A friend of mine told me the following story:

I was visiting a synagogue in New Jersey, and as I was about to leave, I noticed a wallet on one of the tables, clearly left behind. I picked it up, looked through it, and didn’t notice any clear identifiers. As I had a number of matters to tend to in the synagogue, I figured I would take care of those first and on my way out, ask the rabbi if he knew who the wallet belonged to.

But then I thought to myself, “What if the owner already realized his wallet is missing? He must be going crazy! Why should I make him wait?”

So I approached the rabbi, who immediately identified the wallet’s owner. When the owner answered his phone, he was greatly relieved, and to my joy, hadn’t even noticed yet that it was misplaced.

Minutes after I left the synagogue, I received a call from a random store in nearby Monsey, N.Y. Apparently, my wife had been shopping there and had left her purse in a shopping cart. My number was inside, so the owner contacted me right away. When I called my wife to let her know, she exclaimed, “Wow, I didn’t even realize I left my purse there!”

There’s an empowering lesson here: G‑d behaves with you as you behave with Him and others.

Singing at the Sea

Our parshah recalls one of the most spectacular miracles—the splitting of the sea. As the awestruck Israelites marveled at their fortune, they burst into song:

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to G‑d, and they spoke, saying, “I will sing to G‑d.”1

While this translation isn’t inaccurate, the original Hebrew can also be rendered as, “Then Moses and the children of Israel made G‑d sing2 this song, for Him to say…”3 There are two notable differences (bolded) which both point to the same idea: the people sang in order to make G‑d sing with them.

What is the meaning of this significant difference from the original?

G‑d Is My Shadow

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, one of the early Chassidic masters and protagonist of many beloved Chassidic stories, cites a moving idea from the Baal Shem Tov to solve our riddle.

In a well known Psalm,4 King David declares, “G‑d is my shadow” (or “shade”). The Baal Shem Tov understood these words as a metaphor for the relationship between a person and G‑d. A shadow is cast according to a person’s dimensions and movements. If you move your hand up, the shadow will move up; kick your foot out, and the shadow will do the same. And so it is with you and G‑d: G‑d responds to how you behave.

In other words, we “trigger” in-kind responses from G‑d based on the actions we take, the words we say, and the way we think.

And so, at the sea, the people did so-to-speak make G‑d sing with them. Following the second translation above, the verse tells us that on the banks of the Red Sea, the people sang, and thereby inspired G‑d to sing along with them.

Make G‑d Sing With You

That our ancestors induced G‑d to sing gifts us all a remarkable life hack: When things are rough, one thing you can do is reverse engineer the process and try to “force” G‑d’s hand.

Of course, there aren’t really any “tricks” to play on G‑d. The underlying message of this whole story is that G‑d cares about you and me so much that He has deigned to respond to our overtures. Surely G‑d could have said, “Ah, let them do what they want, and I’ll check in once in a while.” But that’s not what He wished to do, instead choosing to care deeply about every human action, so much so, He is prepared to respond and “match” our behavior.

This is an incredible level of attention and care. It’s empowering and inspiring.

Imagine you’re stuck. You’re in a pickle with a certain relationship and it’s not going anywhere. You’re not making ends meet, and try as you might, you can’t string together a workable budget. You’re suffering from internal anguish, and as much as you try to hold your head high, you get beaten down time and again.

You’re right. You’re in a pickle.

So here’s one helpful hack: try living as if you’re already there. Start being really nice to other people, or working things out with that person as if they’re already your good friend. Give tzedakah to someone else or an organization of your choice that stretches you just beyond your means. Start humming a tune, tapping your feet a little more regularly—even if you don’t feel like it.

G‑d will take notice. If you keep at it, you’ll “force His hand” to reciprocate and treat you more generously, shower blessings upon you, and truly cause you to burst out in song.5