Imagine the scene: the armies of Pharaoh thunder toward the Hebrews, who are cornered at water’s edge. The people begin to scream and cry, asking their leader, “Were there not enough graves in Egypt, that you had to bring us out here to die?” Moses, their leader, replies, “Stand still, calm down, God will fight for you.” Then — in the movie version, not the Torah version — God commands Moses to stretch out his rod over the sea, and a miracle happens. The bad guys die, the good guys live, and everyone parties.
What? you say. That is in the Torah, I’m sure of it! That may be the way we generally tell the story, but it leaves out a line. Here’s what it says in Exodus 14: 13 – 16.
And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Eternal, which He will work for you to-day; for although you have seen the Egyptians to-day, you shall see them again no more for ever. The Eternal will fight for you, so hold your peace.’
And the Eternal said unto Moses: ‘Why cry to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, and let them get moving! And lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.
Somehow, in all the drama, one very important line often gets lost. Moses was looking for a miracle. He told the people to look for a miracle. He said, “Don’t be afraid, stand still, wait for God to save you.” And God’s response to Moses was direct: “Why speak to me? Talk to them! Tell them to get moving!”
Vayisa’oo – get moving! – is a key word in this week’s very famous Torah portion, Beshallach. Don’t wait for miracles. Talk to each other. Encourage each other. Don’t be passive. GET MOVING!
Forward movement precedes miracles, even in the greatest miracle story of all time.
So in those edge-of-the-sea moments, when it is tempting to hope for a miracle, or even more tempting to despair, the trick is to look for the way to move forward. Even in the panicked crowd, can I move my foot forward just a bit? Can I encourage someone else to move forward too?
Fear and paralysis are the great enemies of survival. Fear and paralysis would have left the children of Israel at the wrong edge of the sea, trampled and slaughtered.
Vayisa’oo — get moving. Write to your elected representative.
Vayisa’oo — Volunteer to help someone in need.
Vayisa’oo — Vote, whenever you have the chance.
Vayisa’oo — Keep moving to the next job interview.
Vayisa’oo — Keep moving on the project, whatever it is.
Vayisa’oo — Encourage others, rather than discourage them.
Vayisa’oo — and we’ll all dance, on the other side.