Through The Eyes of a Woman
Beshalach: Approaches to Life
This week is Parshas Beshalach, where the story of the splitting of the
Red Sea is told. The following sichah is one of what I call the classic
The subject of this sichah is the four approaches that were expressed
when Pharaoh began chasing after the Jews who had left Egypt. It deals with the
situation that prevailed right before Kriyas Yam Suf -- the splitting
of the sea. The Jews then divided into four groups, representing four different
approaches to life. As always, the Rebbe explains that the incidents related in
the Chumash are not simply stories, but paradigms of universal experience.
These are events which happen again and again, as we say in one of the Chanukah
and Purim blessings, "In those days, at this time." This is interpreted as meaning
that events that happened "in those days," continue to recur "at this time."
The Rebbe therefore explains these approaches to life in terms of our times --
on the eve of Mashiach's arrival. Although the original sichah was
delivered in 5722 (1962), the instructions and insights are very relevant today.
After their exodus from Egypt, the Yidden proceeded in the direction of
Israel until they came to the sea -- Yam Suf. On two sides there
were steep cliffs, before them was the sea, and behind them, the Egyptians, who
now regretted letting them go and were chasing after them. It was a great test of
Looking at the situation, which seemed pretty bleak at the time, some people
said, "How can Moshe say we're going to get the Torah? Here's the sea, and we're
hemmed in by steep mountains, with the Egyptians chasing after us... What's going
to be?" At that point disagreements broke out among the Yidden over how to
proceed. They were divided into four groups. Each group offered a different solution
to the problem. (That sounds very familiar. Every Jew has his opinion about what
we all should do.)
When Moshe saw this uproar among the Yidden, he said to them, "Don't be
afraid. Stand and see the salvation of HaShem that He is going to do for
you today. You see the Egyptians today, but you will never see them again. HaShem
will fight for you and you be silent. There is no need for you to cry and yell and
scream." Then HaShem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, "Why are you crying out to me?
Turn your attention to Bnei Yisrael, tell them they should proceed, they
should go forward."
Why such a lengthy reply? Our Sages explain that the reply is divided into four
parts, one to each of four groups.
The first group comprised people who were very, very discouraged. They saw that
there was no way out and they decided that the only way that they could respond
was by committing suicide, by drowning themselves in the sea. In Massada, too, when
the Jews there felt that the Romans were about to get them, they decided to kill
themselves, rather than be killed by the Romans. "Why should we give the Egyptians
the joy of killing us after we thought that we had escaped from them? Let's just
drown in the sea and do it ourselves." This was an expression of despair.
Whether it was permissible or not, that's what they felt. Sometimes when people
are under duress, they don't ask the Rabbi a halachic question, they just say what
they say or think what they think. This group was suffering from desperation. They
just couldn't see what to do. When people commit suicide, and sometimes even religious
people commit suicide, they know it's a big aveirah (transgression), but
at that moment their worries drown them, and they can't think whether it's right
or wrong. So Moshe responded, "Don't drown yourselves. Stand up. Don't jump in and
drown. Just stand up and watch the miracles, the salvation that HaShem will
The second group comprised the kvetching and complaining types: "Why did
you take us out of Egypt? Aren't there enough graves there? Why did you take us
out from there to have us die here in the desert? It would have been better had
you not taken us out in the first place. We should have stayed there and served
the Egyptians. At least we were alive. Here we're going to die." In other words,
"Why don't we just submit. Let's just surrender and tell them that we're sorry we
left; we're ready to come back now and be your slaves again. And then at least we'll
have a land to live in and we'll be fed. It's better than dying."
The answer to the second group was therefore, "You see the Egyptians today, but
you will never see them again."
To the third group Moshe replied, "HaShem will fight for you." This indicates
that they wanted to fight. The third group was the Kach-niks. They said, "We're
not going to let them kill us. We will kill them, or at least we'll put up a good
fight." But Moshe says, "It's not the right thing now. HaShem will fight
this war. You don't have to fight."
The fourth were the kolelniks. They said, "Oy. HaShem will help
us. We will daven to HaShem. We will daven with so much
kavanah and we'll be so pious that surely HaShem will send us salvation."
What did Moshe Rabbeinu answer them? "You be silent. There is no need for you to
cry and yell and scream."
Four reactions, four different groups. It is clear that we have exactly the same
groups today as well. We have the fighters who are always ready to make demonstrations
and throw stones. And we have those who would rather commit suicide and be rid of
the world's problems. Then there are those who are always despairing, ready to return
to galus. And we have the daveners.
But what was HaShem's response to all of them? All of you are wrong. None
of you are right. At this point, none of these responses is appropriate. Of course,
there is nothing wrong with davening; it's a very good thing to do. And what's
wrong with fighting? Sometimes you have to fight. Maybe committing suicide is hard
to justify, and returning to Egypt is wrong. But davening and fighting? Why
were these inappropriate at that time?
The Rebbe explained that each of these reactions is wrong because they stem from
some emotional drive. One comes from desperation. One comes from submission, surrendering.
One comes from a desire for victory. Some people have a very big fighting instinct
and they're always ready to fight. For everything they have to fight, and so on.
Others leave everything up to HaShem: "Let Him take care of everything. I
don't have to do anything." This is also incorrect.
