A Universal Message


Rabbi Ron Simon


Chazal have an expression: “Ein mukdam umeuchar baTorah”; There is no chronological order to the Torah. Well, maybe no precise order. At any rate, one sees that the presentation of the ideas of the Torah overrides the recounting of events along the historical timeline.


Various levels of depth can be found in their statement, but what is important here is that I am one Parsha behind, and I need a good excuse.


In Parshas B’shalach, (Exod. 14:10) we find Bnei Yisrael encamped at the Red Sea after their departure from Egypt. Pharaoh pursues them there, closing in on them with his army. The reaction of Bnei Yisrael is captured by the expression “vayitzaku”, “and they cried out”. The interpretation of this expression can go in two opposite directions. Either it can mean that they were crying out to G-d for assistance, or it can mean that they were storming against G-d for taking them out of Egypt, merely to deliver them into the hands of the Egyptians.


According to the second interpretation, that of Onkelos, the next verse seems consistent with this one. Bnei Yisrael turn their complaint from G-d to Moshe, denying not only that they can survive this crisis, but that the whole plan for the future is baseless. As it is stated, “that you have taken us out to die in the desert”. ‘The desert’ was where they were going to end up soon, not where they were right now. The implication of their statement is that their fate would not go according to the plan that Moshe had revealed to them.


The first interpretation of ‘vayitzaku’, that Bnei Yisrael were crying to G-d in prayer, seems to result in an inconsistency between the verses. How does the same group of people at one moment humble themselves in prayer, and in the very next verse, not only complain, but deny the prophecy and the legitimacy of their spiritual leader?


The Ramban tries to resolve the problem by positing that there were two groups that existed among Bnei Yisrael, one that cried out in prayer and one that voiced a complaint and a denial. Unless the Ramban is speaking out of deference to Bnei Yisrael, as he possibly alludes to later, the idea that there were two distinct groups would seem to conflict with the exact juxtaposition of these two verses. The contrast created by this juxtaposition might possibly point to another idea.


It is conceivable that the same people, the nation as a whole, first cried out in prayer and immediately afterwards rebelled.


Prayer is complicated in that what drives an individual or group to pray can vary, and that also has consequences with respect to the nature of the prayer itself. Some prayer is a gut reaction to a threatening situation, or an assumed superficial state that satisfies some ritual need.


Other times, prayer is motivated by the recognition that everything depends upon G-d for its existence; the universe, ourselves and our needs, and that we need to align ourselves with the ultimates, remaining focused on them to the degree that we can.


Bnei Yisrael was in a wavering state. The unpredictability of the specific chain of events that would lead to their deliverance, created instability in their lives and consequently in their personalities.


They reacted to a threatening situation by crying out for mercy. This drive for prayer did not emanate from an enduring relationship to the ultimates.


We should realize that many times the way is rough and unclear, and even if we were prophets, or had access to one, the details one wants to know are many times undisclosed. Bitachon, or trust is many times, more of a trait of forbearance than it is of surety.


Good Shabbos