Things have not been easy lately. And I don’t mean just for me. Yes, we all have our personal struggles and stresses, some much more challenging than others, but I am talking on a macrocosmic level. In the last month alone we have watched tragedy and disaster on a scale so grand it is hard to comprehend. The devastation in Japan has wreaked havoc on the lives of its millions of survivors who were fortunate to not be in the tens of thousands of its victims. Now we watch the news with bated breath, waiting to hear if the radiation will continue to destroy.

In the last month alone we have watched tragedy and disaster on a scale so grand it is hard to comprehendAnd then, just as we were coming to terms with a natural disaster, we watched in horror as the details unfolded of the most unnatural disaster imaginable: the brutal and animalistic murders of five members of the Fogel family in the Israeli town of Itamar. The Fogel family, a family unknown to us a mere few weeks ago, have become beloved relatives who were taken from us so brutally. The image of the beautiful face of Hadas, just three months old, will never leave my memory. How? How could anyone slit the throat of a sleeping newborn cuddled alongside her father?

We are now approaching Passover. While we celebrate our exodus out of Egypt, we are commanded, on a daily basis, to remember our slavery as well. When we recall what took place in Egypt, it seems so long ago, so removed, so unemotional. But is it? Was it not then that our newborn baby boys were ripped from our arms and thrown in the Nile to drown to death?

Passover is midway through the Hebrew month of Nissan. The Talmud teaches us that at the root of this word, and this month, a month filled with so many ups and downs, is the word nes, meaning “miracle.” We can also note that the very word for a “test” or “challenge” is nisayon, whose root is also nes. Nisayon also means “to uplift” or “raise to higher heights.” This shows us that specifically when things are tough, when we are dealing with some heavy-duty obstacles, the possibility for a miraculous outcome or outgrowth is right there at the center. It is from our challenges that we reach a level we never could have without them.

And while it may seem that miracles are few and far between, the whole holiday of Passover is centered around the miracles we witnessed. We not only had the miracle of being taken out of Egypt with the splitting of the sea, but we also saw firsthand the destruction and punishment given to the Egyptians through the Ten Plagues. And how do we commemorate all of this? We have a Passover Seder. The word seder means “order,” which at first glance seems to be quite the oxymoron. And yet that is the lesson. Miracle after miracle? Being taken out of our misery? That is our order. That is the way things are supposed to be. And why aren’t they now? Because we are in exile! We are stuck in a concealed state of reality. We are not experiencing the true order of things, things are not OK, they are not b’seder!

It is from our challenges that we reach a level we never could have without themSo what is one to do? If the revelation of our miraculous redemption is a glimpse into how things should be, then what can we learn? Well, for starters, it is important that we recognize that even the miracles we did receive certainly didn’t come easy, and they didn’t come without some significant work and input from our end.

I know, in the movie, when we hit the seashore, those waters just parted for us and we crossed. But it was far from that simple. Picture it . . . we just witnessed the ten most excruciating plagues come upon our enemies, those who enslaved us for so many years. And now, after the final and tenth plague, the evil Pharaoh tells us to get out! And so we run. We don’t even have time for our dough to rise, and we just take what we can. Finally, we are on the path to freedom. Finally, we won’t have to endure hardships. Finally, the tests are over. And then . . . we hit the water.

Seriously? I mean, what kind of Divine joke was that? Water? And not just water, but by this time the Egyptians were furiously on our tail and quickly catching up. So we had our enemy behind us and an ocean in front of us. Not an optimistic outlook. And even though we know what happened eventually, that water certainly didn’t just split for us when we encountered it. As we will discuss, we didn’t know till that last second whether or not we would be saved. And so, until that point, the Jews had quite a few different opinions as to what to do. (I know, shocking!) The sages explain that when the Jews came to the water, there were four different opinions as to what they should do. And each of them was problematic for very different reasons.

The first group decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort. Slavery wasn’t that bad after all. They had survived this long, they could just keep going. Hey, better a living slave than a dead free person, they rationalized. So this group voted for raising the white flag, doing a 180 and marching straight back into the situation they had just escaped.

For us, this is when we fear that because of how we were or what we did, there is no escaping that past. Too often we find that we choose to stick to what we know, regardless of how destructive. No one said change was easy . . . even when finally moving in the right direction.

