It is fair to say that most of us already know the story of this week’s portion of the Torah pretty well. It does not really matter what has happened to us in the past, the fears of what may happen in the future will make us complain. These complaints will be accompanied by an expectation that there will be someone out there who will do something to solve it for us. The Israelites fleeing Egypt are not different. They are pursued by the Egyptians who “overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.” The Israelites, fearing for their safety complain bitterly to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” This does not confuse Moses a bit and he responds, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
One must admit that the scripture does show us a sense of humor as we learn that God does not work for anyone, even not for Moses. We read the following: “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” It is really worthwhile to read this over once more, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” Imagine the scene at the shores of the sea. A large body or people is standing there, not moving and with no idea what to do. The screams probably reach sky high – it is easy to do that, a complaint feels as if we are doing something about it. However, with simple and straightforward words the people reactive the truth directly to their face – if you are not going to start moving nothing good is going to happen here. The biggest miracle may be happening right under your noses and there will not be the sense to capture the moment and the unfolding events.
Moses does receive some Godly assistance for the process, “As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” Moses knows that something great is going to happen here but for this to succeed he needs the People of Israel to start moving, they have to begin the journey, they must change. They cannot remain where they are as if they will, and they return back to Egypt, it will be a colossal failure. They will become slaves again, maybe forever. In order for them to change they must learn to take risks, be confident that good things are going to present themselves to them, things that are better than what they have known in their previous lives in Egypt, and that are worthwhile taking the risk for. At a time of crisis spending one’s energy on yelling, cursing, fighting, and swearing may provide some sort of an immediate relief but do not provide a solution to a real world problem. Real solution come when we start moving, we instill change, foster it and embrace it. There are risks when moving but they may be lesser than the risk taken by a gazelle when it stands motionless when light beams of a car are approaching it before a direct hit.
Over the last few days we have heard ample amounts of shouts of all kinds. The poet and writer Jonathan Geffen had a tasteless comparison to Hanna Szenes, a rather stupid respond of the Minister of Defense that included call Geffen no less than a Israel destroyer (Okher Israel), and continued with a horrible and shameful saying by Dudu Elharar about certain people he does not agree with politically that should be returned to the death camps of Europe. All of them, left and right and their supporters, should understand that their voices are similar to those raised by the Israelites when faced with a terrible option. A lot of noise, complaints, screaming and shouting, but nonetheless, nothing that changes the reality we are living in. Possibly the only way that anyone would pay any kind of attention to what they are saying is using these dreadful words, because other than that they do nothing to change reality. They just go from one extreme statement to the next. The camp gets stuck turn between forces that hate each other, and then is crushed to oblivion.
I submit that the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we can have between us in a more effective and result oriented structure, without wallowing in the ashes of Treblinka and Majdanek, and without dragging the memory of Anne Frank as to what is the right and just solution to this particular conflict today. The conflict is by far too complex to allow us to use that level of argumentation. We must understand that the problem does not have a simple, elegant and straightforward solution as we all wish it would have. This is not the reality we are facing. Maybe if we will be willing to accept the fact that there is no simple solution and that it will be necessary to resolve it step by step, one piece of journey after another, rather than resorting to all this hatred, harassment, and fear. Maybe all it takes is to “Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.”
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Happy Tu BeShvat.
Reuven Marko, 26 January 2018, 11 Shvat, 5778