Headlines »

May 29, 2012 – 2:05 pm | 2,352 views

Equal Access
When the words religious egalitarian are spoken they usually refer to gender equality, but I have something entirely different in mind.  I am referring to the absence of a caste system in Judaism. Jews don’t subscribe to a pyramid scheme that requires the laity to access G-d via priests …

Read the full story »
Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life

Concepts

The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Beshalach, Passover

Beshalach: The Circle of Faith

Submitted by on January 9, 2011 – 4:46 amNo Comment | 2,028 views

Panic In Times of Crises

They tell a story about a man, who was driving about, desperate to find a parking spot. With no spots available he called out, Dear G-d, give me a parking spot and will I pledge a thousand dollars to charity. Instantaneously a spot became available and he quickly amended, never mind dear G-d, I found one on my own…

We feel self reliant as we make our way through life. So long as we train, plan and execute well we can weather the storms thrown our way. But when a crisis that we are unequipped to handle dawns, we panic. There is little we, as individuals, can do to save a sinking economy, counter the threat of terror or protect ourselves against natural disasters. Unable to take constructive action we are left without our usual shield. Exposed and vulnerable, we often panic.

No nation faced odds worse than those faced by the Jews at their moment of exodus. Indeed, they had left Egypt, but where could they go? If they would take the most direct route to Israel they would encounter the fierce Philistines, who were determined to halt the Jewish advance. (1) If they would turn toward the desert they would venture into an arid inhospitable environment with little hope for survival. What to do?

The Long Way Home

Knowing that His children were unequipped to counter the Philistines G-d turned them toward the wilderness. (2) The Hebrew word for G-d turned them is vayasev Elokim, but the word vayasev has multiple meanings. It means He turned, it means He surrounded and it is also etymologically related to the word Lesev, to lean or recline. Utilizing all three meanings our sages offered a timeless insight that inspires faith and courage even in times of difficulty. (3)

Vayasev – He turned and He surrounded. When G-d turned our ancestors toward the wilderness He also surrounded them. Imagine a shepherd, who comes across a pack of wolves while riding his herd across the range. The first thing he does is ride circles around his herd. As he rides he forms a protective shield around the herd that enables him to protect them from the wolves.

G-d did the same. When He turned the Jews to the desert He exposed them to terrible dangers, but they remained safe because He surrounded them with a protective circle of miracles. Here we see the first two translation of the Hebbrew word vayasev, He turned them [to the desert] and there, He surrounded them.

Now we come to the third translation of vayasev, G-d taught them to lean or recline against Him. When the Jews first left Egypt they did not know how to lean on or trust in G-d. For decades they had relied solely on the Egyptians for provisions. Entering the desert was a huge test of faith. For the first time they would have to discard their protective blanket and put their full trust in G-d.

Despite the dangers the Jews thrived. G-d surrounded them with a chain of miracles that protected and sustained them. First He split the sea and saved them from the Egyptians. (4) Then G-d granted them a cloud canopy to protect them from the desert elements. Then came the Manna that provided food from heaven and finally He provided a miraculous well that never ran dry.

For forty years G-d provided for and protected our ancestors from all harm and thus they learned to lean on Him i.e. to trust Him. (5) After forty years, when such absolute trust became second nature to them, G-d brought them to Israel where they would finally battle and overcome their powerful enemies.

Had they fought these wars forty years earlier, when they lacked confidence in G-d, they would have panicked in the heat of battle and lost. A forty year diet of miracles and complete dependence on G-d, allowed this trust to percolate through them and saturate their very bones. Now they could face any danger. They would meet it head on, fully trusting in Divine deliverance.

Reclining At The Seder

Indeed, our sages taught that this verse is the root of our tradition to recline at the Passover seder when we celebrate our exodus from Egypt. “Even a poor Jew,” they commented, “should recline, for G-d leaned the Jews against Him on this night as it is written vayasev Elokim, G-d leaned them [against Him].”

If you read closely you will note that in this particular comment they left the timing open ended. They did not specify that reclining was only required on the Seder night. Indeed, our faith is not reserved for one night in the year. It remains with us through thick and thin; for all time. As the Torah wrote, “This [night of Passover] is a night of Divine protection for the children of Israel, for generations.” It began on the night of Passover, but it extends to all nights, across the generations. (6)

Raised To Depend

In many ways we too are raised to depend on ourselves, rather than G-d. When we are young we are trained to rely on our parents. As we grow older we are taught to depend on ourselves and for very large problems we are taught to rely on our governments. For problems that even governments cannot handle, we have no solution.

Our sages sought to lift us to a higher plane by empowering us to believe and stand fast no matter the danger. Remember, they taught, having done all that you could to help yourself, you may rest easy; secure in the faith that G-d will deliver. Lean on G-d for strength. He is there for you. He surrounds you day and night. You can trust Him.

We cannot see the protective canopy that G-d spreads around us. All we see is the encroaching danger and are quite justifiably intimidated. But we see only the physical and are not privy to the full picture. If we could visualize G-d’s protective presence, if we could perceive the circle of faith, we would know and trust that we are safe.

We pray every day to be spared from such trials; no wants to be tested. However, the journey of life is rarely smooth and is often strewn with troubles. When this happens, we must remember that we are not alone. We are in G-d’s good company and under His protection. (7)

Footnotes

  1. Shemot Rabbah 20: 17.
  2. Exodus 13: 17.
  3. See footnote #1.
  4. The Torah testifies that when they saw this miracle they came to truly believe in G-d.
  5. This does not mean that we should sit back and do
    nothing when confronted by trouble. On the contrary, we must do all we
    can to help ourselves and only then does G-d bless our efforts with
    success. After telling us that G-d turned the Jews toward the wilderness
    the Torah goes on to inform us that our ancestors were armed. They
    carried enough weaponry to engage their enemy and had they encountered
    an enemy they would have fought, but they would have lost because they
    would not have known how to depend on G-d for their ultimate victory.
    Success requires two ingredients. We do all that we can to succeed, but
    trust in G-d, rather than ourselves, to deliver success.
  6. Exodus 12: 42. Our sages emphasized that this
    protection is extended to all, not only the pious. Even the poor person
    reclines and rests easy. Poverty is not only defined by monetary lack,
    but also by spiritual lacking. Even those that are impoverished with
    respect to G-dliness and spirituality also recline; they too should rest
    easy. The merit of faith is such that even an otherwise impoverished
    Jew, merits the manifestation of G-d’s protection on the strength of
    faith.
  7. This essay is based on commentary from Maharam Shik and Kli Yakar on Exodus 13: 17.
Tags: , ,

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also Comments Feed via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.