Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Letting Go With Both Hands
So they said to one another, "Let us appoint a
head, and let us return to Egypt!" (14:4)
One bright winter day, Morris, a not-so-observant Jew, was having the
time of his life vacationing in the Swiss Alps. At least, that was, until
he skied past the "DANGER" sign, and went straight over a cliff.
Somehow, as Morris began his plunge to the abyss 3,000 feet below,
he managed to reach out and grab hold of an outstretched branch.
Perched perilously above the void, hanging on for his life, Morris
began to rethink things. Perhaps, he thought, now would be a good
time to strike up a conversation with the Almighty.
"G-d," Morris said, "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I should have gone to
shul more. I should have kept Kosher. I shouldn't have gone golfing
on Shabbos. I never should have put bubble-gum on my Hebrew
School teacher's seat. I know G-d.
"But G-d, I've decided that the time has come to make it all right.
From here on in, it's no more Morris - I'm Moshe, and I'm going to do
everything I can to be a good Jew. There's just one thing, G-d. I'm
kind of in a bit of a mess here. So, G-d, I'll make You a deal; You get
me out of this mess, and I'm a changed man! I'll do whatever you
To Morris' complete and utter surprise, he heard a voice, seemingly
emanating from Above. "Morris," the voice said.
"Do you really mean it - you'll do anything I say?"
"Y-yes G-d, I promise, whatever You say - just please get me down
"Okay, Morris," says the voice, "let go with one of your hands."
Understandably, Morris was somewhat taken aback by this
suggestion. After pondering the direness of his predicament, however,
he figured he had no other choice. "Okay, G-d, I'm doing it - I'm
letting go with one hand."
And so he did. Now Morris hung precariously from the swaying
branch, suspended by but one hand, as he watched small pieces of
ice break off from the tree and plunge to the ground 3,000 feet
below. "G-d," Morris said, his voice quavering, "what now - tell me
what to do now."
"Morris," came the voice once again, "now you must let go with your
Morris looked down. He closed his eyes, and pondered the meaning
of life and death. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Morris turned
his gaze upward.
"Is there anybody else up there?"
When the Jewish nation heard the report of the Meraglim/Spies, they
were gripped with terror. The spies' descriptions of huge giants and
insurmountable fortresses caused the nation to begin, for the first
time, to doubt Hashem's promise to take them to the promised Land
of Canaan/Israel. Until this point they had, with some noteworthy
exceptions, trusted in the word of Hashem as dictated by Moshe his
faithful servant. Now, however, they were experiencing regret. The
time had come for outright revolution:
"Would that we had died in the land of Egypt, or would
that we had died in the wilderness! Why is Hashem
bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and
children will be taken captive! Is it not better for us to
return to Egypt?!" (Numbers 14:2-3)
Faced with a formidable test of their faith in G-d's word, they failed.
Rather than using this "test" as a vehicle to build upon their faith and
conviction, they gave up.
"So they said to one another, 'Let's appoint a [new] leader,
and let's return to Egypt!'" (ibid. 14:4)
Rashi notes the Torah's unusual syntax: "Nit-na Rosh - " literally, "Let
us place a head." He cites two possible interpretations: 1) Let us
appoint a new leader ("head" is a metaphor for a leader). [Targum
Onkelos] 2) It is an expression of service to foreign gods. [Osiyos de-
Rabbi Akiva; Mechilta to Shemos 15:22] I.e., let us make for
ourselves a "new beginning," a substitute for the Primal Cause, the
Beginning of all existence. [Gur Aryeh]
When the going got tough, the weak-willed nation gave up. "Let's find
ourselves a new god," they said, "we don't like the things this One's
telling us to do any more."
"Finding a new god" isn't always as blunt nor as obvious as good-old
Morris makes it out to be. It is no great feat to "believe" in Hashem
when all is well, and the Torah is asking of you things you can
manage. The true test of our faith and conviction comes during the
"rough times"; when the Torah asks of us things which defy our sense
of logic. To pat oneself on the back because he "almost always" acts
as a G-d-fearing Jew should - except when it's really hard - misses the
whole point. True belief is only necessary precisely at those times
when "it doesn't make sense," not when our beliefs happen to match
with what feels good.
Sometimes in life, one just has to "let go with both hands," and
trustingly place one's faith and life in the firm grip of the Almighty.
After all, how long can one last up there with just one hand?
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.