We find in the Book of Shmot three times the Jewish people trusted in G-d and Moshe. The first time was in Egypt when Moshe performed the signs before Pharaoh. The second time was in this week’s Parsha by the Red Sea -“And they believed in HaShem and Moshe His servant”. And, the third time was at Mt. Sinai – “and also in you they will believe forever”. Why are these three times necessary and what does each one add to its predecessor? Another poignant question is if the experience by the splitting of the Red Sea was so awesome – What a maidservant saw on the sea, even Yechezkel didnt see – how did they forget everything and begin to complain to G-d that he took them out of Egypt and to question, Is HaShem with us or not?
The Ramban in his classic work, Emunah u’Bitachon, speaks about the integration of these two concepts. Emunah – faith in that G-d created the world and his Providence is over all living things brings one to, Bitachon – trust that all of one’s actions and circumstances are from G-d and nothing happens to him by accident.
The Ran in his D’rashot delineates the stages of faith of the Jewish people in G-d and Moshe, his servant. Every prophet of the Jewish nation needs to prove the authenticity of his prophecy by a certain sign. This indicator obliges the Jewish people to believe in the prophet. However, the prophet is not allowed to introduce any new mitzva unless temporarily for an emergency situation. So it was in Egypt and so the nation believed in Moshe. However, the nation remained with many doubts. Why did G-d tell Moshe to lie to Pharaoh and to say that they were just going to sacrifice in order that Pharaoh would agree to free them from Egypt? Why was it necessary to “borrow” vessels and the like to receive payment for their servitude? Behold, G-d is Omnipotent?!
At the Red Sea the Jewish people understood that this was all a strategy to cause the Egyptians to regret freeing the Jews and to pursue them so that they would be drowned in the Sea through a spectacular miracle. This is the concept of faith in our Parasha – when the Jews understand retroactively why the Almighty caused the events to occur just as they did, then the Jews burst into song.
The third stage unfolds at Sinai. There it was necessary to establish the credibility of Torat Moshe so that it would never be questioned or contradicted in the future. For that reason, it says “and also in you they will believe forever” (Shmot 19:9).
The verses seemingly describe an inverted situation. First G-d commands the Jewish people to go and afterwards He tells Moshe to split the sea – where does G-d expect them to go?! It would seem that first should come the command – “Stretch your hand over the sea”, and afterwards – “Speak to Bnei Yisrael, and they will travel”? The midrash compares the situation of the Jewish people at the sea to the verse in Shir HaShirim, “My dove in the cleft of the rock…” Just as the dove flees from the hawk and escapes into the cleft of the rock only to discover there a snake! To go out is impossible because of the hawk and to remain inside is out of the question because of the snake!
A different midrash describes several factions among the Jews at the sea. One group continued to complain even after the sea was split! Why were they saved? The Midrash says that it is because there were individuals who jumped into the sea because of their absolute faith and trust in G-d that He would split the water for them. Trust in G-d does not mean that every sea that a person will jump into – out of complete faith and trust in G-d – will split. Rather, when G-d commands an individual or people to move, this is what must be done – “The word of G-d will not return empty!” Likewise, by the manna, if the Almighty promised that it would come the next day, it would be a lack of trust to leave over any from the previous day!
An individual is not allowed to rely on a miracle. However, the Jewish nation as a collective entity transcends Nature. “Speak to the nation of Israel that they should travel…” Rashi comments, “They should not but move ahead for the sea will not stand before them.” (Shmot 14:15) The Ramban also writes, “The general rule is that when the Jewish people are many and faultless, their existence will not be governed by the rules of Nature at all, not in their persons and land, nor as individuals or as a community – for G-d will bless their food and water and will remove from them all sickness so that they will not require a physician” (Vayikra 26:11).
When the Jews left Egypt they needed to comprehend their greatness. HaRav Shmishon Rafael Hirsch (Shmot 17:7) explains that until the Exodus the Jews lived with the idolatrous perception that the world order is immutable and the pagan gods are a part of it. Now, they need to understand that there is one Creator of the world who rules over all. He has given man domination of the world and its destiny is dependent on his free will. It takes time to become accustomed to this “radical” way of thinking. There are “ups and downs”! When the Jewish nation was confronted by “natural” difficulties they needed to rethink that this too could be changed. This was the arena of their tests and complaints. The Jewish people learned that it is within their power to dominate “Nature” if they will fulfill the will of G-d and they have the ability to triumph over the nations that wage war against them just like with Amalek.
We need to know that when G-d promised, “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker” – “The Eternal One of Israel will not lie”, then “The word of G-d will not return empty!”. There already sit older men and women in the streets of Jerusalem, men walk with canes due to their advance in years, and the streets are full of children playing (based on Zecharia 8:4). When we are confronted with difficulties along the road of history, we must have faith and trust that G-d is orchestrating the events for our eventual good just like he did at the sea. The Jewish people were redeemed in the merit of those who believed in G-d and did what must be done for the good of the nation just like those who jumped into the sea. May it be G-d’s will that we shall merit soon, “And we will sing before Him a new song!”