Have faith, so the saying goes… yet we all know that having a dependable, unshakable foundation of faith can be easier said than done, easier to prescribe than to embody, easier to theorize about than to live out. This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, gives us an important roadmap to workable faith from the perspective of Jewish tradition, a faith that can be accessible and make sense across a spectrum of spiritual belief.
Soon after the children of Israel are granted exit from Egypt, Pharaoh chases after them with the intent to re-enslave them. The Israelites are in a terrifying position - Pharaoh’s armies at their heels and the sea before them, threatening to wash them away. God tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; in a gush of miraculous momentum, God splits the sea. The Israelites are able to cross through to safety. The sea then collapses over the Egyptians who were chasing the Israelites, and the Israelites break into inspired, ecstatic song in praise of God.
That’s the tidy version.
However, before the splitting of the sea occurs, the Israelites are crying out to Moses in fear and desperation, causing Moses, in turn, to cry out to God. God, in response, says to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward.” (Exodus 14:15) We are a praying people, and certainly prayer is an essential aspect of our spiritual life, but this tells us that right action - in and of itself - is just as essential an expression of faith, and also that faith is expressed by right action. They are dance partners. Together, they move as a unified force that can align us with Divine goodness, Divine potential, and Divine grace.
God was telling Moses here, this isn’t a time for crying out, this is a time for taking action… yes, from a prayerful place, from a place of believing, but essentially, don’t just sit their crying folks, pick up and get going! “Moses! My children are in dire straits, the sea is closing in on them and the enemy pursues, and you stand and pray at length? Why do you cry to Me? There are times that call for lengthy prayers, and times when one must pray briefly . . .” (Mechilta; Rashi)
There is no redemption in a passivity wherein we absolve ourselves of the impact we are capable of making. Salvation, if you will, is always there… The Divine hand is always there… The more pertinent questions are probably what in us – what belief system, what perspective, what fear, what withholding, what un-forgiveness - needs to be put down or reimagined, so that we might become more fully available to the power that splits the sea before each of us. The sea in front of each one of us is the portal we need opened so that we can transition from our personal enslavements to a new freedom. Our personal enslavements may look like substance addiction, the idolization of money or of the body or people; our personal enslavements may be about obsession, about calcified grief, or simply about being lost – but whatever they are, they require that we find a way out of our powerlessness or drown.
In the Israelite’s narrative, it was after the courageous first steps taken forward, that nature bowed to their bravery and their display of surrender, and that they were saved. Kvetching had gotten them only so far. It was after they moved into action, that they were saved. The magic was in the jump – the literal “leap” of faith.
May we be blessed with the courage to overcome our sorrow, fears, and limitations - by the grace of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the Holy One who blesses all. May we move into necessary action, crossing to new beginnings, and may we dwell in wonder at our own capacity to receive the miraculous, as we leap.