Torah Tuesdays: Lessons for Living with Crisis and With the Passage of Time

March 5, 2014

This is part of our series on Lessons for Living from Moses our Mentor. Today we we will be looking at the first half of  Parshat Beshalach, [Exodus 13:17-17:16]. This section of Exodus teaches us about faith  and about time. As with our other lessons in this series, there is something here for everyone. Find the principle that seems most relevant to your life right now and make a point of putting it into practice. In fact, if you want to multiply its benefit to you, discuss this with a friend and hold yourself accountable to that friend to apply the principle, scheduling times when that friend might check up on how you are doing. Accountability is a great growth producer. 

At any rate, let's join Moses and the people of Israel who have just escaped from Pharaoh's Egypt and will find themselves facing their greatest trial. . .  and their greatest victory. In Torah you will find that these two often go together, as they do in our own lives. 

In Exodus 13:17-14:14, we see the Israelites coming out of Egypt, and commanded by God to encamp with their backs to the sea. Having just been delivered from Egyptian bondage in one night, the Israelites are riding on a crest of faith in God and his servant Moses. When God tells them to encamp in this manner, trapped with their backs to the sea, they comply. But Pharaoh and the people of Egypt decide that no, they are not going to let these Israelites go after all, and decide to come after them: so Israel stands there, an entire nation of over 600,000 people, not counting the women and children. And there they are: stuck to the seashore. A nation on flypaper. With Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them. Terrifying.

The people panic, and Moses reassures them with these words:

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14, ESV)

And so it was.  When this confrontation was over, all of these soldiers and horses would be drowned in the depths of the sea, and Israel would have experienced a deliverance it still talks about daily, over three thousand years later.  However, In order to experience that powerful deliverance, Israel found itself in a position of ultimate peril.  But so will it be for us. We must remember and apply the message of these wise words in our own lives, by remembering this principle:

Life Principle #1 - There will be times in life when victory will only come as we exercise the courage to look our adversary in the face whether that be a person, a habit of life,  or a situation.

Indeed, there are some enemies that have to be stared down and called off, for if we live in constant fear of them, these enemies and the fear of them will control us.  We will be like Israelite slaves who never made it out of Egypt.  In many situations, if we are ever going to be free, we will have to get eyeball to eyeball with our feared enemy because something marvelous happens when we  look that person or that situation in the face and say, "No."

We find this principle at work in the Book of Daniel, when Nebuchadnezzar has enforced idolatrous fealty among all in his Kingdom except for Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The King had a fiery furnace built, stokes so hot that he attendants could not get near it without perishing.  He heard that these men would not bow down to the image he had made, had them brought before him, and threatened that they would be thrown into the furnace if they did not bow down. Here is what they answered:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

One can see that such men were truly free, despite their life situation. The moment they faced down Nebuchadnezzar they robbed him of the power of coercion. The same lesson is taught by Yeshua when he says, "If anyone will slap you on the cheek, turn to him the left on also." That is an expression of freedom from coercion. Once we do that, no matter what happens to us, we are the winners.

We earn another important life principle in the  text, in chapter 14:15, after Moses reassures the people that God will indeed protect them and vanquish their enemies. While they are standing there with their backs to the sea, "The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward."  This brings us to our second principle.

There are times in life when one must stop praying and take action. And at such times, there is really only one question that needs to be asked and answered. And that bring us to our second Life Principle from this section of Exodus.

Life Principle #2 -There are times when the only thing you can know and the only thing you need to know is “Which way is forward?”

images-4This is so especially when facing times of crisis, when we don't often have an overview of what is likely to happen and therefore of what our extended game plan should be. And reading in business management literature one finds that in entrepreneurial situations, when fielding new initiatives, it is impossible to map out a long term strategy. Instead, one must follow the procedure of Act, Assess, Adjust.  Take a path of action that has affordable risks involved, asses the results of the action taken, adjust to that new information, and repeat the cycle. It is a very creative and freeing way to work, if one remains alert and creative.

Sometimes the only thing you can know or need to know is what Moses knew on that day: which was is forward.

In the second half of Exodus 14 and almost all of Chapter 15, we follow the drama of the Israelites' passage through the Red/Reed Sea, the drowning of the Egyptians, and the resultant extraordinary celebration which has continued until this day, not only in the Passover Seder but also in the liturgy of the descendants of these former slaves. This reminds of another life principle that none of us, Jew or Gentile, should ever forget, and that all of us should employ.

Life Principle #3 - In the life with God of any person or community there will be certain pivotal events or times of remarkable encounter with the Transcendent . . . with the Wholly Other, with God. These events need to be noted, memorialized and recalled regularly.

Unknown-3Exodus 14:19-31, plus some verses from chapter 15 are prayed/sung and celebrated every day by praying Jews-this is an event that is so significant in the Jewish people’s communal formation and consciousness, and so central to their relationship with God that it is memorialized and celebrated every day.

Look at what Wikipedia says about this!

The Song of the Sea (Hebrew: Shirat HaYam, also known as Az Yashir Moshe) is a poem that appears in the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible, at Exodus 15:1-18. It is followed in verses 20 and 21 by a much shorter song sung by Miriam and the other women. The Song of the Sea was reputedly sung by the Israelites after they crossed the Sea of Reeds in safety, and celebrates the destruction of the Egyptian army during the crossing, and looks forward to their future conquest of Canaan.

The poem is included in Jewish prayer books, and recited daily in the morning shacharit services. . . .

The poem forms part of parshat Beshalach. It is one of only two sections of the Sefer Torah that is written with a different layout from the normal simple columns. The layout is similar to bricks in a wall (see picture): the alternating words are supposed to represent the two walls of the split sea with Israel walking down the middle.  (The other section written differently is the Song of Moses at the end of Deuteronomy, in parshat Ha'azinu.)

In his book on The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z’l, names these three things about Judaism, time and ritual, that help us appreciate how intrinsic celebrations and other ways of marking differences in the flow of time are in biblical and Jewish consciousness.

1)    Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time.  Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time.  There are no two hours alike.  Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious" [8]

2)    "Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time. To be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate…" [8].

3)    "Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms of time, as architecture of time" [8].

In view of all this, we would do well to take as an example of how not to live and mark the times of our lives from this passage in Shakespeare's Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing. — Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)

These are the words of someone for whom life has lost meaning, and time has lost its shape. Don’t let this happen to you! Don’t let your life go by without times of mourning and times of celebration: take time to mourn, take time to celebrate—take time, or lose it.  Mourn the death of friends, mourn the death of pets, mourn the death of dreams and hopes and things of which you dreamed. Take time to experience the pain and to learn lessons for life as you will live it henceforth. And celebrate all kinds of things, mark them.  Your life is time—pay attention to the times of your life, and the life of the people of God.

Or would you rather wind up like Macbeth?


(We will continue with this section of Exodus next week, looking at some leadership principles for our life and work). 



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