Moshe had no time to lose; he needed to stabilize the situation. He immediately explained to them that they would never see Egypt again as they did that day. He informed them that Egypt was about to experience a catastrophic defeat. The Netziv explains (Shemot 14: 13) that the reason G-d arranged for the entire Egyptian army to be present at this time was for the benefit of Bnei Yisrael. By destroying the Egyptian forces in such a public and obviously miraculous manner, it would be evident to all that Egypt could have no future claim against Bnei Yisrael for requisitioning Egyptian property during the Exodus. This is beside the benefit of destroying the Egyptian army as a potential and constant threat throughout Bnei Yisrael’s sojourn in the desert.
Following his inspiring words to Bnei Yisrael, which provided meaning for what was transpiring around them, Moshe began to pray. Although assured of salvation, Moshe taught Bnei Yisrael the need to always pray, especially during times of national emergency. At the appropriate time G-d instructed Moshe that the time for prayer had concluded and the time for action had arrived. The Torah describes how Moshe lifted up his staff (14:16) and initiated the series of events that led to the splitting of the Red Sea. Throughout the crossing we can imagine Moshe standing and encouraging his followers to move confidently through the sea.
Finally, after all of Bnei Yisrael crossed, the Torah describes (14:27) how Moshe lifted his hand to restore the Red Sea to its normal position, thus drowning the Egyptians. Moshe stood his watch till the very end. Far from ensuring his own safety, he put the safety of Bnei Yisrael first and stood guard against the Egyptians until all his charges had crossed. Finally, Moshe used the miraculous moment to teach Bnei Yisrael that everything comes from G-d. He led them in song to inculcate within their souls, as only the chords of a holy song can do, that G-d watches over their every step.
At the banks of the Red Sea, Moshe taught us all the requirements for crisis leadership. He was present, focused and involved. He provided meaning to what was happening, inspired hope and confidence, and led by his own actions and example. Most of all, Moshe never missed the opportunity to teach Bnei Yisrael that, his leadership notwithstanding, it’s really all about G-d. Unfortunately, the Titanic’s captain and builders put too much faith in humankind and not enough in G-d. It is no surprise, however, that Captain Rostron of the Carpathia was not only an expert leader, but an extremely G-d fearing man as well.
Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. Comments can be emailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.