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Kahane on the Parsha
Rabbi Binyamin Kahane
“Don’t Cry To Me, Go Forward!”
When the Gulf War broke out and scud missiles started landing in Israel – the week of Parsaht Beshlach – it became quite popular to quote the verse “The L-rd will fight for you and you shall remain silent” (Exodus 14:14). Many religious Jews found this verse symbolic of the Gulf War. After all, here were Israeli cities getting bombarded by Iraqi missiles and the official government policy was one of “self- restraint,” or “havlaga.” “Everything will be okay,” people proclaimed, “G-d will fight for us.” (That is, America and its president, George Bush, will take out those Scud launchers and all will be fine.)
However, a closer look at this verse reveals that those who interpreted it in the aforementioned manner took it entirely out of context and, by so doing, completely distorted the awesome lesson to be learned from the splitting of the Red Sea.
First, let us see what the Torah says. Immediately following the verse “The L-rd will fight for you and you shall remain silent,” the Torah states, “And the L-rd said unto Moses: Why do you cry unto Me? Speak to the Children of Israel that they should go forward!” (ibid.14:15). Already- without even consulting any of the classic commentators – we see that the Torah’s message is not one of passivity. Moses does not say that G-d will fight for the people while they relax and take it easy. What he says is that the L-rd will fight for them if they prove that they truly believe in His omnipotence. Therefore, instead of crying to G-d, the Jews should simply obey His command and “go forward” into the stormy sea.
The Ibn Ezra writes that “you shall remain silent” corresponds to “and the Children of Israel cried to G-d.” The Be’er Yitzchak explains the Ibn Ezra’s words: “’You shall remain silent’ does not correspond to ‘the L-rd will fight for you,’ which would imply that the Jews shouldn’t fight, but rather to ‘and the Children of Israel cried to G-d.’” In other words, the exact opposite of the oft-repeated, distorted interpretation that “you shall remain silent” means self-restraint and inaction. The Ibn Ezra teaches us that “you shall remain silent” means “stop crying to G-d.” What should the people do instead? Act! – with trust in G-d.
This, in essence, is what Rashi writes: “This teaches us that Moses was standing and praying. The Holy One Blessed Be He said, ‘Now, when Israel is in distress, it is not the time to prolong in prayer.’” The same message is found in the Talmud as well (Sotah 37a): “Moses was praying at length, so the Holy One Blessed Be He said, ‘My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and you’re praying at length?’ Moses said to G-d, ‘L-rd of the Universe, what can I do?’ He replied, ‘Speak unto the Children of Israel that they should go forward. And you raise your rod and stretch out your hand . . . ‘”
The Rabbis tell us that the Children of Israel stood trembling by the shores of the Red Sea until G-d commanded them to “go forward.” They remained paralyzed with fear and did not move. Only Nachshon did not hesitate to carry out G-d’s command. He sprang forward into the raging waters. Nothing happened, but Nachshon was not concerned. He descended deeper into the water – up to his ankles, knees, stomach – and still nothing happened. Nachshon continued until the water reached his neck, and then cried to G-d “Oh G-d, save me because the water has come unto my soul. I sink deep in mire where there is no standing . . . “ – whereupon the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea occurred (ibid.).
The lesson is crystal clear. When one’s faith is tested, G-d demands, together with prayer, maximal effort through actual deeds. Was Nachshon’s faith put to the test when he recited Psalms on the seashore? No. Even jumping into the stormy waters was not sufficient since he could still back out. Only by fulfilling G-d’s will to the point of no return did he prove his faith. Nachshon understood that saying “I believe” and then waiting for salvation is not authentic faith. G-d demands that we prove our faith with action, no just words. Only be being willing to fulfill difficult, even seemingly “dangerous,” mitzvoth do we prove that our faith is genuine.
Israel’s policy of self-restraint during the Gulf crises was the antithesis of the true meaning of “you shall remain silent.” He who saw the chosen people scurrying like roaches into their sealed-off closets while the modern day Goliath blasphemed G-d and His people for 40 days (with 40-1missiles) and viewed it as a positive thing, self-righteously proclaiming that “G-d will help,” does not even begin to grasp the Jewish meaning of faith.
Not only did we lose our dignity and deterrence factor during the Gulf War, but we also demonstrated lack of faith. It is the same lack of faith that has prevented us from expelling the Arabs and annexing the territories. And it is only lack of faith that has brought us to the pathetic and desperate situation we find ourselves in today.
Written in Darka shel Torah 1992
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