We read this Shabbat the culmination of the Exodus: the Israelites’ crossing the Sea of Reeds. When the Israelites on the bank of the Sea of Reeds saw the Egyptian army pursuing them, they felt trapped. Indeed, they had their backs against the wall (in this case, the sea), and they complained to Moses: better to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.
Moses responded, “Fear not. God will save you.” Then the Torah says, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.” “Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split.”
The writers of the Torah were determined to convince people that God worked miracles. But the later sages were smarter than the writers of the Torah: they taught us that without our contributions, miracles do not happen.
The Midrash says the sea did not split after Moses raised his arm and his staff. The Midrash says that Nachshon, the brother-in-law of Aaron, waded into the sea before God split the sea. The sea didn’t split when Nachshon was ankle-deep in the sea. The sea didn’t split when Nachshon was knee-deep in the sea. The sea didn’t split when Nachshon was waist-deep in the sea. The sea didn’t split when Nachshon was neck-deep in the sea. Not until Nachshon was nose-deep in the sea did the sea split. Nachshon risked his life, and the sea split.
I have attended many seders this Pesach. The two traditional seders were my family seder and the Ahavas Sholom community seder, but I attended Beth Ahm’s Justice Seder and, as always, I attended the Labor Seder. The Justice Seder and the Labor Seder analogized the struggles of peoples everywhere to the struggles of the Israelites: civil rights, labor rights, and oppressed peoples all around the world.
Society and the world at large, faces many challenges. Minorities (including women) struggle to be accepted. In the latest incarnation of bigotry, Asian-Americans have been beaten and killed. Domestic-violence victims struggle to be heard. Now, many legislatures have enacted barriers to voting. Labor unions face right-to-work laws in many states. We have had three mass shootings in the past ten days.
If we want to live in a better world, God will not solve our problems. Unlike Nachshon, we don’t need to risk our lives to make miracles happen. We just need to raise our voices, write our elected representatives, join a protest movement, and not tolerate bigotry and oppression if we see them. Miracles can happen if we promote them.