While living in Israel, one of my most cherished Passover experiences took place in Haifa the night before the last day of holiday. The seventh night of Passover marks the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, popularly known as the Red Sea, the event where the Israelites were definitely freed from Pharaoh's slavery through God's parting of the sea and the people passing through it to safety.
Long after the festive meal celebrating the last day of Passover concluded, I eagerly began the hour-and-a-half walk from my friend's home to the yeshiva of the Vizhnitz Rebbe, the head of the Haifa branch of a Hasidic dynasty founded in the mid 1800s. By the time we arrived at the main hall, the place was packed with black-coated Hasidim filling bleachers set up for this special night. My friend, who had been coming to this remarkable celebration for decades, pushed our way in behind the table where the Rebbe sat.
I was a guest at a Hasidic tish, a large gathering of students around their spiritual teacher where the sharing of food is combined with Torah teachings, singing and ecstatic dancing. The air in the large room was electric. It felt like something momentous was about to take place. The singing was powerful and otherworldly. It built to a crescendo after midnight as we metaphorically went through the sea to reach a place of greater freedom and joy. The energy in the room was so potent it felt as if our collective request to break through could not be denied.
Part of the inspiration for this celebration comes from a well-known midrash (rabbinic story) about Nachshon ben Aminadav. The story goes that the people were terrified knowing they were trapped by the sea and Pharaoh's army was quickly approaching. One man took action by stepping forward and entered the water, the only possible escape route. Nachshon ben Aminadav walked in up to his knees. He kept on going till it reached his chest. He continued on until it touched his chin. Then, God parted the water and the way was cleared to freedom.
The midrash graphically illustrates a core principle of spiritual life: faith in something bigger than ourselves. When faced with an insurmountable obstacle, Nachshon ben Aminadav overcame whatever fears he might have had and moved forward in faith. In this story, his faith was pushed to the limit. And it paid off!
Life is designed to test us in many ways. Sometimes the tests are small and seemingly inconsequential. At other times, the significance of the test is obvious and terrifying. When our backs are to the wall and there doesn't seem to be a way out, we face the same question: Where will we put our faith and energy to get through the challenge?
In the Nachshon ben Aminadav story and my experience at the tish, many people were present to lend support to an individual effort that required faith to succeed. Yet even if you are physically alone, you can draw on the strength of close relationships or inspirational figures to bolster you. When we think we lack support in facing challenges, life can become a stressful, isolated affair that wears away at our hearts and souls.
It goes without saying that having faith in one's abilities is an important quality. But also having faith in something bigger opens us to the mystery and love that is at the core of life as well as to powers beyond ourselves that can help us persevere. It isn't easy to do this, but that is why certain situations are called tests of faith!
Have you had experiences of stepping forward in faith and having unexpected forces help pave the way through your own Red Seas? If so, I'd love to hear about them. Feel free to leave a comment below. As always, blessings on a safe journey!