Seven days after leaving Egypt, Bnei Yisrael found themselves in quite a
predicament: Ahead of them lay the raging waters of the sea; from behind,
Pharaoh and his powerful army approached.
Moshe did the only logical thing he could: He screamed out to Hashem.
"And Hashem said to Moshe,'Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Children
of Israel, and let them journey!'"
Rashi comments: Now is not the time to pray, the Children of Israel are in
We're not used to thinking this way. Normally, when we're really in
distress, crying out to Hashem would be the very thing we're expected to
When the Jews traveled in the desert, during the daytime, a pillar of
cloud went before them to guide them and show them the way. At night time,
their encampment was lit by a pillar of fire. On the night that Hashem
split the sea, the Torah writes that the pillar of cloud picked itself up
from in front of them and went behind them.
Rashi explains, that instead of disappearing as it normally did at night
time, it went behind them to protect them from the arrows and stones being
slung at them by the Egyptians.
This explains why the Torah tells us that the cloud went behind them, but
we may still ask why it goes out of its way to tell us that the cloud
departed from in front of them in order to go behind them? It would have
been enough to say that the pillar of cloud went behind them to accept the
arrows and the stones and protect the Jews.
There is a fundamental difference between the guidance one gets from a
pillar of cloud, and that which one receives from a fire.
The pillar of cloud guided them during the daytime; it showed them the way
to go, and the path they should take to reach their destiny. There is no
need for a pillar of cloud to light up the way during the daytime; during
day hours we see perfectly. The guidance it offered could only have been
to show them the way.
The pillar of fire enlightened the night for the Jews. When enveloped by
darkness, even if one knows or thinks one knows the way, he may still get
lost because he doesn't see where he's going.
The cloud pillar offers guidance; the fire simply lights the way for you.
The Torah goes out of its way to tell us here that the cloud pillar
departed from in front of them; they were not going to be receiving direct
guidance as to which route to take. Yet the fire pillar was there to light
The idea here is that there are times when although Hashem may be there to
light the way for us, He does not necessarily lead us by the hand. We are
forced to take affirmative action; the failure to do so, even when
undertaken ostensibly as an act of faith, is a failure on our part. To be
sure, the fire pillar will remain to brighten our way and help us make the
right decisions, but the steps are ours to take.
In an interesting letter to Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky this week in Hamodia,
a mother writes that she's experienced some friction from her family over
her refusal to leave her small children at home alone without a
babysitter, relying on the neighbors to listen in with an intercom system.
Her siblings, she writes, criticize her for having a lack of faith in
Hashem in because she worries something G-d forbid may happen while she's
There may be times that it's permissible to throw up our hands in despair
and cry out to Hashem; the Torah teaches us here that we haven't reached
that point until we've exhausted all possible avenues, even those that
seem most unusual. Standing before the raging waters, Moshe is perhaps
justified in feeling there is nothing left to do. Sure there is, says
Hashem: jump into the water! My pillar of fire will go before you to light
the way, but you must take all the necessary steps to ensure your success
in the endeavor.
One of the global symbolic expressions of prayer is outstretched hands.
While there are surely many reasons for this, perhaps one of them is this:
even as we pray, we acknowledge the fact that our hands must be
outstretched, ready to take action and do what needs to be done. We pay
for Hashem's assistance, for His guidance, for strength. But we
acknowledge that our hands must be ready to do what they have to do in
order to accomplish what needs to be done.
In the famous enjoinder we sing, "We are believers, sons of believers, and
we have no one on whom to lean, except on Avinu She-bashomayim, our Father
in heaven." We are believers, sons of believers: Just as our forefathers
did on the brink of the Yam, we believe that Hashem will be there for us,
to help us see our actions through to completion. But we acknowledge that
the responsibility to do the deed lies in our hands. A person can only
lean on something or someone once he has stood himself up on his own two
feet. A hand to lean on is of no use for one who refuses to get out of bed.