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ויאמר ד’ אל משה מה תצעק אלי, דבר אל בני ישראל ויסעו

And God said to Moshe: Why do you cry to Me? Speak to the Israelites and they shall travel!


The Israelites were cornered. With the sea in front of them and the Egyptians quickly closing in from behind, they weren’t just running out of options; they were out of them already. Some vented their anxiety on Moshe, others cried to God for salvation, Moshe sought to reassure while simultaneously praying himself, and all in all, chaos reigned.

And then, the word of God: Don’t pray, just talk to the people and have them travel.

Don’t pray? Why not? Isn’t that what one does when he finds himself in such a situation? How can traveling into the sea be a better idea than praying, pray tell?

Apparently, the Israelites’ situation was so dire that even prayer couldn’t possibly help them. The trouble they faced was far greater than that of a stormy sea; it was a stormy session of the Heavenly court. By what right, argued the prosecution, should the Israelites be saved and the Egyptians drowned? After all, did they not worship idols just like their Egyptian hosts? Had their stint in Egypt not turned them into more Egyptian than Jew? What great distinction did they possess which could possibly justify differentiating them from their Egyptian masters in such sharply contrastive fashion, with one meriting the highest of miracles and the other being killed?

So, say our Sages, went the argument. Unless the damning allegation could somehow be resoundingly put to rest, no amount of prayer would be powerful enough to justify what was about to take place.

Alas, how could the indictment possibly be disproven, when there was indeed much truth to its claim? The Jew had lost much of his identity, his Jewishness had eroded to a great degree, and he had even come to regard himself as not entirely different than the Egyptian who ruled over him. Cognizance of a qualitative differentiation between Jew and gentile was perhaps the greatest casualty of the exile, and the question was therefore both valid and vital for Jewish survival: How could the Jew somehow recapture that sense of self-respect for his innate specialness, which was the only thing that could possibly distinguish him from the Egyptian and save him at this point?

God is the one who provided the answer: Speak to the Israelites and they shall travel.

Not “tell the Israelites to travel”, but “speak to the Israelites and they shall travel”.

Or, better put: Speak to them as Israelites, and they will have no problem traveling, for they will then come to regard themselves as Israelites once more, at which point the sea will gladly split to let them through, while sending the starkly different Egyptians on a one way trip to SeaWorld.

The Israelites, you see, had lost all touch with that inner spark of Godliness which lay dormant all throughout their exile, and there was only one way to get them to reconnect with that spark before it forever faded into extinction.

They had to be addressed as special people, even as they knew not what was special about themselves.

They had to be treated as royalty, even as they knew not what made them more dignified than the Egyptian chasing them.

Slowly, the color would return to their cheeks, the spring would return to their step, and the feeling of Jewishness would re”jew”venate their entire being, reinserting gentility into what had once seemed gentile. With their resurgent Godliness once again rising to the fore, no voice would dare contest the sea splitting wide to let them through, for the uniqueness of their character would be plain to sea. (p.i.)

We may not be chased by Egyptians, but we all have our seas to cross.

We may not think of ourselves as special, but we all have the ability to treat ourselves as such.

Yes, it may seem like a show at first, but rest assured, that outer show will eventually connect with our inner glow, and the Jew within will only grow, and deal a blow, to any foe, who dare compare, the simple fare, to us proud Jews, so fine and fair.


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