The Parting of the Sea

  In Parashat Beshallach we come to the climax of the story of the exodus from Egypt.  Pharaoh has once again changed his mind about letting the people of Israel go, and is now in hot pursuit of the Israelites with his chariots and armor.  Ahead of the Israelites lies and impassable sea — behind them the enemy approaches.   In May of 1940, the British Expeditionary Force, as well as the French and Belgian forces, found themselves in much the same situation vis–a-vis Germany.  The allies had underestimated the firepower and mobility of the German forces and had retreated to the harbor of Dunkirk, France.  300,000 soldiers were trapped against the sea.  Vice Admiral Ramsey, in charge of the evacuation, had sent enough destroyers and transport ships to rescue 30,000 troops. But the harbor soon became clogged with ships sunk by enemy aircraft.  It became necessary to take the soldiers off of nearby beaches as well. But the waters were too shallow to allow the naval ships to come to shore to get them.   This is when the little ships came to play their part. A variety of motor boats, fishing smacks, trawlers, lifeboats, paddle steamers and many other types of craft came over the channel to assist in the escape. They mainly ferried the troops from the beaches to the destroyers lying offshore – but thousands of troops came all the way back to England in some of these boats. The 300,000 trapped soldiers returned to England to fight another day. Churchill called the day “a miracle of deliverance.”   If Dunkirk was a miracle of deliverance, how much more so was the Israelite escape from the   Egyptian troops?  G-d was our only ally — there was no homeland across the sea to send help to rescue us.  No wonder the Israelites proclaimed in the Song of the Sea — “Adonai is a warrior — Adonai is His name!”   We have all felt trapped or stuck at one point or another in our lives.  When one feels trapped or stuck, one really has three possible responses to the situation.   The first is to give up hope.  The Israelites could have simply decided throw their hands up and await their fate.  Had our ancestors stood still and done nothing, a portion of them would have been massacred and a portion returned to Egypt, from where they would have been sold off and dispersed to other parts of the ancient world, and that would have been the end of the Jewish people. Had the British not acted creatively and heroically, their army would have been destroyed and the history of the world would have been very different.  Individuals who give up hope in the face of hardship may conclude that life is meaningless, senseless, worthless, and futile.  Some can isolate themselves from our friends and family.  Others begin to harbor resentment in their hearts and become incapable of enjoying life or tolerating other people’s enjoyment of life.  Some turn to alcoholism or drug abuse. The ultimate expression of loss of hope is suicide.   The second response is to go back.  We read about this response in today’s Torah portion.   “It is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”  After the ten plagues, after all that has transpired, do they really think they can go back to the way things were?  There is no   past to retreat to.  On an individual level, we sometimes want to live in the past as well, to want things like they used to be.  We refuse to accept the current realities of our lives, and try to live — unsuccessfully — like we used to.  We fail to adapt to the new realities in our lives.   The third response is to move forward.  According to a midrash, the Red Sea did not split until Nachshon ben Aminadov of the tribe of Judah had the courage to walk upright into the water.   The psychiatrist Rollo May said: Courage is not the absence of despair; it is the capacity to move ahead, despite despair.   Sure the Israelites despaired at the Red Sea, just as the British despaired at the English Channel some 3200 years later.  But they neither gave up nor retreated into the past.  Rather, they faced their situation with courage and resourcefulness, and, with the help of G-d, lived to see another day.  For that, we who live in a world shaped by their actions, give our thanks.   Shabbat Shalom