HaShem's response to all the groups was that they should stop thinking
of solutions and proceed towards Mount Sinai. They should have said, "We are on
our way to Mount Sinai to get the Torah, and until we get there the mission is not
over; the journey is incomplete." So instead of thinking that they're supposed to
stop there, why don't they just remember that they're still not there? They should
all just go forward towards Har Sinai. When HaShem tells you through Moshe
Rabbeinu to do something -- you do it, even if it makes no sense. If there's
a problem, you don't let the problem prevent you from doing what must be done. You
just do what you have to do and let HaShem worry about the problem.
The Rebbe explained that the reactions of these groups were not only physical.
Let me explain to you what I mean. Sometimes a person is faced with a problem, a
problem of a physical, worldly nature. And he comes up with a solution that is also
a physical, worldly solution. The Rebbe points out that worldly solutions have counterparts
in the spiritual world, which is the root of the physical world. Just as the Red
Sea symbolizes a certain obstacle in the physical sense, it also symbolizes an obstacle
in the spiritual sense. The Egyptians pursuing the Yidden were a physical
manifestation of a negative spiritual quality. The Rebbe explains that Moshe, the
leader and guide of the Jewish people throughout the ages in physical and spiritual
problems, condemns or criticizes these reactions in their spiritual root.
The first group wanted to jump into the water. What does that mean in a spiritual
sense? Water symbolizes Torah. Jumping into the water, on a spiritual level, is
a holy thing. Becoming immersed in Torah is a very good thing. But it is not always
the appropriate response. The Rebbe explains that in every generation there are
people who respond to a bleak situation by saying, "You know what I'll do? I'll
just forget about the world and I will become totally immersed in Torah. I'll go
sign up in a kolel and I'll learn Torah from morning to night. That way I
don't have to deal with the world."
Wonderful. You are now very holy, and you get involved in your learning. You're
busy with good things. At the same time you have an excuse to evade the realities
of the world around you. Even though at first glance that may seem like a noble
and pious thing to do, nevertheless Moshe rejected that as a correct solution in
this situation. When you are supposed to go to Mount Sinai, you do not sit down
in the beis midrash and learn Gemara. Right now is not the time to
cut yourself off from reality and submerge yourself in Torah. The kind of person
that throws himself into the sea (of Torah) is diagnosed as "a tzaddik in
peltz" -- a tzaddik in a nice warm fur coat. But it warms
only him, not those around him. There are people who feel that since they
can't solve the problems of the whole world, they will just take care of themselves.
How many people can wear one fur coat? Just one person. You can't have two people
in a coat, it's very crowded. "So as long as I have a fur coat and I'm warm, I'm
happy." But there is another solution to the problem. Light a fire or buy a heater
which can heat the entire room. Why is the type of person who wants to throw himself
into the sea of Torah regarded as a tzaddik in peltz? Because he asks
himself, "How can I be mekarev all of those Jews? There's thousands of Jews
outside who are not religious. Could I be mekarev a thousand Jews? Obviously
not. It's too much for me. How many people observe Shabbos? There are people
who eat ham. How can I deal with this? I'll just go in a kolel. At least
I'll be safe from eating ham and being machalel Shabbos. I'll take care of
Instead of thinking, "I can't deal with a thousand people or ten thousand people,
but maybe I could speak to my next door neighbor, maybe I could work with one person,"
he couldn't be bothered. Why not? Because he thinks, "A person of my talent should
only deal with one Jew?! I have bigger talents than that. I want to do things on
a grand scale! But then he says, "That's really too big of a project, so if it's
not everybody then we'll just do nothing and I'll just take care of myself." Many
people feel that way. So this is rejected by Moshe. This is not a good reaction
to a difficult situation.
Now we come to the next group which wanted to go back to Egypt, to confinement,
limitation (the word Mitzrayim--Egypt-- is related to
the word meitzarim limitations). This symbolizes the kind of Jew who feels
that Yiddishkeit is a big burden. He's not going away from Yiddishkeit.
He's going to be a frum Jew but he feels that it's a real weight on him.
"You know, all these mitzvos, all this davening, all these instructions
that the Rebbe gives. It's just too much. But what can I do? Nebbich, I was
born a Jew. I can't give it up. That's it, that's my lot in life." He decides that
he'll fulfill his obligations. He'll go through the motions, but he does it with
a real kvetch. You know, whatever he does, he does, but he feels it as a
burden. He'll carry his burden without a smile, without joy. "Nu. Where does
it say in Torah you have to do it with enthusiasm? It's not one of the 613 mitzvos.
You just have to keep Shabbos. It doesn't mean you have to like keeping
Shabbos." So he goes around like he's in Egypt. He bears the yoke.
Now, even though bearing the yoke--kabbalas ol--is
a very lofty thing, it is only the beginning of our service. A small child who's
just learning about life cannot be expected to do the mitzvos with a lot
of understanding or joy. You tell them, "This is the way you do it. Before you eat
you have to make a blessing." Later on, when the child gets older you can explain
to them more. But accepting the yoke of Heaven is only the beginning. You do it
because Mommy said. Later on you should learn to love it, to understand and enjoy
it. But this Jew is in Egypt his whole life. He never gets out of it...
[Unfortunately, we do not have the rest of this shiur.]