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Torah Reflections

Beshalakh: Walking the Talk

This Torah portion finds us at the conclusion of the Israelite sojourn in Egypt. Pharaoh finally relents and agrees to let the people go.  They journey through the wilderness, led by a divine pillar of fire, and eventually make camp by the Sea of Reeds. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, Pharaoh has had a change of heart and sends his army after the fleeing slaves.

Trapped between the sea and the approaching chariots, the Israelites panic. Moses seeks to reassure them with promises of divine deliverance. God, however, was looking for something more:

And YHVH said to Moshe: “Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Children of Israel, [tell them] to go forward!” (14:15)

According to the midrash, when this command was given, no one wanted to be the first to step into the as-yet-unparted sea. The tribal leaders began arguing with one another as to which clan would have this (apparently) dubious honor. As Moshe prayed and the chieftains argued, Nachshon ben Aminadav turned and walked into the water.  As the water reached his nostrils, God spoke: “This brave man is about to drown and you stand here praying and arguing. Enough already!” Only then did Moshe lift his staff and signal the sea to part.

Though God and Moshe clearly have the starring roles in this saga, a bit player sets things in motion. Had Nachshon not taken the lead, the quarreling and beseeching may well have continued until the Egyptians set upon them.

It was not enough to rely on miracles and wonders nor was it enough to depend solely on God. The pause between the command and its execution was a test of and a lesson for the newly liberated Children of Israel. Were they ready to take responsibility for their own freedom?

One of the most important stages on the spiritual path is the recognition that there is no miracle cure.  There is no teaching, practice or belief that will miraculously transport us to the journey’s end. We have to walk it ourselves, do the work ourselves. That takes courage and persistence. The sea didn’t part with Nachshon’s first steps; the way didn’t open until he nearly drowned.

Liberation doesn’t come easily, but it does come.  It requires a willingness to go ever deeper into our own hearts and minds, to fearlessly explore the stories and beliefs through which we experience the world and discover what lies beyond them.  Not everyone is ready to go there. Some of us will pray and some of us will argue. Some of us will engage in magical thinking and others will treat the path as an intellectual exercise. But a few of us, the Nachshons among us, will wade into the murky depths and part the sea within.

May you be blessed with the courage and faith to embark on your own journey of liberation. May you have the persistence to continue even when all seems lost. And may you be a Nachshon, moving fearlessly into the  future.

Amen, keyn yehi ratzon. Amen, may it be so.

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