It was exactly five years ago when the Gulf War broke out, and scud missiles started landing in Israel. Then, too, it was Parshat BeShallach, and it became quite popular to quote the verse in our parsha: “The Lord will fight for you, and you will remain keep silent” (14:14). Indeed, so many religious Jews found this verse both appropriate and 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 as the Hebrew term goes, “havlaga”. Jews equipped with gas masks and cages for their small children sat crouched in their sealed rooms, as missiles rocked the country. “Everything will be O.K.”, they proclaimed. “Hashem will fight for us”. That is, America and its president George Bush will take out those scud lanuchers and all will be fine.
A closer look at what the Torah and sages tell us regarding this verse reveal that those who interpreted this verse in the aforementioned manner took the words entirely out of their true context, and by doing so completely distort the awesome lesson that is to be learned regarding the splitting of the Red Sea.
“A Time To Do – Not to Pray”
Firstly, let us see what the Torah says. Immediately following the verse, “The Lord will fight for you and you will remain silent”, is the verse, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Why do you cry unto me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward”! Already, without even delving into any of the commentaries, we see that the picture has changed entirely. The verse is not telling us that God will fight for you and so in the meantime you can “kick back” and let Him “worry about it”. What is said here is that the Lord will fight for you if you prove to Him that you truly believe in His Omnipotence, and so instead of crying to Hashem, simply obey his commandment and “go forward” into the stormy sea.
The commentator the “Eben Ezra” writes the following: “You shalt keep silent” – to counteract the (verse) “And the children of Israel cried (to Hashem)!” For those whom this is not clear, the commentary on the Eben Ezra explains: “Do not cry anymore (to Hashem) because He will fight for you. And the meaning is not that you should refrain (keep silent) from fighting”. Yes. The exact opposite of the distorted interpretation that is constantly given, where the verse “and you shall keep silent” means self-restraint and inaction. The Eben Ezra comes to tell us that “and you shall keep silent” means to stop crying to Hashem. What should you do instead? Act! — with “Bitachon” in Hashem. This is in essence the idea that Rashi brings down: “This teaches us that Moses was standing and praying. The Holy One Blessed Be He said: Now is not the time to prolong in prayer, when Israel is placed in distress.” This is also the meaning of the Gemorah in Sota, page 37: “Moses was engaged for a while in prayer, so the Holy One Blessed Be He said, “My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and thou prolongst in prayer before me? He (Moses) spoke before Him, “Lord of the Universe, what is there in my power to do?” He replied to him, “Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. And lift thou up thy rod and stretch out thy hand, etc.”
Nachshon – Faith In Action
The sages tell us that the children of Israel stood trembling by the shores of the Red Sea until God commanded them that they “go forward”. They remained paralyzed with fear and did not move. Only Nachshon did not hesitate to carry out Hashem’s commandment. He sprang forward into the raging waters, but nothing happened. Nachshon was not taken aback. 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 he cried to Hashem, “Oh God, save me because the water has come into my soul. I sink deep in mire where there is no standing…” Only then did the miracle of the splitting of the sea occur. (Ibid.)
The lesson is crystal clear. Together with prayer, Hashem demands maximal effort, for it is only through actual deeds where one’s faith is tested. 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, for he still had an opportunity to back out. Only by going all the way in fulfilling G-d’s will did he prove he is a true believer. Nachshon understood that saying, “I believe” and then waiting for the salvation is not authentic faith. G-d demands of us that we prove our faith by way of our actions, and not just with our mouths. Only by being willing to fulfill difficult, and what may appear to be “dangerous” mitzvot, do we prove our faith is genuine.
This is the mistake of those religious Jews who sanctified the self-restraint policy during the Gulf Crisis. He who saw the Chosen People scurrying like roaches into their sealed-off closets while the modern day Goliath blasphemed Hashem and His people for 40 days (and 40-1 missiles), and viewed it as a positive thing, self-righteously proclaiming that “G-d will help” , does not begin to grasp the Jewish concept of what faith is all about.
Not only did we lose our deterrent factor and our dignity during the Gulf War, but we also proved our lack of faith. It is this same lack of faith that has prevented us from expelling the Arabs, and annexing the territories. And it is only a lack of faith that has brought us to the pathetic and desperate situation we now find ourselves in today. These national mitzvot were never “politics”, but rather the true yardsticks for faith and redemption in this generation.
News And Commentary
As the trial of Yigal Amir grinds on, one can observe the obsessive hate and hysteria of the Israeli media. Unable to even feign the slightest bit of responsible objective journalism, the Israeli newspaper reporters cannot hold themselves back from viciously cursing and abusing Amir. Words like “scum” and “vermin” are some of the more commonly used terms used to describe him.
Such lanugage is usually not used when dealing with political assassins. In a normal society, words like “scum” are generally reserved for rapists or child beaters, and not for political criminals. If this uncontrolled hate was caused by an overwhelming love and sense of loss for Yitzchak Rabin, then perhaps their attacks on Amir would be understandable. But we must understand that there is something much deeper going on here.
Yigal Amir in their eyes is a symbol of all religious Jews. He is educated, and idealistic, and represents to them the Judaism that they so despise. Since it would be difficult still to defame all the religious Jews and rabbis without compunction, they find Yigal Amir an easy target for them to unleash their venom in their filthy tabloids.
Unfortunately, many religous Jews don’t grasp this. Instead, they try to find favor in the eyes of the left by coming up with even “jucier” adjectives to describe Amir. In their pathetic hope not to be viewed as “extremists” and to create “unity”, they attempt to outdo the left in their condemnations. Alas, it is a pity that none of this will help. Because the hellenist left in Israel looks upon these Jews as “scum” as well. For them, anyone who feels that the “halacha” is the ultimate authority, and places it over their hallowed democracy is a criminal.
Therefore, let us not try and gloss over the fact that we are in the heat of a cultural war with the Hellenists, and the gap between them and us is unbridgable.