Many wondrous events are discussed in this week's Torah portion, including the protecting clouds of glory and pillar of fire, the splitting of the red sea, the destruction of the pursuing Egyptians, the heavenly bread that fed the people in the desert and the battle with Amalek. Even so, the portion begins with the not such happy words - "And it was [in Hebrew, 'Vayehi'], when Pharoah sent." The Sages teach that the word "Vayehi" is associated with negative events in the Torah. The Sfat Emet attributes this negativity to the fact that the redemption did not come about through our merit, but rather through G‑d's kindness. Thus, the Egyptians could not be totally destroyed at that time. Only later, as the Jewish people marched forward into the sea, showing their faith in G‑d, were their enemies destroyed.

...G‑d was putting them through all the difficulties for a positive reason….

Rebbe Yechiel Michel of Zlotshov discusses the verse "And G‑d hardened the heart of Pharoah, king of Egypt...and he pursued the Children of Israel. And the Children of Israel went out with a high hand" (Ex. 14:8). Everyone knows that when a person leaves, he leaves with his feet, so why does the verse speak about hands? The Torah is trying to teach us that when a person commits a sin, he is put into kind of exile. Just as the soul is exiled above in heaven, so the body is exiled below. How does one remove oneself from this exile? By praying for strength to return back to the right path. Through returning to G‑d, a person elevates the sparks of holiness that, until then, were hidden away in the physical world. When the Jews left Egypt they had the power of repentance and thus were able to raise the sparks of holiness. Therefore, even though Pharaoh was chasing them, he was powerless against our "high hand" - our "high" strength to elevate the sparks.

Imagine that dramatic moment we looked out over the vast sea in front of us with our enemies behind us. Everyone was worried. What could we do? The Zlotshover continues by explaining the verse "And Moses said to the not be afraid. Stand firm and see G‑d's salvation." (ibid. 14:13) Why is the phrase "stand firm" necessary? Wouldn't it have been enough to just say that they would "see G‑d's salvation"? The principle is that
G‑d's actions are always done for the good of the Jewish people. While the righteous are able to see immediately that a situation is good, ordinary people do not have the same ability and often perceive events negatively without understanding that everything is ultimately for the good. When the Jewish people were in exile, without the merit of the commandments, they were not sensitive to the fact that G‑d was putting them through all the difficulties for a positive reason. Moses could see what was really happening. Therefore he was saying that they should stand firm and see whether G‑d's salvation is true or not! Stand firm - don't do a thing. Wait and see if what I have been telling you is true...that everything G‑d does is for our good.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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