This week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, is one of the most famous: the Israelites finally escape Egypt through the sea to freedom! It’s one of our best stories, and for good reason: what greater evidence is there of a God who cares about us so much that God will bring about miracles to save us?
I’ve been thinking a lot about our Israelites lately, what it took for them to leave their homes and follow Moses out of Egypt. Even with the promise of the miracle of freedom, leaving the only place you’ve known as home is a big ask. And while Egypt may have been a place of enslavement and oppression, it was also the place where their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were born and buried. Freedom, no matter how good it sounded, also came with great risks.
With that lens, it’s no surprise to learn that after the Israelites leave Egypt, they begin to despair. With the Egyptians pursuing them, they begin to cry out to Moses, “Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you brought us here to die in the desert?” Moses reassures them and tells them not to fear, that God will be with them. Then God splits the sea, and they make it to freedom: the first miracle, come to life.
Yet this miracle isn’t enough. Soon after they make it to safety and dry ground, they realize that they are thirsty, and that the water is undrinkably bitter. They speak to Moses, who speaks to God, and then brings them to the springs of Elim.
And yet that next miracle isn’t enough either. Soon after, they realize that the matzah that they brought with them isn’t going to cut it. Once again, they speak to Moses, who again speaks to God, who then sends manna for them to eat.
This is well and good, but we don’t live in a world where manna rains from the sky and seas are split to ensure human safety. We do live in a world filled with the pains of antisemitism and the need for Jewish safety and freedom. So what lesson do we take from the Torah this week?
Often, Moses describes the Israelites as “stiff-necked,” stubborn, and complaining. Yet in this part of our story, the Israelites don’t get what they need until they give it voice. Speaking out is an important step toward safety, food, and water. Perhaps we can learn from our Israelites the importance of advocating for ourselves and our own needs.
And maybe, just maybe, the power of naming what we need can still lead to miracles. Telling a friend we’re struggling to juggle things could lead to an offer of help, or a check in later. Sharing our perspective with people who have different views than we do, speaking out proudly as Jews, for justice and wholeness, can lead to finding common ground with others. While these interventions might not look like biblical miracles, being on the receiving end can indeed feel miraculous. By opening ourselves up in this way, perhaps we also open ourselves to the miracle we are truly seeking.