Hold Your Peace – Parshat Beshalach 5782

As some of you may know, hiding my feelings on any topic doesn’t come naturally. When I’m passionate about a cause, a belief, a topic, I tend to go all in. It’s been a life-long process learning how to hold back the fire, while allowing the passion to come through and be heard. So far, the benefits are clear. I get so much closer to my end goals when I’m able to keep the big emotions in check and channel my energy into calm, well reasoned arguments, while keeping my listening ears open.  Maybe you’ve found this to be true too, that simply stepping back and allowing others voices to be heard often gets you further than impassioned pleas ever will.

The Israelites also had to learn this lesson on their life-changing journey out of Egypt. Parshat Beshalach, which we read this week, is notable for showing the power of song. We find the children of Israel on their journey out of Egypt into the wilderness. The Egyptians go after them, but God intervenes and saves them. The Israelites continue through moments of bliss and wonder at the new, free world around them, as well as moments marking the occasional “temper tantrum” at God because the journey through the desert isn’t perfect. God provides manna, and the people want more. God provides water, and the people complain that it doesn’t meet their standards.

As the Israelites are leaving Egypt and approaching the sea, they find themselves in a panic. The Egyptian army is behind them, water in front of them, and they’ve never been in this situation before. They scream and complain and channel all their anger at Moses, pleading with him to just stop the journey and let them go back and do their own thing. While they rage, Moses remains calm and says to the entire stressed out nation, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!”

Can you hear the powerful reassurance in that final verse? Moses is explaining, “God has got you, take a breath.” The Israelites, who had never heard FDR say the only thing they had to fear was fear itself, needed to learn that their reaction to the stressful situation was actually going to cause more harm. Moses imploring them to take a breath and let God do the fighting was his way of reminding them that quiet action is usually more powerful than noisy reaction.

Parshat Beshalach is a lesson that still carries merit today. Staying cool in the face of any situation is made that much harder when things are out of your control, and there’s nothing you can really do to change it. The pandemic has given us plenty of examples of this, when we needed to make plans to move forward but every obstacle was being put in the way. When we’re too emotionally charged, sometimes taking a breath and trusting in the process gets you across the gaping sea and onto safe, dry land much faster.

– Rabbi Eve Posen

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