Halacha Date: 16 Shevat 5781 January 29 2021
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
This Shabbat, Parashat Beshalach , we shall read about the Exodus of Bnei Yisrael from Egypt, whilst “Hashem went before them by day with a pillar of cloud, to guide them along the way. By night it appeared as a pillar of fire, providing them with light. And so, they could travel day and night” (Shemot 13:21).
When Paro the King of Egypt discovered that the Bnei Yisrael were continuing on their way beyond the original three days which they had requested, with no intention of returning to Egypt, he immediately took his army to pursue the Bnei Yisrael. As the passuk sates: “He took 600 chariots with chosen crews, as well as the entire chariot corps of Egypt, with supporting infantry for them all. Hashem hardened Paro King of Egypt’s heart, and he went after Bnei Yisrael. Meanwhile Bnei Yisrael were leaving in triumph” (Shemot 14:7-8).
Paro and his army are drawing near and the Bnei Yisrael are crying out in prayer to Hashem. [Hemmed between] the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. And yet, “Hashem said to Moshe, why are you crying out to me in prayer? Speak to the Bnei Yisrael and let them start moving!” (Shemot 14:15).
Rashi HaKadsoh quotes the Midrash: “We learn that whilst Moshe was standing praying, Hashem said to him, now is not the time for lengthy prayers, for Yisrael are in distress.”
Rabbeinu the Orach Chaim HaKadosh, (Reb Chaim ibn Atar z”l, 1696-1743) asks, why did Hashem say to Moshe, “Why are you crying out to me in prayer?” And to whom should he have cried out, if not Hashem? And especially at a time of great distress such as this, as it states: “At a time of distress I called out to Hashem” (Tehillim 118:5). And if Hashem points out to him that he is praying for too long, as Rashi explains, then surely as long as his prayer is not answered, it is incumbent upon him to continue praying! And if so, what is the meaning of “Why are you crying out to me”?
Because of this, the Orach Chaim explains a novel idea, a phenomenal principle and true solution for a person in distress. This is what he says: “It is explained based on Chazal’s adage, that when Yisrael are in a state of judgement, namely that the accuser says before Hashem, just as these worship idols – so do these worship idols! This is because Yisrael also worshipped idols in Egypt. And it is a known fact, that the power of mercy displayed towards a person is commensurate with a person’s good deeds and if good deeds are lacking, then the attribute of mercy cannot be aroused.
“And so, when Hashem saw that the attribute of justice acted as an accuser against the Jewish people, Hashem sought to find in Yisrael’s righteous favour. But there wasn’t sufficient power in the attribute of mercy, because Yisrael lacked good deeds. Therefore, He said to Moshe why do you cry out to me, as if to say, it is not dependent on Me, for I wish to perform a miracle, but because they are not worthy, the attribute of justice prevents it. Therefore, speak to the Bnei Yisrael, meaning that this is the best advice to enable the attribute of kindness mercy to prevail. Speak to Bnei Yisrael and they will strengthen wholeheartedly their belief and travel towards the sea ahead of it splitting, based on the trust that I will perform a miracle. Through this the attribute of mercy will prevail, and via this good deed a miracle will be performed for them.”
This means that to arouse the attribute of mercy, Yisrael had to perform an action! To enter the sea with complete faith that Hashem will perform a miracle, and only then will the sea split!
The Orach Chaim HaKadosh teaches us that when a person is in trouble and distressed and the attribute of justice has strengthened, then prayer is insufficient, but rather there is an immediate need to increase mitzvot and good deeds to give energy to the attribute of mercy to prevail over the attribute of justice. And then a person will merit to salvations and amazing miracles. As we learnt from the commentary of the Orach Chaim HaKadosh, that Hashem said to Moshe, “Why are you crying out to me in prayer?” Now is not the time for prayer! But rather one must do a tangible action of belief and trust, and through this all Yisrael merited to the miracle of the splitting of the Reed Sea.
And so Maran zt”l was accustomed to say, that when the Bnei Yisrael stood at the seabank, there were those who said it is worth returning to Egypt, those who said it is worth fighting and those who said to flee elsewhere. And so, there were many possible outcomes, however, one outcome wasn’t thought of which was the best option, that the sea will simply split into sections! When we trust in Hashem and believe in His salvation with our entire heart, we are truly able to see and merit His salvation.
Let a wise person listen and again further!