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“Ten Steps to Emunah” was the course Hashem gave us in Egypt. Each of the Ten Plagues was meant not only to punish the Egyptians, but also to teach us a different lesson of faith in the Creator. We might think, therefore, that the Torah would have attested to our great level of faith right when we left Egypt. But surprisingly enough, the Torah does so only on the seventh day of Pesach, after we had passed through the Red Sea: “Vaya’aminu b’Hashem uv’Moshe avdo – they believed in Hashem and in his servant Moshe” (Beshalach 14:31). Why only then did we receive such an amazing stamp of approval?
Joe the tightrope walker turned to the crowd gathered to watch him cross the Grand Canyon without a safety net and said: “Who honestly believes that I will make it across?” A few meek hands were raised. Without further ado, Joe began his journey. The spectators held their breath as they watched him go, undaunted by the strong winds that attempted to plunge him into the depths of the canyon. One step after another until finally he made it! The crowd cheered! “Who believes I can make it across blindfolded,” asked Joe. This time twenty hands went up. The people watched in disbelief as Joe gracefully glided over the thin wire. When the clapping died down, Joe spoke. “Now I will cross while juggling – who thinks I can do it?” This time half the people showed their support. Joe started juggling fives balls and walked the tightrope as if he were strolling in Central Park. Now the crowd went wild! No one could believe how talented Joe was. “Who thinks I can make it across with someone on my shoulders?” yelled Joe. This time everyone shouted “me!” “And who would like to volunteer?” Silence.
Yes, there is believing, but then there is really believing. If you are not willing to act based on your faith, it is a sign that your faith is lacking. That is what happened in Egypt. Throughout the years of exile, the Jews had been slowly sucked into the Egyptian culture becoming deeply involved in idol worship. Hashem, therefore, needed to teach them ten lessons of faith, showing them that He created the entire universe and is totally in charge. Then it became a reality to them. The stronger their faith became, the more they were able to act upon it, until finally they were able to take an extremely dangerous step. They had the audacity to slaughter the beloved four-footed god of Egypt, smear its blood on the doorposts, and roast its flesh – all in front of the shocked Egyptians.
The next step was to follow Hashem into the desert without sufficient provisions, putting their full trust in Him. And when Hashem told Moshe to lead them back towards Mitzrayim in order to make Pharaoh think they were lost, they followed Moshe without any questions. But the real test came on the seventh day, when they were cornered at the edge of the sea. Behind them stood the raging Pharaoh leading the most powerful army in the world, all with a burning desire for revenge in their eyes. On either side were gigantic snakes, scorpions, and wild animals. In front of them, the sea rose with gigantic waves daring anyone to enter.
And then Hashem commanded – “Enter the sea!” Huh!? That’s pure suicide! But the entire nation did so. Young and old, men and women – even those with tiny babies, entered the storming waters. And what happened? Absolutely nothing – they just got wet! But they continued deeper and deeper, until the water reached their mouths. With their last breath, they cried out to Hashem, “save us for the water has reached our souls!” (Tehillim 69) and then Hashem commanded Moshe to split the sea. They heard an ear-splitting roar, and the water split! On either side of them, towering walls of flowing water rose, and a path opened up. However, Rabbeinu Bichayee writes that the water split in front of them only as they went along, thus requiring them to continuously strengthen their faith with each step.
We now understand why the Torah confirmed their faith specifically after this episode. If they hadn’t totally trusted Hashem, it would have made more sense to try to fight Pharaoh. By entering the stormy waters, they showed that they were willing to “walk across the tightrope,” held safely by our Great Protector, Hashem.
About the Author: Rabbi Eliezer M. Niehaus, raised and educated in Los Angeles and subsequently Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Yerushalayim, is the Rosh Kollel of the Zichron Aron Yaakov Kollel in Kiryat Sefer , Israel. He lectures for the public and is the director of the Chasdei Rivka Free Loan Gemach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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