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There Is a You in Team

By: Rav Jonathan Bailey

After the dramatic miracles and wonders of the Exodus, Bnei Yisrael now find themselves trapped between the waters of and the encroaching army of their previous oppressors. They raise their eyes and see Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them and, (understandably) deeply frightened, they cry out to God for salvation. Moshe, their stalwart leader, quickly allays their fears, telling the nation not to worry, ‘God will fight this battle; you just stay quiet (and watch)’.

But then, in pasuk 15, we read:

֤ ' ֔ ֖ ֑ ֥ ֖ :

“Then God said to Moshe, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Tell Bnei Yisrael to go forward.’ ” (15)

When did Moshe cry out? In fact, this might have been one of the few times where Moshe confidently and independently addressed the nation’s fears and specifically didn’t turn to God -and most certainly didn’t cry out to Him. The answer is of course that Moshe must have cried out to God, but it was unrecorded (because, obviously, if God said he did, he did). But the more important question now is: if Moshe’s crying out was important enough for God to mention, why wasn’t it important enough to have been recorded originally? To add to the bewildering nature of this pasuk, God then continues to lay out for Moshe exactly what he must do and what will then transpire concerning the promised salvation:

֞ ֣ ֗ ֧ ֛ ֖ ֑ ֧ ֛ ֥ ֖

“And you lift up your staff and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that Bnei Yisrael may march into the sea on dry ground”. (16)

֗ ֤ ֙ ֣ ֔ ֖ ֑ ֤ ֙ ֔ ֖

“And I will strengthen the hearts of the Egyptians so that they go in after them; and I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his warriors, his chariots and his horsemen”. (17)

֥ ֖ ֣ ' ֣ ֔ ֖

“And the Egyptians will know that I am God, when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.’” (18)

 

And then the Torah immediately reports what Moshe did, and what then transpired:

֨ ֣ ֮ ֒ ֣ ' ֠ ֨ ֤ ֙ ֔ ֥ ֖ ֑ ֖

“Then Moshe held out his arm over the sea and God drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split,” (21)

֧ ֛ ֥ ֖ ֑ ֤ ֙ ֔ ֖

“And Bnei Yisrael went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (22)

֤ ֙֙ ֣ ֔ ֚ ֣ ֔ ֖ ֑ ֖

“The Egyptians came in pursuit after them into the sea, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and horsemen.” (23)

֗ ֚ ֣ ֔ ֖ ֑ ֣ ֗ ֙֙ ֣ ֔ ֣ ' ֥ ֖ ()

“He locked the wheels of their chariots so that they moved forward with difficulty. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from Bnei Yisrael, for God is fighting for them against Egypt.’” (25)

 

These eight pesukim match up as follows:

What God says to do and what will happen (15-18)

What Moshe does and what happened (19-25)

Why do you cry out to Me; tell Bnei Yisrael to travel (15)

?????

Raise up your staff, spread your hands, the sea will split (16)

Moshe spread his hand over the sea and it split (21)

Bnei Yisrael will enter into the sea on dry land (16)

Bnei Yisrael entered the sea on dry land (22)

I will strengthen the Egyptians’ hearts and they will follow (17)

All the Egyptians followed (23)

And the Egyptians will know that I am God (18)

The Egyptians declared ‘God is fighting for Yisrael’ (25)

 

What God says Moshe needs to do and what will then happen is exactly parallel to what Moshe does and what then transpires except for our problematic pasuk! Not only had Moshe not cried out (as mentioned above), but we never read that ‘Bnei Yisrael then traveled’ – and yet everything else is perfectly matched up! Based on this blatantly matching context, we can easily appreciate that while all the other pesukim in this section are to be understood as the factual account of this episode (what should happen/what did happen), the role of pasuk 15, however, must be appreciated as wholly conceptual. In other words, the actual ‘’ of Moshe wasn’t as significant as what his crying out demonstrated (hence it was originally, ‘factually’ unrecorded); and the ‘traveling’ of Bnei Yisrael wasn’t truly a charge to physically move forward (for that command/action is explicitly found in pasuk 16/22 with a different word - ‘’) but rather an instruction that conceptually represented something deeper.

Before Moshe was told what he actually had to do, and before He describes what will actually happen, God first needed to convey a message. He needed to make sure Moshe (and Bnei Yisrael) understood a fundamental truth - pasuk 15; which would then allow all that would ultimately transpire - pesukim 16-25 - to be appreciated properly, in the correct context. So, what is this essential message? What context does God need to establish before the instructions and actions continue?

Immediately before this context-establishing lesson was presented, we read Moshe’s verbose response to Bnei Yisrael’s fears concerning the approaching Egyptians. In no uncertain terms, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael that there’s nothing to fear because God will take care of everything, and that they don’t have to do anything: ‘stay where you are’, ‘just sit back and watch the salvation from God’ (13), ‘God will fight for you’, ‘you just be silent’ (14). It is this unique instruction from Moshe – you be passive and God will be active – that God obviously needed to respond to in the very next pasuk before He actualizes that promised salvation. So, what was the erroneous nature of Moshe’s response to Bnei Yisrael and how does God correct it?

