Faith Is Not What You Think

As the Israelites stood before the Red (Reed?) Sea, pursued by the Egyptians and cornered, Moses stood to give them a lecture on faith. God rebukes him and says that he must simply tell the people to walk forward, into the sea. There is only one taker, a man named Nachshon ben Aminadav, the prince of the tribe of Judah. He proceeds forward, and wades into the sea.

Nothing happens. The water gets up to his knees, waist, shoulders, and still nothing happens. Is he to commit suicide in front of the entire people? When he finally gets in up to his nostrils, his last chance for air, then the sea majestically splits.

Later, after the people have passed through, and then witnessed the drowning of the entire Egyptian army, the Torah tells us that the people "believed in God and in Moses, His servant."

Why now, after all they saw in Egypt with the ten plagues, do they finally believe in God? And why did the Torah not tell us so at the beginning, at the moment when the sea split? Why wait till after they had already crossed and seen the demise of Egypt? Thirdly, why did Nachshon have to get in up to his nose before the sea split? Was that really necessary? Of course it was. How so?

The Psalmist recites, in the paragraph beginning "When Israel left Egypt" that, "The sea saw and fled, and the Jordan withdrew backwards." The chapter continues with the question, "What, o sea, caused you to flee, and o Jordan River to withdraw backwards?" The answer, "From before the Lord, who initiated the world, and from before the Lord of Jacob."

One may ask, were not the Israelites destined to leave Egypt because of their ancestors' merit? The chapter implies that at the beginning, when it describes the exodus as being so that "Judah should be His holy one, and Israel [should be] His kingdom." That is why they left, so why wonder why the sea split and the Jordan, at the entrance to the Land of Israel, withdrew?

And the answer is, indeed, the ancestors' merit was not sufficient, and their own merit was also lacking. God had made a condition with the sea already at the time of creation. "You must split at the exact moment, many generations hence, when the Israelites arrive on their way out of Egypt". The sea split not because Israel deserved it, but because it was pre-programmed to. that is what the verse means when it says, "From before the Lord, Who initiated the world."

The next phrase, however, gives us more: "Before the God of Jacob." There are three names in this chapter: 1. Israel, 2. Jacob, and 3. Judah. Let's look at the first two, because therein lies the difference and the secret of true faith.

Jacob was promised by God that he would return safely to the land of his fathers after fleeing his brother's wrath. And yet, when he was about to cross the Jordan upon his return, he was seized by fear that his brother would annihilate him and his whole family. Why the fear, if he had a Divine promise?

I believe Jacob doubted himself, not God. He felt inadequate, and feared that God would withdraw his trust from him, thus abandoning him to his fate. And this is the faith that Jacob lost at that point, his faith in God's trust. Previously, about Abraham it was written, 'He believed in God, and God considered it righteousness." Just righteousness? Should belief be a fundamental?

Rather, Abraham believed in God's Trust, that even if his descendents aren't, at that moment, worthy of miracles, God will still show His trust to them and thus make them worthy in the future. Even if they are lacking in merit, God's trust will transform them, IF they believe in it.

This is what Nachshon accomplished. He was challenging God, and, in effect, saying "If You trust me to go forth and change the world, then you will let me cross this sea. If You do not extend trust to me, then my life is of no import and it will end here." Faith means believe in God's Trust, and walk through the sea.

So, too, the Israelites did not need to see the splitting of the sea to believe in God's existence. They needed to see that Egypt would not annihilate them as they emerged on the other side. They needed to see that their path was clear to the future. Only then, after they saw Egypt destroyed, did they believe that, warts and all, they had God's Trust.

And why does God extend His trust so? Because He knows that we are a nation of Judah, the third name in the list. This refers to Nachshon, who came from the tribe of Judah. He knows that we desire to go forth into the world and transform it. "Judah shall be His holy one." This refers to that which is said at Sinai, "You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

Because Judah, and all Israel who follow his example, dreams of fixing the world, God gives His trust, and splits seas and rivers for him. Jacob had doubts about whether he deserved God's trust. After he struggled with the angel, his name was changed to Israel. Now he believed that God's trust was forever. Nachshon, therefore, had no hesitation about walking into the sea.

Ours is to have faith that God trusts us. That trust creates a responsibility on our part to live higher lives, and go forth into the world to fix it, piece by piece.