Beshalach: Four camps at sea

January 26, 2023

As the Egyptians pursued them, the Jews were busy arguing about what their next step should be. Was collective suicide and option? And why did G-d side against passionate prayer?

A. Four Camps at Sea

The Jewish people are standing at the sea, at a loss (Source 1). An argument breaks out among the nation about what their next step should be (Source 2). When examining the four schools of thought detailed below, two are difficult to fathom. Why would they wish to drown in the sea or return to Egypt?

B. The Logic Behind The Opinions

The logic behind each option: A. Drown at sea: they considered it preferable to give their lives up rather than return to exile. B. Return to Egypt: they thought they hadn’t truly been liberated from Egypt and wished to return to complete their exodus. C. Wage war: they didn’t see any other option. D. Pray: Whenever one is in difficult circumstances they should pray.

G-d told the Jews “Go!” Sometimes we need to close our prayer books, go out, and split the sea!

What does the sea represent? Everything on land has its parallel in the sea, but it is concealed. Splitting the sea means uncovering the hidden potential. “Go!” means go to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah and uncover the spiritual layer of the material world.  If you encounter a sea on your way, go through it and it will split. 

C. Jump to Succeed

On dry land, we’re in our comfort zone, walking on firm ground. We can’t split the sea and bridge the spiritual and the material. We must be prepared to leap into the sea with self-sacrifice, get out of our comfort zones. Then we can achieve our goals. 

This concept is also expressed in the mitzvah of repentance. It is stated about certain sins that one cannot repent for those (Source 3). The Alter Rebbe explains that repentance is possible even for those sins, if you really force your way through (Source 4).

The Rebbe demonstrates this with the story of Elisha ben Avuya, or “Acher.” Despite a heavenly voice proclaiming “return wayward sons except for Acher,” he was still expected to force his way in and repent (Source 5)

The Jewish legal source for this is in the Talmud: “obey everything the master tells you—except for ‘leave.’ ” The Shalah explains this means that a Jew must follow every one of G-d’s commandments, however if told to “leave” he must not listen, he should force his way inside (Source 6).

Pushing Means to Give Your Life

Giving up one’s life is only permitted in the face of the three cardinal sins. However, some situations warrant giving your life for every mitzvah, as the Midrash says: “ ‘Why are you being executed?’ ‘For circumcising my son.’ ” (Source 7)

Some things cannot be reached through the regular process. To achieve them you need to leap out of your comfort zone. This is what transpired at the sea. After Moses commanded to Jews to go, the tribes fought over who would be first. Suddenly, Nachshon jumped into the water—ready to give his life—and then the waters split for everyone (Source 9).

This is an eternal lesson for the Jewish people:

We have one primary objective: to reveal G-d’s light in the world. Every so often there we are faced with challenging times, and there are conflicting approaches. G-d’s command to Moses of “Go!” is a lesson for us. We need to focus on the goal, revealing G-dliness in the world. We must ignore the background noise and press on. Sometimes it may require jumping into the sea—self-sacrifice and leaving our comfort zone. Then, the sea will split and we will reach the finish line. 



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