Jewish Learning
Shabbat, Festivals & The Year
Rabbi Emmanuel Levy

Encompassing One’s Being

Having witnessed the miraculous division of the Sea of Reeds and experienced their own salvation, the Jewish people broke out into a song of praise to G-d. The Torah testifies: ‘And the people believed in G-d and in Moshe (Moses) his servant’ (Shemot 14:31). This seems to imply that until that point they did not have this faith. However, that implication would run counter to an earlier verse, in Parashat Shemot, which tells us that even before the redemption from Egypt, when Moshe performed miraculous signs before the Israelites, ‘the people believed’ (ibid 4:31). What new dimension was added to their faith following the splitting of the Sea of Reeds?

There is an important distinction between ‘intellectual faith’ and a stronger form of faith, which ‘encompasses one’s entire being’. This distinction can be best understood by the following examples:

One can believe in G-d because it is logical to do so. When Rabbi Akiva was asked by a Roman princess to provide her with proof of G-d’s existence, he asked her rhetorically, ‘Who wove your garment?’ Rabbi Akiva went on to explain that just as a garment must have had a manufacturer and could not have come into being of its own accord, so must the world. However, such a belief, based on cold intellect, will not necessarily spur one into righteous actions for the sake of Heaven.

Charles Blondin, a famous tight rope walker who lived in the nineteenth century, once announced that he was prepared to cross Niagara Falls high up on a tight rope. One fatal slip would have cost him his life. Before beginning his perilous crossing, he shouted to the huge crowd, ‘Do you believe that I, Blondin, can walk over this tight-rope?’ The audience responded amidst great cheering, ‘Yes, we believe!’ After accomplishing this magnificent feat, he announced, ‘Do you believe that I, Blondin, can cross Niagara Falls blindfolded and wheeling a barrow?’ ‘Yes’ they shouted ‘…we believe.’ Having achieved this act of daring, he asked, ‘Do you believe that I, Blondin, can cross Niagara falls, blindfolded with a wheelbarrow, with a man in the barrow?’ ‘Yes’ they screamed, ‘…we believe’. ‘Alright then’, said Blondin, ‘Who would like to volunteer to sit in the wheelbarrow?’ There was an eerie silence.

It is one thing to believe intellectually, but quite another to put that belief into practice by risking one’s life in the process. That was the type of belief demonstrated by Nachshon ben Aminadav and the tribe of Yehudah when they leapt into the waters of the Sea of Reeds as the Egyptians approached. It was only then that the waters parted.

Only after their final salvation, when they saw that every Egyptian soldier drowned and every Israelite was saved did they all reach that extra dimension, the pinnacle of faith which encompassed their very being, and which motivated them to break out in tumultuous song of affirmation: ’This is my G-d and I will exalt Him’ (15:2).

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