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When to pivot

Every parent has had a toddler fling themselves to the ground and refuse to move. Our kids expertly choose places with maximum exposure to have their tantrums. 

On a recent vacation, our daughter with special needs collapsed in a heap mere metres from our hotel room. We could not pry her from the floor with the promise of her favourite snack or the threat of abandonment. Eventually, one of the workers coaxed her off the ground by dancing a traditional African jig.

Kids frequently test their parents’ patience when it’s time to move. You’ve surely been told, “Five more minutes, dad!”. Somehow, they just “have to” see one more toy before we reach the checkout. Our little ones need the restroom as we arrive at the car. And they have an uncanny ability to stare into space when we’re rushing to get somewhere on time.

It’s a good thing we are all grown up. We are mature, focused adults who would never binge-watch just “one more episode of my favourite series” late at night. We would never be sucked into social media as we work on a deadline.

Humans are easily distracted.

Take the story of the Israelites at the Red Sea as an example. Straight after the miracle of the Sea, they appear to lose focus of their objective- the reason they left Egypt. “Let My people go!” was accompanied by “so that they may serve Me in the desert”. G-d told Moses at the Burning Bush that the purpose of the Exodus was to reach Sinai and receive the Torah. The people knew this and were excited to the point of counting the sleeps until Sinai.

Despite their enthusiasm, the Torah reports that Moses had to drag them away from the seashore after the miraculous splitting of the Sea. Why? Rashi tells us they were loading up on spoils of war. The Egyptians, like many ancient civilizations, adorned their war chariots with gold and gems. After G-d crashed the waves down on the Egyptian army, their golden chariots and bejewelled weapons washed up on the beach. As Moses urged the Jews to move, they stuffed their pockets with loot. 

There are two odd things about this story. Firstly, the Jews left Egypt with a massive haul- ninety donkeyloads of riches each, according to the Talmud. None of their grandchildren would live long enough to spend their wealth. Secondly, the Jews had been focused on Sinai, G-d and the Torah. How could a few bucks distract them from such a transformational objective? If Divine revelation excites you, surely you don’t get waylaid by cash.

Here’s the thing. The Israelites knew that they would never spend all that money. You can also imagine that they were so desperate to leave Egyptian slavery they would have happily left the gold behind and run. But, G-d had told them to take the Egyptian wealth, insisting it was vital to the Divine plan. G-d had instructed them to clean out Egypt and leave nothing behind. That is why they all schlepped ninety donkeyloads of booty with them.

When even more Egyptian gold washed up on the beach, the Jews realised they hadn’t finished their job. G-d wanted them to take all the wealth, and here was a stash they had missed. Sinai would have to wait. How could they face G-d if they hadn’t completed the task He had assigned them? Picking up jewels at the Red Sea was no simple Whatsapp distraction. It was intentional, meaningful and aligned with G-d’s expectations.

Until it wasn’t.

Moses had to step in to say, “Mission complete”. His prodding them towards Sinai felt wrong because they could still see gleaming remnants they hadn’t yet retrieved. This is why they needed Moses; someone who could convey G-d’s expectations in real-time to ensure they wouldn’t get stuck in yesterday’s objective.

We aren’t always sure when we should keep at what we’re doing and when it’s time to pivot. We don’t always have a Moses to call on for clarity. We can glean some insight from our ancestors at the Sea. They had been genuinely dedicated to following what Hashem wanted from them. They had no ulterior motives (they were already wealthy) in collecting the sea booty. That gold was for G-d, not them. When we do what G-d wants with sincere dedication, He finds a way to prod us when it’s time to change direction. If we choose a path that serves our interests, He might leave us at the beaches, even when He wants us at Sinai.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler is the director of Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group. Rabbi Shishler is also a special needs father. His daughter, Shaina has an ultra-rare neuroegenratove condition called BPAN. Rabbi Shishler shares Shaina's story and lessons about kindness and disability inclusion on his other blog, "Shaina's Brocha" and through lectures and Kindness Cookies teambuilding workshops.
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