"You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your inheritance..."
This week's Torah reading of Beshalach begins with the children of Israel, fugitive slaves on the run, just one step ahead of their oppressors and pursuers, the all powerful Pharaoh and his invincible army of horsemen and chariots. By the time Beshalach concludes, the children of Israel are no longer fleeing for their lives, but a new and free nation on a rendezvous with G-d. When and where did this transformation take place?
In the previous chapters of the book of Exodus we witness G-d's omnipotent "efforts" on behalf of the sons and daughters of Israel. Plague by plague He devastates the nation of Egypt. Pharaoh's ego, his profoundly exaggerated big-as-the-Nile sense of self-importance, not only invites disaster upon Egypt, but places himself in a no-win situation. He orders the Israelites out of his country, and in the morning, reversing his decision, sets out to bring them back.
It is fair to say that the ten blows that G-d has dealt Egypt, that have wreaked havoc on her waters, ravaged her fields and orchards, laid waste her livestock, and plucked from her mothers and fathers the first fruits of their loins, have, after all is said and done, accomplished nothing. As was the case after each of the plagues, Pharoah wrestled with a moment of doubt only to quickly redouble his obstinacy.
Now the Israelites find themselves with the Sea of Reeds to their east, and to the west the armies of Pharaoh. Understandably, predictably perhaps, they falter. Accusations are hurled at Moses. The call to give up and return to slavery is heard in their encampments. Others speak of a last stand, a suicidal attempt to militarily repulse the most powerful army on earth. Still others invest their efforts in prayer: Perhaps G-d can be entreated upon to come to their aid just one more time.
G-d Himself addresses His children, calling upon them to rouse themselves from their lethargy, shake themselves of their fears, and do what needs to be done:
"And HaShem said to Moses: 'Why are you crying to Me? speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward." (Exodus 14:15)
Just as a father, at just the right moment, will let go of the handlebars, knowing that his young bicycle riding child is now ready to navigate forward on his own, G-d commands His children to take leave of the comforts of the familiar, and to set forth on their own. Yes, what lies ahead is unknown, and the unknown is frightening. But it is our faith in His love that drives us onward. On the other side, on the western bank of the Sea of Reeds, free at last, and free forever of Pharaoh and his terror, the children of Israel march on, a new nation. Having let go of G-d's hand, as it were, by taking the initiative, by making the move that had to be made, they now find themselves more ensconced in His embrace then ever before.
The Song of the Sea, the exhilarating declaration of independence from earthly servitude and allegiance to G-d, marks the departure from the past, and sounds the opening strains of the future:
"You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your inheritance, the place, HaShem, which You have made for You to dwell in, the sanctuary, O L-rd, which Your hands have established." (Exodus 15:17)
The planting metaphor aptly echoes the theme of sublime faith in G-d. Anyone who has ever planted a seed in the earth knows that without an unbreakable, unshakeable faith in the benevolence of Heaven, accompanied by persistent watering and pulling of weeds, nothing of worth will burst forth from the ground.
When we express our faith fearlessly in G-d, through our positive actions to fulfill His will for us, His corresponding faith in us becomes a refrain to our endeavors. With faith and with persistence of effort, His promise to us, the establishment of His sanctuary in Jerusalem, the mountain of His inheritance, will become a reality.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the Torah reading of Beshalach, the Song of the Sea, and the upcoming day of rebirth and renewal - Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the month of Shvat. Designated by our sages as the new year for trees, Tu B'Shvat also has much of spiritual import to offer us human beings.