First, a brief review of our history. At the inception of the Jewish nation, God told Avraham to follow Him faithfully and forsake his land and his birthplace, and, in turn, God would make Avraham a great nation, he would be blessed, and all nations of the land would be blessed through him. God then formally established a two-way covenant, a , with Avraham, which was then passed down to Yitzchak, Yaakov, and their descendants, forever. Fast-forward in history, God then charged these forefathers’ descendants – at the end of their foretold enslavement - to prepare the Korban Pesach, for then He would take them out. He demanded that they make ready for the Exodus, and that after completing their obligatory preparations, He would take them out of Egypt. Never in the nation’s history had there been a moment when the relationship with God was merely one-sided or distant; this was the Divine promise, symbolically ‘sealed’ and guaranteed by the . The covenantal relationship that God originally promised to Avraham, which continued to be faithfully upheld by the nation that descended from him, was always beautifully shared; God’s enduring promise to Bnei Yisrael to faithfully play His part when they faithfully fulfilled theirs[1][2].

And it is with the backdrop of this essential, fundamental value of the nation’s two-way relationship with Him, that God hears Moshe’s response to Bnei Yisrael on the shores of espousing a completely one-sided plan! When Moshe erroneously instructs Bnei Yisrael to remain passive while God does all the work – God needed to quickly respond to correct this error before their ultimate salvation is actualized. ‘We’ve each played our parts thus far: I brought the plagues, and you brought the Korban Pesach; I readied your Exodus and you readied yourselves…and now you’ve decided you’re out?! From the time of Avraham it’s always been about each member of this relationship doing his or her part; on the brink of the final stage of actualizing your promised freedom and on the cusp on your national future, this is not the time to corrupt that perpetual dynamic!’ So, in pasuk 15 – which, as we have established, is not a technical list of instructions to be carried out but rather a conceptual one to be understood and appreciated, God tells Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael to specifically travel! They must not remain stagnate, they cannot just ‘stand by and watch’! Now more than ever, upon taking their first step into nationhood, they must demonstrate their readiness to continue to play their part in their shared covenantal future just as their ancestors had before them[3]!

And where does Moshe – the catalyst of this mistaken one-sided instruction - receive his corrective message? Throughout the Torah, the word / is used with the distinct nuance of an undirected cry; a ‘throwing up of one’s hands’ as it were, an exclamation of despair[4]. And it’s the nature of a which is exactly what Moshe’s instructions to Bnei Yisrael represented. He may never have actually verbalized a (which is why it’s unrecorded in the facts of the episode and only mentioned in the ‘conceptual’ section) but his instructions to Bnei Yisrael to remain passive reflected the similar message of ‘a despairing throwing up of one’s hands’ – a relinquishing of responsibility for any personal response. Concerning this God addresses Moshe directly and challenges him with ‘why are you crying out () to me? Tell Bnei Yisrael to travel!’ He rebukes Moshe’s dismissal of personal responsibility (expressed through the ) and corrects it by charging Moshe to reverse his original instruction to Bnei Yisrael, and instead command them to actively travel forward!

And now, with this proper ‘stage’ set, Moshe raises his hand, God splits the waters, and Bnei Yisrael enter it on dry land. A perfect team effort; an essential expression of shared responsibility which appropriately lays the national groundwork for the proper nation/God relationship. Onward to , where God will present His covenant to Bnei Yisrael and they will respond ! Onward to the shores of the Yarden where God will tell Bnei Yisrael that He is ready to oust all the occupying nations in Eretz Yisrael when they are ready to enter and inherit it. And onward to when God promises to sustain the nation’s eternal existence in the Land while they preserve and observe His Divine instruction.

 

[1] God introduced a similar new mutual covenantal reality with Noach (which didn’t exist previously during the first 10 generations of the world) – however, it was a more general Brit bestowed upon all human beings. This promise of an eternal reciprocal relationship was then further refined with Avraham and the future Jewish nation.

[2] This unique covenantal dual responsibility was found in the classic late Bronze Age Hittite contracts in which respect was always manifest reciprocally. For more on the subject, please see this article: https://www1.biu.ac.il/indexE.php?id=20630&pt=1&pid=14403&level=0&cPath=43,14206,14373,14403,20630

[3] This textual read also fits very nicely into the Midrash that describes Nachshon Ben Aminadav actively ‘stepping’ up and taking those first steps into the sea to initiate the actualization of God’s salvation.

[4] See for example Shmuel 1 4:13-14 (when the nation hears of the terrible loss against the Plishtim), Breishit 27:34 (when Esav hears that Yaakov stole his brakha), Shemot 11:6 (the cry of the Egyptians during the final plague), Devarim 22:24 (when the raped girl screams out) and Esther 4:1 (when Mordechai hears about Haman’s evil decrees to kill the Jews).

 

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