"But Moses said to the people…." (Ex. 14:13)

The Jews were between a rock and a hard place. They were standing without rafts in front of the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians were breathing down their necks. Four factions developed, each with another plan of action:

  1. "Let us drown ourselves in the sea";
  2. "Let us surrender and return to Egypt";
  3. "Let us wage war against them";
  4. "Let us pray".

To all of these, Moses replied:
"Stand firm and witness the deliverance that G‑d will perform for you today [do not jump into the sea]. For the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again [do not return to Egypt]. G‑d will do battle for you [do not wage war against them]; you shall remain silent [do not pray]." What, then, were they to do? "Let them journey forth! [continue on the path to Sinai and all will be well]."(Midrash Mechilta)

At times we wish…shut our eyes to the darkness around us….

These four factions reflect four erroneous attitudes that we, too, might adopt in our confrontation with darkness:

1) At times we wish to "jump into the sea", to immerse ourselves in the pure waters of Torah and prayer and shut our eyes to the darkness around us.
2) At times we do better. We say, "let us return to Egypt" - we will deal with the darkness, but as slaves. We resign ourselves to our fate of living in a dark world and do our job without hope.
3) Even better is when we say, "let us wage war" - we feel the power of light and wish to conquer the dark Pharaohs of our world. But when G‑d instructs us to go to Sinai it is not time to do battle. Furthermore, the motives for such battle are questionable: do they stem from a commitment to goodness or from a desire to fight?
4) The fourth path is the highest: "let us pray". During prayer we are one with G‑d and totally selfless. We wish to fulfill His desires. We would not think of secluding ourselves from the world or losing hope that light will ultimately prevail. We would not think of waging self-strategized wars not commanded by G‑d. But prayer is inactive and this too is not the path.

Journey forth! G‑d tells us to continue on our path to Sinai, to bring ourselves and the world around us to the Torah, one mitzvah at a time.

The common denominator among the four factions was that their plan of action originated in their own human psyche. They lacked the absolute surrender to the divine consciousness that would have allowed them to hear the voice of G‑d. When one reaches the level of absolute surrender and "travels forth", the sea is split - that which is hidden becomes revealed. The deepest dimension of the soul, the aspect that is absolutely one with G‑d, is manifest.

However, when action is necessary, prayer is the wrong response….

There is indeed a time for prayer. In a personal sense it is the highest form of connection to G‑d. However, when action is necessary, prayer is the wrong response. When the sea is waiting to be split, when G‑d demands forward movement, it is no time to stop and worry about personal levels of connectedness. This lesson continues to resound in today's day and age. There are people in the "streets" who need help; they are waiting for their personal splitting of the sea.

The sea is home to as much or more life as is dry land. The major difference is that its life forms are concealed by the water. There comes a point in every person's life when they must "split the sea", meaning that they must be able to see beyond the physical trappings and recognize the all-pervading G‑dly vitality that is the source of all life. Every person has the capability to do so; all that is needed is the will. And often, assisting another in this process enables one to accomplish it for him/herself as well.

This, indeed, is G‑d's message: Now is a time for action. Sequestering oneself in a synagogue, as personally fulfilling as it may be, is not the proper approach. It is necessary to go "out there", to "journey forth", and help ensure that the entire world joins in the victorious march through the challenges of the "Sea of Reeds" to the final and complete redemption.

[Adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, p. 876 ff; Sichot Kodesh 5740, vol. 2, pp. 23-27; Copyright 2001 chabad of california /www.lachumash.org]