By: Rabbi Dovid Markel
When the Jewish people left Egypt they were chased by Pharaoh and his people. Eventually, the Egyptian army caught up with them. The verse tells us:
“Egypt pursued them and overtook them, encamped by the sea—all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen and army—by Pi-hachiros before Baal-tzefon. Pharaoh approached; the Children of Israel raised their eyes and behold!—Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Israel called to HaShem. They said to Moshe, ‘Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us out to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?’”
The Almighty responded by telling Moshe, “Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth!”
The Mechilta explains that at that time, the Jewish people were divided into four factions–each with a different response to the situation that confronted them:
- The first group said,“Let us jump into the sea.” They gave up on conquering Egypt, and their response was that rather than facing slavery, they should commit suicide.
- The second group exclaimed, “Let us return to Egypt.” They admitted defeat. They realized that although attempting freedom was a nice thought, they were ultimately not strong enough to attain victory.
- The third group suggested, “Let us fight.” They either thought that they had the ability to defeat the Egyptians, or more probable, decided that they were not going to go down without a fight.
- The fourth group declared, “Let us cry out to G-d.” This unit realized that they were powerless against their struggle with Pharaoh and his minions, and believed that without G-dly intervention they would be finished.
G-d’s response though, was that all four groups were wrong, and that the answer in truth, was that the Jewish people should forge on. G-d not only negated the first two opinions, but the last two as well. While it is fairly obvious that they should not have given up or returned to Egypt, G-d let them know that praying and fighting were not an option either; rather, they were given the mandate to plow ahead.
The Torah is eternal and its messages are applicable in all times and generations. This is particularly true with the message of the exodus of Egypt. Each and every day there is a commandment to remember the exodus. Tanya explains, that what is meant by this is not merely to make a mental note that the Jewish people left Egypt thousands of years ago, but rather, “In each and every generation, and each and every day, a person must see himself as if he is leaving Egypt.”
Egypt is not merely a location on the map, but more importantly an idea. The word for Egypt in Hebrew is “Mitzrayim,” which also means constraints. Leaving Egypt in a spiritual context, means leaving all the limitations and challenges that we are defined by. The challenge of leaving our limitations is constant, as every day a new one arises. Every single day we are tasked to overcome these limitations and forge on to new heights.
Often times, when we are faced with our challenges, addictions, or bad habits—our Egypt that we are enslaved to—we are prone to place ourselves in one of these four categories:
- We decide that we are enslaved to our habits and that there seems to be no escape. We have a tendency to give up hope of any salvation from the various things that limit us. Not being able to break away from our habits and not coming to terms with them either, we give up on life.
- We come to terms with our limitations and decide that it is not worth attempting to escape them. We resign to our fate that we our doomed to be slaves and we continue living our lives with our limitations.
- We decide to fight with ourselves and our struggles, either because we think we can overcome them, or because we don’t want to give up without a fight.
- We resolve that there is no way for us to break loose of ourselves and pray that G-d remove our struggles from us. We believe that no matter how much effort we put in, we cannot change, and therefore wait for G-d to do the changing for us.
All these abovementioned ways of dealing with our issues, says the verse, are not the proper ways to confront our limitations. Not only are the first two ways of giving up on change and resigning ourselves to our fate not the proper way to deal with our limitations, but even fighting them or asking G-d to remove them from us are not the proper ways either.
The verse teaches us that the best way to deal with our issues is by not dealing with them. In order for us to remove all of our barriers, we must “journey forth.” As long as we are fighting them, we can never win, and therefore, what we must do is continue on the path and journey that we were set out to do in our service of G-d.
When we do so, we will see that the sea will split for us. Just as when the Jewish people continued on their journey, a new path of escape opened up for them—which not only gave them a way of escaping from the Egyptians, but also ultimately decimated the enemy—so too, when we continue on our path of life and not involve ourselves in the things that draw us down, G-d opens a new path which ultimately serves to help us be completely saved from all our limitations.