64 On Fear and Faith
Chananya Weissman
January 29, 2021

Parshas Beshalach covers the infancy of the Jewish people as a free nation. After the incredible salvation they just experienced, we would expect them to fully believe in Hashem and Moshe. Wouldn't you?

Instead, our ancestors behaved with maddening inconsistency throughout the events in this parsha. They vacillated between the two opposite extremes of faith and fear. (The recognition that faith and fear are indeed opposites is a fundamental lesson unto itself.)

Consider the following roller-coaster of faith and fear:

The story begins with one of the brightest moments in Jewish history. The entire nation, millions of people, followed Moshe into the desert with minimal provisions. What incredible faith in Hashem!

The Jews left Egypt armed to the teeth and with an exalted hand. Nevertheless, Hashem led them on a circuitous route to avoid the Plishtim, lest the Jews turn tail and flee back to Egypt at the first sign of war. After all they had experienced, their faith was still extremely fragile.

When Pharaoh's army approached them, they were immediately struck with terror and lost all their confidence. They berated Moshe for leading them to their death, and wish he'd never gotten involved in the first place. It was as if all the miracles they experienced never happened.

The Midrash teaches that there were in fact four camps among the Jews. One camp wanted to throw themselves into the sea and commit suicide, rather than fall into the hands of the Egyptians. One camp wanted to surrender and return to Egypt as slaves. One camp wanted to fight. One camp wanted to pray.

The first two camps were obviously short on faith. The camp that wanted to fight also demonstrated a lack of faith, for they had abandoned any pretense of a divine plan and sought to take matters entirely into their own hands. It seems the camp that wanted to pray was guilty of this as well, for they should have believed that everything was under control. The Jews should have simply awaited further instructions from Moshe and marched forward with confidence.

After Hashem split the sea, rescued the Jews, and killed the Egyptian army, the Jews achieved an extremely high level of faith. They sang Az Yashir, which is incorporated into our daily prayers. All was well.

Three days later they were short on water. The only water they found was bitter and undrinkable. Once again, instead of trusting that Hashem had everything under control and asking for water, they complained about Moshe. Hashem had Moshe throw a bitter plant into the bitter water, and the water miraculously turned sweet.

Then the Jews complained some more. They reminisced about the good old days in Egypt, when they had all the bread they wanted. Now they were all going to die in the desert.

God brought them man from heaven in the morning and meat at night. Moshe instructed the Jews to take only what they needed for the coming day and not save any for the next day. Some Jews feared that God wouldn't continue to feed them and left over man, which became wormy and spoiled.

Moshe instructed the Jews not to go out on Shabbos in search of extra food, which they wouldn't even need, but some Jews went out anyway.

The Jews traveled further, and once again ran out of water. Once again they quarreled with Moshe, to the point that he thought they would stone him.

Finally, Amalek came and waged war against the Jews. When the Jews looked to Moshe and trusted in Hashem, they overpowered Amalek. When their faith faltered, Amalek overpowered them.

We may read all this and wonder, what in the world was wrong with our ancestors? How could they experience miracle after miracle, salvation after salvation, and continue to live in fear of the next day? How could they continue to believe that God would abandon them all at any moment? Why could they never trust Moshe enough to ask him a question without pouncing on him as the cause of their imminent death?

We may read this and think that if we were there, we would have acted with perfect faith. We would have treated Moshe with respect, marched forward without fear, and enjoyed the unfolding of God's plan. Hopefully that is true; hopefully we would have been among the good ones.

But we should not be too sure about ourselves.

Consider the many miracles we have experienced in modern times. Hashem brought us back to Israel and helped us resettle the land. He saved us over and over again from mighty enemies who joined forces to destroy us, and defeated them with incredible miracles. He has caused Israel to grow and prosper despite all odds, and despite continued problems from enemies within and without.

We should be moving forward with faith and confidence. Instead, we remain stuck in place, perpetually afraid of what the world will say and think. We are afraid of losing their aid, their support, their good will. We make "painful sacrifices" because we are afraid of losing everything if we defy the will of our foreign lords.

What a horrible way to live.

This is not acting with faith, but with fear the complete opposite of faith.

Then we rationalize and say this is what God wants us to do. This is "hishtadlus". We have to take extraordinary actions as if God doesn't exist, even to the point of harming ourselves, and only then expect God to do the rest.

A mighty army is afraid to vanquish inferior enemies. Brave soldiers are convinced that weakness, deceitfully called "restraint", is strength. Instead, these same soldiers are turned against their own people, upon whom that pent-up restraint is given an outlet.

Fear is deceitfully called courage, and faith is called folly.

