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Beshallach

“And Israel saw the great work which the Lord did ... and the people believed in the Lord” Exodus 14:31

    A common claim is that were we to experience miracles on the scale of the Exodus, then belief in God would be an altogether easier proposition. The problem is that the biblical text simply does not bear this out.

    Parashat Beshallach neatly divides into two. Before the crossing of the Red Sea, the Children of Israel display a sublime faith, the pinnacle being the ecstatic tones of the song of Moses.

    Yet no sooner have they scaled these dizzy spiritual heights, they descend into a litany of complaints about water, food and how good life was back in Egypt.

    How can this incongruity be explained? Faith is an art form. It is something which is acquired over a period of time and requires practice. It is not something that can be superimposed from without. When the Children of Israel expressed their faith in God at the seam, it was heartfelt and spontaneous, borne of a sense of overwhelming awe and gratitude. But it was also skin-deep and unsustainable. This phenomemon was to repeat itself with the rapid transition from acceptance of the Sinaitic covenant with the immortal words, “We shall do and understand”, to the ignominy of the Golden Calf.

    Clearly, wondrous events are no guarantee for long term faith. Indeed, much of Jewish history has been void of open miracles, but this did not prevent many generations of Jews from exhibiting remarkable levels of devotion and commitment, arising daily to perform the will of the Creator with lion-like strength. Real faith is not to be found in a fleeting moment of divine majesty, but in the quotidian tasks performed by ordinary people.

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