מה תצעק אלי, דבר אל בני ישראל ויסעו (14:15)

The whole event of Yisroel’s departure from Egypt reaches its climactic end in our Parsha, but not before Yisroel is put to the test. They find themselves trapped in between the Yam Suf and an Egyptian army that is rapidly closing in. Moshe does what we would think any loyal Jew should do at a time like this and calls out to H’. Instead of paying attention to Moshe’s entreaties though, H’ seems to totally ignore him, claiming that Moshe is wrong to be Davening at this time. The obvious question is, surely this is a perfect time to Daven, why does H’ not accept Moshe’s prayers? As we will see there are two major approaches to this question.

One approach is that of the Ha’amek Davar. He explains that even though there were many battles where we are assured victory, there were nevertheless casualties suffered by the Jews, since we were fighting a war. Only in a war that was to be won miraculously could we expect to come out completely unscathed. Therefore, even though Moshe understood that the parting of the Yam Suf was miraculous, until Yisroel had passed safely through they were subject to the weaponry of the Egyptians. To this end Moshe prayed in order to invoke H’s mercy so as to avoid the loss of even one Jew. H’ responded that indeed not only will the actual splitting of the sea be of a miraculous nature, but He was to erect a wall of fire that would prevent any further attack by the Egyptians. In other words, this was not a time for prayer since it was totally unnecessary.

The Shem Mi’Shmuel provides a stunning approach to the issue. It is well known that Yisroel’s deliverance from Egypt was totally undeserved since they had nothing by which to earn their freedom. After all, they had no Torah; that was only to come shortly after their exodus. In terms of the way H’ interacts with Yisroel, this was an act that totally expressed Chesed, complete commitment to giving even where it is not justified. There is a basic tenet of Jewish philosophy that to earn is infinitely better than to be given without earning. (That is, of course, why we are put in the world; to utilise our faculty of free will so that we can choose good and not bad, that way emulating our Creator and earning our reward in the next world, instead of merely being given a share in the World-to-Come without having earned it.)

If this is the case, for Yisroel to play a part in earning their freedom it was necessary for them to express themselves in some way. Despite a certain nudity of Mitzvos (ואת ערום ועריה...), Yisroel had done everything that Moshe had instructed them in the week since leaving Egypt. They had been frightened, tired and still had the remnants of a slave mentality, but had complied with everything Moshe had told them. In short, they had demonstrated בטחון;, complete faith in H’. It was through the merit of this trait that Yisroel represented that they were to play a part in earning the redemption.

However, Moshe perceived that this was in jeopardy when the people became afraid and started to complain to him. He understood that any chance of earning their own freedom was ruined and in a last-gasp attempt to ensure all was not lost, he prayed to H’ that they should still be given the gift of freedom even without earning it. H’s response was that it was too crucial that Yisroel play an active role in their redemption that it could not take place unless they did so. Therefore, as much as H’ may have wished to intercede on Yisroel’s behalf, He could not do so and therefore Moshe’s prayers were in vain. Instead, H’ told him that he should speak to the people and convey to them that they must remain strong in their faith. They confirmed their dedication to H’ and displayed complete faith to Him when they strode into the sea, and even when the water had reached their noses remained faithful. It was at this time that H’ performed the miracle for them.

This is a truly fundamental lesson that despite our reliance on H’ and His ability to act on our behalf, we must also recognise the need for action.

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