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Passover II 5772-2012

G-d Shall Do Battle for You, and You Shall Remain Silent

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

On the seventh day of Passover, we celebrate the salvation of the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians by the splitting of the Red Sea.

The moments immediately preceding the splitting of the Red Sea, were perhaps the most traumatic in the rescue experience of the Israelites. The former slaves, now encamped at the sea, had been driven out of Egypt after the Ten Plagues, and were being pursued by the relentless Egyptian army who were closing in on them.

Scripture, in Exodus 14:9, graphically describes the powerful forces of the Egyptian army, equipped with horses, riders and chariots, preparing to attack the panicked people of Israel.

Scripture, in Exodus 14:10, depicts the terrifying scene, “Oo’Pharaoh hik’reev, vah’yis’oo B’nai Yisrael et ay’nay’hem, v’hee’nay Mitzrayim no’say’ah ah’cha’ray’hem, va’yir’oo m’od, va’yitz’ah’koo B’nai Yisrael el Hashem,” And Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold!– Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel cried out to G-d.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) points out that the Hebrew term, “no’say’ah ah’cha’ray’hem,” traveling after them, is in the singular. He concludes that the Egyptians were united and well organized, with one heart, like one person, in their passion to destroy the people of Israel once and for all.

Basing his remarks on the Midrashic literature, Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (1912-1976, one of Israel’s most acclaimed religious writers) in his Sefer Ha’Parashiot, describes the scene as follows:

Since they [the Israelites] cried out and were not immediately rescued, they said, “Our prayers have not been accepted.” They proceeded to question Moses’ loyalty. Once the “chometz” (evil inclination) entered the peoples’ attitudes, it began to rise and expand. A once united people, were now divided into four disparate camps, looking for salvation, each one seeking its own path. Not one of them looked to G-d for help.

The Al-mighty was not happy with the people’s lack of faith. After all, even before this last challenge, G-d’s salvation had been readied. The Al-mighty’s desire was that His people turn their eyes toward Heaven and affirm their faith in Him, even though a sharpened sword lies on their neck. If they fail to learn that lesson in this challenge, they will need to be subjected to other challenges. Their faith obviously required strengthening.

The Midrash asserts that the people of Israel broke into four groups at the seashore. One said, “Let us jump into the sea.” Another said, “Let us return to Egypt.”  A third said, “Let us do battle with the Egyptians,” and the fourth said, “Let us cry out and frighten our enemies with our shrieks.”

To each of these groups, G-d responded in kind. To those who said, “Let us jump into the sea,” G-d said (Exodus 14:13), “Stand firmly and witness the salvation of G-d.” To those who wished to return to Egypt, G-d declared (Exodus 14:13), “As you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again.” To those who wished to do battle, the Al-mighty said (Exodus 14:14), “G-d shall do battle for you.” To those who wished to cry out, G-d cautioned (Exodus 14:14), “And you shall remain silent!”

Unfortunately, because of their panic and disarray, the four groups were unable to hear G-d’s assurances.

In effect, G-d concluded: I commanded you eternal life and you intend to commit suicide by jumping into the sea? Furthermore, if you return to Egypt, you will be enslaved again, and you will never leave. As a result, a nation that had been destined to be a kingdom of priests and a holy people will never come into being. All the wonderful promises that I, G-d, made to your forefathers will be nullified. Do you not know that it is not your swords, your strength or your own power that saves you in times of challenge? It is G-d’s hand and My arm, and the light of My face that gives you the power to defeat your enemies. While it is true that the cries of a million people, women and children, the clanging of pots, may possibly disturb an enemy camp, even though it is united and disciplined, that is not what the Jewish people are known for. In fact, it is only through tranquility that you will be saved. It is with your soft, low voices that you will defeat the enemy. You need to direct your hearts to Heaven, to Me, the Al-mighty, Who performed all the miracles until now, and I will redeem you, as you sing to Me songs of praise.

Throughout Jewish history, in times of challenge, we have seen similar responses from our people. Some say, “Let us jump into the sea and assimilate among our enemies, and there will no longer be anti-Semitism.” Others agree to be subservient to their enemies, and live “enslaved” among the nations, accepting their bitter fate. There are groups who declare brazenly “Never Again,” and devise all manner of strategies to fight off the enemy. There are even those who say, “Let us shriek–-let us raise our voices in protest, and try to arouse the conscience of the world. Surely, they will not remain silent, and will come to our aid.”

We know that father Jacob did not rely on a single strategy when he approached his estranged brother Esau. He prepared for prayer, for gifts (bribery) and for war. But none of these solutions will be helpful to his descendants, unless they appreciate the underlying message that Moses conveyed to the people of Israel.

In Exodus 14:14, Moses proclaims: “Hashem yee’la’chaym la’chem, v’ah’tem tah’cha’ree’shoon,” G-d shall do battle for you, and you shall remain silent. Unless all other solutions are premised on faith in the Al-mighty, in confidence in G-d’s concern for His people, nothing will work–not subservience, not battle, not protests, only faith. Faith is what worked for the people at the shores of the Red Sea, and faith is what still works for the Jewish people today.

May you be blessed.

The seventh and eighth days of Passover begin on Thursday night, April 12th, and continue through Friday and Saturday, April 13th and 14th. For more information, see NJOP’s website www.njop.org.

Chag Kasher V’samayach. Wishing all our friends a wonderful, joyous and meaningful Passover.