action shows true faith in the mashiach and once he strengthens his belief like this, G-d Himself will help him as He saved Bnai Yisrael at the Yam Suf.
It was reported last week that in the year 2013, worldwide aliyah has increased by seven percent from last year to a total of 19,200 Jews. However, buried in this amazing figure is a more disappointing one- that aliyah from North America has dropped by eleven percent (390 people) from last year. While it is still amazing that around 3,000 American Jews immigrated this past year, The American Jewish Yearbook of 2012 estimates the United States’ Jewish population at around 5,435,000, leaving 2013’s aliyah rate at a depressing 0.06%. To those of us who are amongst the remaining 99.96% of American Jewry, I remind you- our faith is centered around the Land of Israel. We pray at least three times each day (not to mention every time we eat or celebrate) for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Isn’t it a little ironic that now that Jerusalem has begun to be rebuilt, now that the geula has already begun, we are missing out on an unique opportunity to fulfill the essential commandment of yishuv ha’aretz, settling the Land- one which is easier today than in previous generations. It’s a scary journey, I’ll admit it, but it’s one that over 3.6 million Jews have undergone since 1948. It’s a journey that our faith demands of us, for how can we honestly pray to G-d “ובנה ירושלים עיר הקודש במהרה בימינו” when it’s already being rebuilt; how can we say “ובירושלים עירך ברחמים תשוב” when it’s already being resettled. How can we settle for living in a G-dless land when we could be living directly under G-d’s shechina and divine influence. Again, the journey is not simple and not easy. The adjustment will be difficult, but leading a meaningful life is never simple, and we are not the first generation of Jews who are being asked to take a leap of faith. It’s clear from what we’ve seen that דבר אל בני ישראל ויסעו were words not just spoken to the newly freed Jews of the Egyptian Exodus- they’re to Jews for all future generations, especially ours. G-d is telling us to take this leap of faith, dive into the stormy waters that are our potentially murky futures in Israel. Why must we do this? Because the only way to escape the Egyptians is to take this leap of faith, and once we’ve sealed our belief in G-d with understandably difficult actions, He Himself will saves us, just as He split the Sea for the Jews. All we need is to truly have faith, and G-d will do the rest. With Hashem’s help, we will all merit to take this essential “dive of faith,” proving our true belief in G-d, very very soon.