Too often we find that we choose to stick to what we know, regardless of how destructiveThe second group decided there was no way they would be slaves again. Even though they had just tasted freedom, they were determined to die free men. They figured that if there was water in front of them and Egyptians chasing from behind, their only choice was to fight till the end. They were willing to give their lives to avoid returning to slavery. Their problem was that even though they were fighting for their freedom, they had their backs turned to the direction they needed to be headed.

There are times when we need to fight for what is correct. There are other times when we need to realize that certain things we can’t change, and that by focusing on what is behind us rather than what is in front of us, we don’t make progress. When our back is turned, it is impossible to see the opportunities and possibilities that await us.

The third camp felt they had no hope left at all. They didn’t have the energy to return to slavery, nor did they want any more fighting. They just wanted to give up. They felt there was nothing left to live for and no chance of survival, so they might as well keep going, right into that water, until they were no more. It is not coincidental that we use the expression of “drowning” to describe a feeling of being completely overwhelmed. We might feel we are drowning with work or with stress or from financial issues. And yet, one can only drown if there is nothing or no one to hold on to. This was their mistake. They seemed to forget that the same G‑d who took them out from Egypt was able to help them again. Even though it seemed like they had hit a “dead end,” there is ultimately no such thing. This is why suicide is prohibited in Jewish law. Not only isn’t it our life to take, but more so, we are taught that no matter how dire or desperate the situation, our Creator can always change the situation at the very last second. It is not for us to decide when that end is.

The final group wanted to pray. They realized they couldn’t return to slavery and they didn’t want to die, so they figured that turning to spirituality was their best approach. They would cry out to their Creator and pray for salvation. And yet, they too were wrong.

Even though it seemed like they had hit a “dead end,” there is ultimately no such thingG‑d makes it quite clear that even praying wasn’t what He wanted. He tells Moses to tell the people that they need to move. They need to go forward. Even the holiest of intentions through prayer is not enough if it keeps you stagnant, if you stay in one place. He showed them the direction they were to head, and their job was to just keep going, regardless of any obstacles they might seemingly encounter.

So the Jews did as they were told. They weren’t sure what the plan was or what G‑d had in mind, but they knew that if they were rescued from slavery and told to head forward, there was no other option. They entered the water, with absolutely no guarantee that anything would happen to rescue them, but with a conviction that they were moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, as a call-out to all those Jewish women out there . . . it is important to remember that the women knew all along they would make it through safe and sound. When the Jewish women left Egypt, they followed Miriam’s lead. Miriam, who was the sister of Moses, left Egypt with her tambourines, as she was completely confident that the women would need them to sing and dance and celebrate their exodus. She wasn’t worried about the bumps along the journey; she was focused on the final destination.

And so the Jews let their faith move them, and move them forward, right into the water. At the front of them was Nachshon ben Aminadav. He entered the water, and the water hit his knees, then his waist, then his chest. This was not looking so promising. He kept going and the water rose higher and higher. But he took that one last step, the one that was either going to sink him under or change everything forever. And the risk was well worth it. For with that final step, the waters finally split, and in doing so, the Jews were able to cross the ocean and were saved from the Egyptians who were chasing them.

Moving forward is easier said than doneWe, too, are so often faced with the waters on one side and our enemies on the other. Moving forward is easier said than done. Especially when we rationalize that maybe it wasn’t so bad where we were, or maybe we should just invest our energy trying to change what we have no power over. Sometimes we might just even want to give up. Or it might seem that by doing nothing but thinking positive, things will just turn on their own. But we must remember that when given an opportunity to change our reality, an opportunity to break out of those chains, we must take it. And no, it will not be easy. But it will be worth it. When we know the direction we need to head, and we know there is no turning back, then we must believe that we can do our part, and we beg our Creator to do His.

So this is where we now find ourselves. We know that we are in exile; we also know that we are so close to our redemption. Is it easy to keep focused on the positive when the negative seems so overwhelming? Nope. Can it be hard to see the light when the darkness is right in our face? You betcha! But we must remember that we need to take just those last few steps. We just need to stay determined and confident that this final exile is about to end. There is no turning back. There is only moving forward. And we move forward with every good deed, every kindness, every mitzvah we perform.

May we be blessed this Passover to break out of our slavery and head into our redemption, and may we finally see the nes, the revealed miracle in this month of Nissan . . .