Vernon Kurtz

On whom shall we rely?

This week we read Parshat BeShallach and the parting of the Reed Sea. It is an ancient story with modern implications.

The Children of Israel left Egypt and stood on the banks of the Reed Sea. From where shall come their salvation:

The sources suggest three possibilities:

Tanchuma Shoftim 14: Moses said to them, “There is nothing for you to do except to stand silently and the Holy One will fight your wars.” According to this source – All is in the hands of Heaven.

Shemot Rabbah 21:  “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground.”  Did they go into the sea or did they walk on dry land? “This is to teach that the sea was divided only after Israel stepped into it and the waters reached their noses, only then did it become dry land.” According to this story – All is in the hands of human beings.

Shemot Rabbah 20: “What did the Holy One do? Laid God’s right hand on the right hand of Moses… as it is said and the sea saw and fled.” According to this source – There is a partnership between God and humanity.

Three explanations for the splitting of the Reed Sea. Which is the correct one? It is impossible to know. Perhaps the best answer we can offer is – Pray as if everything depends upon God and act as if everything depends upon us.

About the Author
Rabbi Vernon Kurtz is Rabbi Emeritus of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park Illinois, an 1100 family congregation which he served for 31 years. He is past president of the international Rabbinical Assembly, MERCAZ USA and MERCAZ Olami, and is a member of the committees of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency and the Jewish People Policy Institute. He is also past president of the American Zionist Movement and a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute. He is the author of Encountering Torah - Reflections on the Weekly Portion. He and his wife Bryna made Aliyah in June 2019.
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