We are afraid to leave galus completely. If we all returned to Israel God might not provide for us, or He might allow a single missile to eradicate the Jewish people. We have to hedge our bets, remain spread out all over the world, and follow the easiest money. This is "hishtadlus". Only if we engage in national and spiritual self-sabotage would our miserly God provide for us.

What an un-Jewish way to live, using the Torah as a fig leaf to cover spiritual nakedness.

This is not acting with faith, but with fear wrongly labeled as faith.

Now we live in fear of leaving our homes, uncovering our faces, being near a fellow Jew, kissing a Torah, and so much else. We allow ourselves to be frightened by professional liars in the government and the media who have never demonstrated honesty, integrity, self-sacrifice, and concern for our lives.

We allow them to terrorize us with unscientific claims, and we embrace restrictions on essential, God-given freedoms that only harm us.

We allow them to wear us down physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually all under the guise of protecting our health and saving our lives.

We do not force them to answer difficult questions. We allow them to get away with softball interviews by shills in the media who have abandoned any pretense of investigative journalism. We continue to accept their lies and the media spin, for fear of being called names.

We allow them to continue destroying lives in so many ways while pretending to save them, without making them suffer consequences. We continue to hope that if we believe the lies just a little longer it will all just go away.

We are afraid of accepting the ugly truth, rising up together, taking out the trash, and taking back our lives. Instead, we allow them to turn us against one another, blaming our friends, relatives, and neighbors for being the cause of our suffering. We feel courageous fighting them to cover for our cowardice in fighting those who truly cause our suffering.

We hope that by fighting our own, our lords and masters will be pleased and lighten up on us a little. It never works. Just the opposite happens. Our disunity and infighting weakens us and makes them stronger.

We allow them to defeat us until we are willing to do anything for a little relief. We will believe whatever unscientific lies they tell us, and won't even challenge these lies. We will line up like sheep to be injected with anything we don't care what it is or what it might do to us just so they might lighten up on us. We don't care when they admit that we are guinea pigs, we make excuses for them when we hear horrific stories, and we believe there is no other way.

We allow them to manipulate and pressure rabbinic figures some of whom are eager to comply so that we can pretend we are dutifully following the Torah when just the opposite is true. We turn injections of experimental drugs into a religious rite, complete with Shabbos attire and blessings to God for allowing us to serve these other gods.

We believe God will not protect us any other way, because we are acting with fear, and not with faith. We believe we must make "painful sacrifices", such as closing our shuls and schools, not hosting guests, covering our faces, breathing in our own exhaled bacteria and toxins, distancing ourselves from our fellow Jews, abandoning the elderly and the lonely, abandoning singles, wrecking our economy, persecuting those who don't worship the golden calf, and we must do all this potentially forever all because we believe God wouldn't have it any other way.

Instead of God leading us, we got Amalek.

The entire Torah has been placed on indefinite moratorium until professional liars who hate the Torah decide it is safe for us to keep the Torah again. They've gotten some rabbis on board, so we shouldn't think about it.

After the incredible salvations our ancestors experienced, we would expect them to fully believe in Hashem not in foreign gods, not in professional liars, not in themselves or anyone else to play god.

They failed repeatedly, and we shake our heads at them. We wouldn't have been fooled by the false gods and the false prophets, even the false gods who supposedly brought salvation and the false prophets who were religious and spoke inspiring words. We would have stayed true to the Torah and Hashem. We would have known better.

Then we wear one mask, two masks, three masks, live in fear and terror, line up to be injected, allow our lives and our sanity to be eroded, give up everything for as long as it takes. God demands this of us! We hate those who are less afraid. They are the problem. Their faith is ignorance. They are the ones killing us and forcing us to live this way.

People who live with fear cannot make rational decisions. That is the point of frightening them. The moment one becomes afraid, he is distancing himself from God and sabotaging his ability to go with God.

The opposite of fear is faith. People with faith let God guide their lives and let God protect them from dangers. Their faith allows them to think with clarity and take proper, measured precautions that are truly helpful, proven, and do not cause more harm than good.

God informs us in this very parsha that He is our doctor, He is our healer. If we truly keep the Torah, we have nothing to fear. And if we fear, it is a sign that we do not have faith.

Our ancestors had some fine moments, but they mostly got it wrong. They lived in perpetual fear of God abandoning them, which led them to take extraordinary, harmful measures to play god. Their measures produced that which they feared, driving God from them and bringing curses and suffering upon them.

For the last year we have followed this wrongful path. Let us stop living with fear, let us stop destroying ourselves. Let us live with faith, let us go with God, and let us be truly free.