B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) Go Forward in Faith

This portion is filled with great drama, Moses leads the Israelites to cross the Reed Sea. They sing the song of liberation (the mi chamocha in the prayer book), Miriam dances and the journey begins. God, we are told, leads the Israelites a long way around and they arrive at the shore of the sea only to know that Pharaoh’s army approaches. They seem paralyzed, and doubt creeps into their collective minds. Maybe, they say, it was better in Egypt (14:12,13). It is then that the miracle of the sea splitting takes place (14:15ff).

The Midrash has a take eon this scene. From Shemot Rabbah 8:2 comes the question of why are these people standing around and praying. There is time to shorten prayers, after all, the enemy approaches. “Tell the Children of Israel to go forward”. In another famous passage from Talmud, Nachshon boldly enters the sea, and as he does, the sea splits. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 37a)

Yes, there are times in life when action is demanded. Prayer is nice, but there are times when the status quo will not do. There is, in these moments of movement, a need for faith. Indeed, faith for us is really a matter of trust, trust in our own self that the future is where we must go, for  to stay the same, means stagnation of self and soul. This can be a challenge now for many of us. The pandemic seems to have put us all on hold. Some have expressed the sadness that they have lost a year of life, a year and time that they can never get back.

But even in this time, we move forward. Time does not stand still. Neither can we. Like the Israelites as they stepped into their future, they did not know what really would happen. They had the courage of leadership, the fear of an enemy and the faith in God. It takes courage to move forward, even in these times. The wilderness of isolation and loneliness can be devastating. Yet, maybe we can learn from this portion that to dwell on what was prevents us from moving to what may be.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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