- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On January 26, 2018
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.
The people thought God would always protect them.
God had other plans.
Last week, the final and most drastic plague: death of the firstborn, forced Pharaoh to finally let the people go. In the deepest darkness of night, while the Egyptians let out a loud cry for there was no [Egyptian] house where there was not someone dead (Exodus 12:30), the Israelites left Egypt. For 436 years, according to the Torah, the Israelites had lived as slaves. As this week’s portion opens, they take their first steps toward freedom.
Like all things in life, the path they would need to take would not be direct.
God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said,“The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.” So God led the people round about, by way of the wilderness. (13:17-18)
As they traveled, God was with them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night so that they would have light as they made their way in the darkness. Meanwhile, Pharaoh, when told the Israelites had fled, was the one to have a change of heart and gathered his troops to pursue his slave labor.
The ground shook underneath the Israelites and when they realized that the Egyptians were in hot pursuit, they trembled and cried out to God. But they took out their anxious anger on Moses. How could he bring them out to die in the wilderness? (14:11) In perhaps one of the very first, “I told you so!” rants, the people reminded Moses that they had begged him to let them be. But no, he had to follow this God. Moses responded with the force of his leadership and staunch belief in the power of the Divine:
“Have no fear!…The Eternal will battle for you; you hold your peace!”
You would think that this would be the moment when God would do just that. This is the God who said, “I will be with you!” “I will deliver you!” “I will take you out!”
That is not what happened right away. The response is a bit surprising:
Then the Eternal said to Moses,“Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. (14:15)
It seems a bit curious that God would now tell them to stop relying on God. Even Moses could not depend solely on Divine intervention. He had to be active in his response. At the moment he lifted up his arm, the situation would change. The Sea would open, the force of God’s presence would protect the people, and they could march toward freedom on the other side of the Sea.
There are moments in our lives when we might have emerged from a difficult experience or feel overwhelmed by the darkness of the times. It immobilizes us. All we want to do is to cry out to a power greater than we are to fix what ails us. A complaint is a form of our own ability to express frustration and powerlessness. But then, a voice within reminds us that we can carry ourselves onward, even if it is into the mystery and unknown. Redemption is possible. Sometimes, all we have to do is to take that first step. And sometimes, like the ancient Israelites, great joy with song and dance awaits us on the other side.