Dear Readers,

Are you working towards a big goal? The many steps along the way are necessary, but can be so tiresome. Imagine if we could be gifted with reaching our finish line without all the effort.

This week, the Jewish people experienced the miracle of the sea splitting.

Moses tells them: “Stand still and see the L‑rd’s salvation . . . The L‑rd will fight for you, but you shall remain silent.” (Exodus 14:13-14)

The Talmud (Sotah 30b) teaches: “At the time the Israelites ascended from the Red Sea . . . the baby sat upon his mother’s knee, and the suckling sucked at his mother’s breast. When they beheld the Divine presence, the baby raised his neck and the suckling released the nipple, and they exclaimed: ‘This is my G‑d and I will praise Him . . . ’ ” (Exodus 15:2). Furthermore, “A simple servant girl saw at the Sea what Isaiah, Ezekiel and all the other prophets did not behold.” (Mechilta)

And yet, just three days later, the story takes a complete turn.

“They walked for three days in the desert but did not find water . . . The people complained, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” (Exodus 14:22-24)

This was not a respectful entreaty for water, but bitter and insolent complaining (Rashi 14: 25). Moreover, their grumbles and grievances continued throughout their 40-year desert sojourn, in one failed test after another.

How can we reconcile a nation that reached such spiritual heights with such faithlessness?

The Jewish mystics describe two types of Divine-human encounter: itaruta de-l'eyla and itaruta de-letata, respectively, “an awakening from above” and “an awakening from below.” The first is initiated by G‑d, the second by mankind.

An “awakening from above” is spectacular, supernatural and overwhelms the natural world. An “awakening from below” has no such grandeur; it is human, coming from our own commitment and effort.

In the “awakening from above,” we are passive recipients to G‑d’s gift. This revelation overwhelms us while it lasts; but afterwards, we revert to who we were.

An “awakening from below,” by contrast, may not be as spectacular, but it transforms us.

Perhaps this explains why Moses had a vision of the Jewish people at the end of times and envied them. Though his generation experienced the greatest revelations, he admired the simple character of Jews at the end of the long exile.

Why was he was envious?

Moses saw Jews that had been battered and badgered through a tortuous exile. He saw Jews who had been afflicted materially, emotionally and physically, and were enveloped in a spiritual darkness, directionless, on a lower level than previous generations.

And yet, he saw Jews who—despite their circumstances, despite the difficulties—held on. He saw people who—despite all they had gone through—still put forth the initiative to remain connected to their Creator.

He saw them. And he envied them.

Because it’s the effort that’s expended that makes something yours. Free gifts may be nice, but personal exertion is enviable.

Chana Weisberg

Editor, TJW