So many times in life, there comes a time for action. The time comes to move, to make a decision, to take that risk because to stand still and do nothing, while a decision, courts disaster. So it is with the Israelites in this week’s portion. The Israelites have been freed, they arrive at the shores of the sea and know that Pharaoh’s army is pursuing them. Are they trapped between the sea and death? They lament and complain (as we know, a recurring theme). Moses attempts to calm their fears, assures them God will provide deliverance. The protective cloud, symbolic of God, moved from in front of the throng to behind them, symbolizing a new direction.
We know the rest of the story from this portion, from the Passover seder and, maybe even from an old movie! Moses raises his arms and the sea divided. The Israelites crossed to safety, the Egyptian army was destroyed and the people rejoiced in song. They then began their road to the “Promised Land” in a circuitous route. So much here for us! The Wilderness/Exodus story, as many have commented, is really our story. Each of us, in life, is a symbolic representation of the Exodus. We struggle to reach our now Promised Land and we often take routes that we never thought would be us. Again that old Yiddish proverb “man plans and God laughs.” Its truth becomes more real as we grow older.
The story in this weeks portion also reminds us, as we reflect upon our life and consider our future, that standing still inhibits growth, and, as the story shows us, growth and evolution of self is a basic Jewish value. To move to liberation and freedom, you need to have the courage to take a chance, to risk the future, to dream. The Midrash of Nachshon symbolizes this as he represents the person who, as the Israelites were lamenting, marched to the sea and began walking. Risk is part of growth, no matter what age we are. Indeed, one could argue that the risks become greater as we get older. Yet, move we must. Growth and personal evolution is part of the message, I suggest, of B’shelach. It is a message worth considering, especially in these times when the courage to risk for one’s beliefs may be tested. Lamenting what was is destructive. Taking steps to better the future is liberating.
Rabbi Richard F Address