The entire story of the Egyptian exile and exodus in the Book of Exodus (Shmos) is about fear and courage, about anxiety and faith. Our essential beliefs are most challenged – and crystallized – when faced with darkness.
In the first chapter of Exodus, after G-d charges Moses with the mission to redeem the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, Moses argues “But they will not believe me” (Shemot 4:1). By contrast, after the parting of the sea and the demise of the Egyptians at the conclusion of the Exodus, the Torah tells us in this week’s Torah portion (14:31): “They believed in G-d and in His servant Moses.”
Ever sensitive to the nature of suffering people and to their miserable plight, Moses understood the great challenge that pain poses to faith and hope.
He anticipated their inability to see ahead, to believe the promises, to even listen to a message of hope. As it turned out: “They could not listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and hard work” (6:9).
However, the suffering of the people strengthened them. “The more they were oppressed, the more they proliferated and spread” (1:14). Their faith was tested – and grew. The more they endured, the stronger their faith became.
Indeed, our sages tell us that the people were actually redeemed in the merit of their faith.
What is the secret of this faith? “Rozo d’mehemnusa.” How does one build such faith? In light of our own challenges today, as we face our own demons – inner and outer – what can we, you and I, do to bolster our spirits and vanquish our fears? What can we learn from our ancestors who discovered freedom, perpetual and eternal freedom, through their faith and hope in the belly of the Egyptian beast?
The key to the secret of faith is the connection to the eternal.
Everything in life around us is mortal, temporary – impermanent. Everything erodes, ages. Change is the only constant. This is true even when life is going well; how much more so under duress, which shakes the very foundations of our beings. The only way we can transcend change – and especially the ever-shifting center of gravity resulting from the painful scars of oppression – is by connecting to the eternal, something that is not subject to the mortality and variations around us.
The only way the enslaved people in Egypt could rise above their predicament and prevent demoralization was through faith. Their faith in G-d and His promises of redemption allowed them to hold on, to hold strong, to endure all, despite the hardships. They were sure – absolutely sure that they would come out of the hell, and nothing could shake this conviction.
The profound faith of the Jewish people in Egypt – which emerged under enormous pressure – revealed the deepest dimensions of the human spirit and the power of faith.
In fact, faith is actually the beginning of an extensive journey into the mystery of hope and confidence.
Beyond faith (‘emunah’ in Hebrew) there is trust (‘betachon’). Faith alone can be a passive state: one believes that G-d can change an impossible situation for the better.
Trust is not just that things can get better, but that they will get better.
Trust is not just being at peace with any given situation because you trust in G-d and His plan. Faith and trust are actually the certainty that you can change destiny. In the words of the Tzemach Tzedek to someone in need lf healing: “Think good and it will be good.” Not just “think good” period. Not merely positive thinking. But that by thinking good “it will be good.”
Trust is the absolute conviction that goodness will prevail, and that we have the power to make it happen. This conviction comes from the innermost recesses of our soul that is connected to the eternal.
“Think good and it will be good” also implies that trust is an active effort. It’s not like you either have it or you don’t. Trust takes work and cultivation. We are obligated and given the opportunity to work on ourselves and discover in the depths of our soul the power of trust. And this exertion in turn, actually has the power to change the course of events – ‘think good and it will be good.”
Yes, we are empowered to be partners with G-d. Our attitudes can change the way things will turn out.
When the Jews find themselves stuck between the pursuing Egyptians behind them and the Red Sea before them, and are confused as what to do next, G-d tells Moses: “V’yisou,” “Forge ahead.” Don’t just think about it. Do it. And when they did, the sea parted before them…
With all the uncertainty surrounding us today, with all the losses that we are experiencing, with all the dysfunctionality of our generation, with all the scars that each of us carries — we have been given solutions to face every challenge. “In G-d we trust” — the words engraved on the mighty American dollar — resonates today more than ever.
Trust is tool, a resource, a faculty of the soul. But it needs our work to uncover its power. And when we do, it can mean the difference between life and death. As Nachshon ben Aminodov demonstrated with his resolute walk into the water. He was the first to move, and as he did the sea split.
So, start moving!