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Amid Israel’s war in Gaza, there is talk of drafting yeshivah students into the army to bolster its ranks. On Shavuot, we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the Torah, so I want to write about the role of Torah in war. The Torah is not just a dusty old book …

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Home » Beshalach, Passover

Beshalach: Overcoming Obstacles

Submitted by on April 16, 2006 – 4:52 amNo Comment | 3,267 views

Parting waters

Behind them was an army bristling for war. Before them was an ocean, deep and impassable. They could neither advance nor retreat. What could they do? Moses tried an age-old tactic. He cried out to G-d. But G-d rebuked him, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the children of Israel to journey forth.” (1)
Journey forth, but how? There was an ocean before them! G-d never addressed this question and Moses never asked it. G-d said to journey forth and journey they did. That was the entire point. Don’t ask questions. Don’t raise doubts. If G-d issues a command, he will provide the means to see it through.
Yet the children of Israel hesitated. They were prepared to plow into the ocean but they needed to be led. A leader appeared in the person of Nachson, son of Aminodov, tribal prince of Judah. Leading his tribal column, Nachshon dove into the raging sea. Wading through the rising tide, the waters first reached his waist, then his chest and shoulders.
Determined to obey G-d’s command, Nachshon doggedly advanced and was almost overcome by the surging waters. At the very last moment, as the waters reached his nostrils, the Red Sea parted and the children of Israel followed him into the sea. (2)

Why did the Waters Part?

The Midrash cites many reasons for which our ancestors merited the splitting of the Red Sea. According to at least one of our sages, the waters parted because of the merit of our ancestors’ profound faith and unwavering confidence that G-d would protect them. (3)
All created beings are subject to change. Winds blow, waters flow, vegetation grows,  even stones wear down. Man, too, is subject to change. The only constant in our ever evolving world is G-d. (4)
However, the Jew emulates G-d’s unchanging character. Our implicit trust and absolute faith in G-d, our unshakable certainty and unchanging belief in G-d, manifests a measure of G-d’s immutable character. In other words, when we believe, we personify the divine.
When our ancestors approached the waters with implicit faith in G-d, the waters saw in them a measure of the divine. Because the created being cannot controvert its creator, the water instinctively and spontaneously receded before the personification of the divine.(5)

Why Now?

The question is not why did the waters part but why did the waters wait till Nachshon performed his act of brinkmanship?
The waters were waiting for the Jewish people to express their faith through action. It was not enough that the Jews believed. The sea demanded an external demonstration of their faith.
Faith is a quality of the soul. It exists within us at all times. Even when we deny our faith, our soul within continues to believe. But G-d is not satisfied with concealed inner faith. G-d challenges us to fan the flames of our smoldering but silent faith and bring it forth.
Silent faith is dormant. It cannot impact the physical world unless it is physically expressed. This is why the waters waited. They waited for our ancestors to give physical expression to their faith. When Nachshon sallied forth and expressed the faith that the nation carried within themselves, the waters quickly parted. (6)

Total Devotion

Every Jew is capable of reaching the pinnacle of devotion that Nachshon reached at that moment. When a Jew resolves to perform G-d’s will with total disregard for the obstacles, G-d provides a way to overcome the obstacles.
If we are absolutely determined to keep Shabbos, G-d will find a way to make it possible. overcoming obstacles - innerstreamIf we are absolutely committed to bind Teffilin (phylacteries), G-d will find a way to make it happen. If we are absolutely committed to walk in the path of Torah, G-d will give us the strength to do so. Like the Red Sea, our obstacles will recede and allow  us clear and unimpeded passage.

Parting Clouds

In the winter of 1984, my parents-in-law, Dr. Yitzchak and Laya Block, visited the Jewish Community of the Soviet Union as the personal emissaries of Rabbi Mencahem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
They met many Jews who clung tenaciously to the tenets of Judaism despite the dangers posed by the Communist regime. One night, a group of these Jews convened in a home in S. Petersburg (then Leningrad) for a late night Farbrengen. (7) As is the custom at such gatherings, the discussions were interspersed with song, dance and Lechaim.
At one point Dr. Block mentioned that he had yet to perform the ritual of “Kiddush Levana” (8) and the group walked out into the stillness of the Russian night. They looked up and found that heavy clouds had obscured the moon.
Dr. Block recounted a story of the Baal Shem Tov, (9) who, under similar circumstances, instructed his Chassidim to sing a lively Chassidic melody and the clouds parted. One of the youngsters suggested that they do the same and indeed they proceeded to do just that. They danced and sang on the streets of S. Petersburg when suddenly the moon appeared.
This public and lively outburst of religious expression was dangerous in Communist Russia. But there was a Mitzvah to be performed and these Jews would not be deterred. Their simple faith parted the clouds, pierced the heavens and must have reached G-d for it returned to earth in a miracle of silver rays.


  1. Exodus 14: 15.
  2. See Mechilta 14:22, Midrash Tehilim 114: 8 and Bamidbar Rabba 13: 7. See also Radak on Tehilim 114: 2. See, however, R. Bachye (R. Bachya ben Asher, Saragossa, Spain, 1255-1340) on Exodus 14: 15 that all the tribes competed for the privilege of being first and Nachshon, leading the tribe of Yehudah, triumphed.
  3. Mechilta on Exodus 14: 15. Shemos Rabbah 23: 5. See also Rashi on Exodus 14: 15.
  4. Gevurot Hashem, Chapters 8 and 40 (R. Yehudah Loew, Prague, 1525-1609).
  5. King David wrote in Psalm 114, “The ocean saw and fled.” What did it see and from whom did it flee? It saw divinity reflected on Moses’ raised arm and it fled from its position as an obstacle in G-d’s path. See Bamidbar Rabbah 21: 6.
  6. Tanya, ch. 35-37 (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813). See also Magid Devarav Leyaakov (R. Dov Ber, Mezritch, 1700-1772), ch. 261 for an explanation on why meditation is not sufficient in prayer. Note the link explained there between oral articulation in prayer and the splitting of the Red Sea.
  7. A Farbrengen is a gathering of Jews during which inspirational messages are shared in a joyous and uplifting atmosphere.
  8. Sanctification of the moon is a monthly prayer recited on the occasion of the moon’s rebirth (reappearance) at the beginning of the lunar month.
  9. R. Yisrael Ben Eliezer, Medzeboz,Ukraine, 1698 – 1760.

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