Sam prays for years to win the lottery, and it never happens. As time goes on, his prayers to God become more fervent, until finally, a heavenly voice booms, “Sam, meet me halfway, buy a ticket.” Ba dump bump.
It seems like this week’s Torah reading, Beshallach, is an ancient and certainly more spectacular version of this joke. In last week’s reading, the Israelites ate their first-ever Passover meal, and have begun the journey out of Egypt. Now they’re encamped at Eitam, at the edge of the wilderness, and Pharaoh has learned that the Israelites really have fled, and decides to pursue them.
Terribly frightened, the people cry out to Moses, “Was it because Egypt was without graves that you brought us here to die in the wilderness?” Moses tells them not to fear, that God will go to battle for them, to which God replies, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!”
In other words, “meet me halfway.” The people need to show their faith in God first, and all it took–according to tradition–was one person, Nachshon ben Aminadav, of the tribe of Yehuda. The midrash is that while everyone else was standing around and complaining, Nachshon began to walk into the Sea of Reeds, one step at a time. When the waters were up to his nostrils and threatened to drown him, God parted the sea and the people walked across on dry land. Kids, don’t try this at home!
Relationships require give-and-take, and our tradition teaches that we’re not allowed to rely on miracles. More than once the Sages in the Talmud remind us la samkhinan aneesa, “we do not rely on a miracle.” Having witnessed the signs and wonders God performed in Egypt, it makes sense that the people–and Moses–would have assumed a miracle would happen to save them. Ultimately, it did, and God would continue to work wonders throughout the 40 years in the wilderness.
We recount some of these miracles at our Passover seders, but the much-needed human element, especially Moses, is never mentioned in the traditional Haggadah text. As we begin preparing for our second “Pandemic Passover,” how will we see the role of miracles in our lives? How will we be Nachshon, the person with the faith and fortitude to take the first step, believing that God will meet us halfway? How do we make miracles happen?