Beshallach: Nachson and Hashem “Partners” in Miracle

The midrash relates how Nachson jumps into the stormy sea, and as the water reaches up to his neck, the sea splits. We learn here the general lesson that one must follow the path of “hishtadlut”, human effort. That is, even though G-d explicitly says to Moshe, “Hashem will fight for you and you shall remain silent”, G-d wants our “participation”.

This is the order of the world which G-d set down: despite the fact He is Omnipotent, He demands the “acts of man”. And while man cannot achieve anything without heavenly assistance, G-d demands from man that he strive as much as possible by nonmiraculous means. By doing so, man fulfills his role in this world.

Despite this fundamental principle, something is not clear regardingNachson’s act. We can understand the concept of “hishtadlut” when applied to one’s “parnasa” (livelihood), for example; that while Hashem “provides nourishment to all flesh”, man must still get up in the morning to go to work, for without this natural effort, there will be no “parnasa”. The same applies to the wars of Israel. Though Hashem fights for us, we must do everything that can be done by natural and nonmiraculous means to fight. In contrast, what did Nachson’s action contribute to the sea splitting? His act was not your typical type of hishtadlut! He basically plunged into ranging waters, an act which according to the laws of nature, does absolutely nothing to cause the sea to split! This is not natural human effort; it is more like illogical suicide! And nonetheless, this is what Hashem wanted, asHe says: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward (into the sea)!”

The explanation is that Nachson’s jumping into the sea symbolized whatHashem demanded from us at that moment: not only an act of “hishtadlut”, but also an act to express bitachon (trust) in G-d. This is certainly something we can understand today, in light of the events taking place and the tests which stand before us. More than once in this generation, we have stood before tests seemingly impossible to overcome. The Almighty has placed us in situations in which holding our ground and not surrendering appeared totally illogical, and even suicidal. Since our return to Zion, our great merit has been that we have withstood the tests, without saying: “Let us return to Egypt”; and without saying we must stop building Eretz Yisrael. And behold, in these very days, we have reached the critical stage, the moment of truth, where the argument countering the approach of faith and trust is: “We have no choice. If we don’t give up the territories which G-d gave us through the miracles of the 1967 war, we will be committing national suicide”, or “fulfilling the Torah commandment to hold onto the territories and expel the Arabs is dangerous”.

In essence, the Almighty has placed us in exactly the same situationwhich the Jews were in at the Sea of Suf. It is a situation of being between fire and fire. On one side, the Egyptian enslavers; on the other side, the sea. On one side, giving up land and leaving the Arabs here to stay means the liquidation of Israel; on the other side, holding onto the land and expelling the Arabs endangers us by bringing the world against us.

Here we need the lesson of Nachson Ben Aminadav. G-d isn’t going to split the sea unless someone jumps in first. While He doesn’t need Nachson in order to make the sea split, He does require that we do something to express our trust in Him – an act of faith proving we believe in G-d in difficult times too. So writes the Ohr HaChaiim: It does not depend on Me … speak to the children of Israel that they should strengthen themselves with faith with all their heart, and they should go forward in the sea before it splits, because due to their faith I will make a miracle … because faith and “bitachon” are great attributes, and they tip the scales for the good…”

The Ohr HaChaim continues to explain why a strong act of faith wasnecessary, since the Jews had just previously demonstrated lack of faith by their saying: “Let us alone so that we may serve Egypt”. Only after Nachson proved his trust in G-d, did G-d split the sea.

That’s it. Of course G-d can do it all by Himself, but He “needs” our active participation. He wants us to actively prove, through fulfillment of the “dangerous” mitzvot in the national sphere, that we trust in Him and believe that He is indeed capable of fulfilling His promises, and will not abandon us.

Without a doubt, many feel that holding our ground and not withdrawing is similar to jumping into raging waters. But precisely here is where the test lies – and we know that the sea will split! After all, our generation has witnessed unbelievable victories, against all odds! Only a blind man thinks that such success is due to our own strength. And so, when G-d demands from us difficult actions, and obligates to help us, we must believe Him! And if we wait for Him to do everything by Himself, we will pay a heavy price, G-d forbid. This is our test. The test of faith. Who said it was supposed to be an easy one?

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