Faith and decision-making can seem like an awkward mix. In a hectic and rapidly changing world, analysis and risk assessment seem to be the best tools for decision making. Meanwhile faith and its perceived irrational mindset are thought to lead to wrong decisions and potentially catastrophic results. However, a careful read of the famous Parting of the Red Sea might lead to a different conclusion.
The Torah in the Book of Exodus describes a pretty hectic situation: The Hebrews had finally fled Egypt after 210 years of cruel slavery. The Egyptian superpower had just been devastated by the 10 plagues. Then, just seven day after the exodus, the same Hebrews found themselves trapped between the Egyptian cavalry pursuing them from behind and the ominous waters of the Red Sea before them.
What's the right behavior and what's the right decision in such an extreme situation? The Midrash unveiled that the Hebrews divided into four factions with four different plans. The first faction said "Let us throw ourselves into the sea." A second group resigned themselves to go back to Egypt and accept a lifetime of slavery. A third faction argued, "Let us fight the Egyptians." Finally, a fourth camp advocated, "Let us pray to God."
These four opinions are not just an historical description of the post-Exodus Israeli political landscape but rather the four fundamental human behaviors when facing an unexpected reality. Let's explore the four:
1) We "throw ourselves into the sea" when we refuse to even tackle reality. We just let it go, ignoring reality and avoiding the tough decisions. We bury our head in the sand and ignore the life around us - refusing to face the terrifying elements, and missing out on a potentially incredible adventure and future.
2) Going back to Egypt and to slavery is surrendering to a seemingly inescapable destiny. This seems like the most pragmatic behavior in such a threatening situation, and what most of us might do - stick to mainstream thinking and behave as subjects of the insurmountable reality. We don't try to shape reality. Rather, we consume it, or , worse, become consumed by it. All too often, we willingly allow ourselves to become "slaves" of reality.
3) A few of us may be ready to "fight the Egyptians", choosing an irrational behavior by ignoring the simple facts and the balance of power. We become aggressors.
4) Finally, "praying to God" at a time when urgent action is needed is another way people escape a threatening reality. We do the same in our everyday lives when we blame our boss, our company or the government for all of our problems. They should take care of the problem for us, right? It's not our job to deal with it.
So what is the "right" behavior?
God actually provided His opinion by answering Moses's prayer: "Why are you crying out to me? Just keep moving on." (Exodus 14-15) The right behavior was to simply "keep moving on" toward the Promised Land. You know the direction to the Promised Land so just keep moving on, despite the sea, despite the obstacles in front of you.
You can always make one more step in the right direction, so just do it. You might get wet, but you are also getting closer to your goal. The Midrash shares with us that only one individual, Nahshon, actually walked into the sea and continued to progress toward the Promised Land until the water got to his nose. Then, and only then, the Red Sea opened up. Nahshon parted the Sea, or more accurately, God parted the Sea for the Hebrews thanks to Nahshon's leadership.
The only difference between Nahshon and the four factions was humility. He knew that he didn't know the solution, while the rest of the Hebrews thought they knew that there was no solution. They had an unrealistic view of their understanding of the complex and unpredictable reality: assuming they comprehended this reality. Nahshon's faith was actually the most realistic behavior; he simply "kept moving on", doing his job, his part and "letting" God do his part. He shaped reality and achieved true freedom rather than being enslaved by mainstream pragmatism.
Real faith is actually tackling reality - pragmatically dealing with the mundane world, doing our part, moving one more step in the right direction despite the difficulties. Understanding that we don't understand everything and then, and only then, hoping that God will do His part.
That's how Faith can help us make better decisions. Faith empowers us with the humility of our human condition, empowers us to deal with reality and to do our part of the deal, and opens us up to the hope that God will do his part as well.
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