It was an ambush. A Divinely ordained ambush:

Speak to the children of Israel, and let them turn back and encamp in front of Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; in front of Baal Zephon, you shall encamp opposite it, by the sea. And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel, “They are trapped in the land. The desert has closed in upon them.” And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will be glorified through Pharaoh and through his entire force, and the Egyptians will know that I am the L‑rd.1

So, the Jews follow instructions. They pretend to be lost. And, as often happens with Divine plans, this strategy works perfectly. Pharaoh collects his army and gives chase. He falls right into the trap.

Less than three days later, the Jews see Pharaoh’s army behind them, exactly as expected. What reaction do you think the Jews had? Perhaps “Woohoo! It worked! It is time for justice to be served! Let’s see how G‑d punishes them.”

Nope. Not even close.

“As they stood at the shore of the sea, the people of Israel split into four factions.

One faction said, “Let us cast ourselves into the sea.” A second faction said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third said, “Let us wage war against the Egyptians.” A fourth said, “Let us cry out to G‑d.”2

Wait a minute. The Jews are standing in the shadow of a huge, clearly supernatural pillar of fire. They had already experienced almost a year of miraculous plagues, one after another. And, on top of all that, this scenario is part of G‑d’s plan to punish the Egyptians, and they know that! Yet they consider options like suicide or submitting to their erstwhile taskmasters!?

The biblical commentator Ibn Ezra3 adds that the fact that the Jews feared the Egyptians is even more strange when you factor in the numbers. The Jews had more than 600,000 armed military-age men.4 The Egyptians were fewer in number, and the Jews nevertheless considered suicide or submitting to be viable options.

There is a term for this: slave mentality. It is the Egypt that was never completely driven out of the Jews. It is the irrational fear of a one-time slave who harbors the thought that he will be a slave again, forever.

It wasn’t until the Jews came out the other side of the Red Sea and saw the bodies of the drowned Egyptian soldiers that they were free.

But at that moment, basking in a miracle, cradled in G‑d’s plan, they saw only their taskmasters—and doom.

Are we any better?

How many times do we think, “How am I going to make money today? What if closing early for Shabbat will make me lose business? I wonder if G‑d hears me.” We imagine those thoughts are rational and logical.

But they’re not. They’re blind to the reality of G‑d around and inside us at every moment. They’re nearsighted, obscured by the mundane lives we lead. We have those thoughts while walking on ground that is G‑d’s manifested word,5 while inhaling Divine-energy-made air. We exist in the cradle of G‑d’s thoughts, and we question His master plan.

It is time for us to break the shackles of the visually G‑dless world. We have to remove the blinders from our eyes and see that we are living in a miracle. G‑d’s angel is standing at our backs, sheltering us. We have no reason to fear, no reason to give in.

We are no longer slaves.

We are free.