My late father’s favorite line from the Torah appears in this week’s Torah reading: “God will fight for you! You shut-up!” (Shemot 14:14) It isn’t the expletive at the end that caught my father’s fancy. Rather, he understood that belief in God should be accompanied by trust is God. In essence, God is saying to the Jews, “Stop whimpering and whining, I’ve got your back!”
Put yourself in their place. Three days after leaving Egypt and their slavery behind, the Jews find themselves on the edge of the sea surrounded by Pharaoh and his mighty army. All that stands between them and the Egyptian army is a cloud(!). You would be frightened as well. We would all stand there screaming at Moshe to do something. All of a sudden, God’s words come booming out of Moshe’s mouth, “God will fight for you! You shut-up!” You believe in God, now trust Him to save you, says Moshe. “God says to Moshe, ‘Why are you screaming at Me! Tell the people to travel into the sea!’” (Ibid. verse 15)
Many people look to the weekly Torah reading for hints that will help them understand what is going on in their lives and/or the lives of our people. Indulge me. Let’s see if there isn’t a message there for us, today, given what we are going through.
Like the Jews on the edge of the sea, we are on the cusp of a potentially historic moment. For the first time in the existence of the State of Israel, an American president announced that we, Jews, are the rightful owners of the Land of Israel – from the Jordan River to the sea. We correctly understand that this paradigm shift offers us an opportunity that never existed before.
Just like Pharaoh whose intransigence led him to chase after the Jews and threaten us with annihilation, we, too, are surrounded by enemies who intransigence and refusal to live together in peace is worrying because of the harm they want to do to us and even more so from their inability to rationally accept the phenomenal opportunities peace would afford them.
So, our situation is similar to that of the Jews who experienced the Exodus from Egypt. Nu?
There are three lessons to be learned from our ancestors and what happened to them. The first is that we talk too much. In today’s world of instant communication, we are overwhelmed with talk. Everyone has something to say, no matter the superficiality, repetition or misunderstanding of what they are saying. God said to Moshe and He says to us, “You shut up!” Enough talk! Now is the time for action.
The second takeaway is that someone has to start the ball rolling. The Talmud (Sotah 37a) comments that the Jews were reluctant to enter the sea, to say the least. What! Were they supposed to swim across? Only Nachshon ben Aminadav understood correctly what was necessary. He jumped into the water and, as everyone watched, the Reed Sea split and a broad avenue of dry land appeared. The Jews were miraculously saved. Who is going to be the Nachshon ben Aminadav of the year 5780 – 2020? We all know who could be. Will he take the plunge? (Pun intended)
The third lesson is the most difficult one for us contemporary Jews. It is one thing to believe in God. It is another matter altogether to trust in God. In 1991, during the Gulf War, Iraq launched 39 scud missiles at Israel. The scuds were potentially very lethal. In February 1991, a scud landed on a US Marine barrack in Saudi Arabia, killing 28 soldiers. Nevertheless, in Israel, only two people died directly from the scuds, despite the deployment of American-made Patriot missiles. This is just one small example of God “having our back.”
The State of Israel is a miracle in so many ways that the descriptions would fill multiple volumes. Not everything is the result of a miracle. And most of the miracles began by someone taking the plunge to make things happen. And we have shed many tears when things were disastrous. Nevertheless, the cup is more than half full. I would say, as a believer in the Almighty, this is because God has our back.
These hints from the weekly Torah reading are meant to give us hope. They are also meant to steady us as we take the next steps on our historical journey as a people. The American president took the first step. Now the whole world is slowly realizing that the Land of Israel is truly ours. The next step is ours to take to actually take possession of more of it. Are we going to plunge into the sea? We should.