Weekly Update: Crossing the Red Sea

editor - 7 February 2020

I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to make sense of the world events surrounding Israel, in the midst of the political and human chaos and confusion that is thrown at us in the media. So many opinions, so many points of view, so much (fake) news.

It is in the midst of this confusion that the word of God comes to our rescue.

Praying about these matters, I read this week’s reflection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. As so often happens, his examination of the scriptures opened up a new way of looking at things that could quite possibly be very pertinent to the current state of affairs.

This week’s parashat, or weekly portion from the Torah, is Exodus 13:17 – 17:16. -18. It begins with this passage:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the land of the Philistines, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt prepared for battle. (Ex. 13:17-18)

Rabbi Sacks asks the question: if God wanted to protect the Israelites from war, why did He lead them, via the Red Sea (“on the face of it, the worst of all possible routes”), via a route that could only lead to a conflict with the Amelekites, who were much more fearful than the Egyptians?

“In the opening, God is protective and miracle-working. At the close, God is more concealed. He does not fight the battle against the Amalekites; He gives the Israelites the strength to do so themselves. In the opening, the Israelites, faced by the Egyptians, panic and say that they should never have left Egypt. By the close, faced by the Amalekites, they fight and win.

Why the sudden change between the opening of the parashat, and its close? The answer, suggests Rabbi Sacks, could be that the Israelites needed to learn to reach a “point of no return”.

“That is what crossing the Red Sea was for the Israelites, and why it was essential that they experienced it at an early stage in their journey. It marked the point of no return; the line of no retreat; the critical point at which they could only move forward.

I believe that some of the greatest positive changes in our lives come when, having undertaken a challenge, we cross our own Red Sea and know that there is no way back. There is only a way forward. Then God gives us the strength to fight our battles and win.”

I wonder whether this is a lesson that Israel and the Jewish people are having to learn at the moment – that, having been brought back into the land from the north, the south, the east and the west, there is no return from the point they have now reached. The only way is forward – in faith and confidence that God will bring them to the other side.

Read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks latest parashat reflection

Click here..

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Shabbat shalom,

Andrew Tucker
Editor-in-Chief – Israel & Christians Today


Scripture for the week: Exodus 13:17-22

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.[a] The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”[b]
After leaving Sukkoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. 21 By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
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