What Do I Do?
From a practical, physical standpoint, this week's Torah portion begins with something that's hard to understand. The Almighty takes the Jewish people out from hundreds of years of slavery, leads them a few days into the wilderness, and then has the Egyptians come to take them back.
It doesn't seem to make sense: If they just left, why is God putting them in jeopardy again?!
SPIRITUAL VS. PHYSICAL
Sometimes the spiritual viewpoint is the opposite of the physical viewpoint. One mistaken assumption about life is that things should always be pleasant and comfortable. When they are not pleasant and comfortable, we say there's a problem: Why is God doing this to me? Why me?
The truth is that if God wanted our lives to be pleasant and comfortable, He wouldn't have put us into this world. If you lie in bed you are comfortable, but if you do it too long your muscles begin to atrophy. Effort and struggle will increase your muscle strength.
The message is that life is not meant to be easy. Life is meant to be for growth. In order to grow, we need struggles. We need a challenge.
The nation of Israel needed that particular challenge at that particular time. It was designed and crafted for their spiritual growth.
WHAT DO I DO?
The Israelites were in a predicament. On one side was the Sea of Reeds; on the other was the well-equipped Egyptian army. What should they do? Some said fight. Some said pray. Some said jump into the sea. Some said surrender.
Wouldn't you think the "biblical" answer is to pray? Yet God says to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them to journey forth." (Exodus 14:15)
It seems that each group, everyone was suggesting the thing most comfortable with their personality or general pattern of behavior. Someone who is always ready to fight thinks that's the way to resolve things. Someone who always prays thinks that's the way to resolve things. As my friend Rabbi Mordechai Rottman likes to say, "When you're a hammer, you think everything's a nail."
In order to know exactly what God wants from you, you have to ask the question honestly. You have to be multi-talented, at various times ready to fight, negotiate, or flee.
WHO AM I?
God created each and every one of us with amazing gifts and abilities. Each human being is like an expensive jewel waiting to be honed to perfection. Our lives take twists and turns, but always leave room for our true talents to emerge. We are always guided from on high.
But for a natural-born surgeon, surgery is not the greatest challenge. The greatest challenge may be in humility. And here is life's glorious dichotomy: What comes easy and natural is what we should spend our life doing. But our challenges and true spiritual growth come from what we find difficult.
A TRUE TORAH PERSONALITY
When we study the great Torah personalities, we find a variety of great people. Each one had a unique way of dealing with life and relating to the Infinite. Sometimes a person may wonder, "I can try to mold myself to be like so many holy people. Which one is the best or truest Torah personality?"
This question was posed to one of the great sages of the past generation: "What is the true Torah personality?" To which he responded, "Whichever one the situation in front of you demands."
ARE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE?
Abraham achieved greatness doing acts of kindness, but his real change and growth came from his challenge with the binding of Isaac, an act that was the opposite of his character trait of kindness.
Similarly, we need to constantly focus on what our accomplishment and contribution to the world can be, based on our talents and abilities. Yet at the same time, we need to be ready at any moment to abandon what comes easy when the time and opportunity arises and we're faced with a situation that requires the opposite character.
We need to be willing to do what is uncomfortable.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What do I value about my personality? Is that something that comes easy to me?
When was the last time I did something that was uncomfortable, because it was the right thing to do?
Is there anything I'm avoiding that is the right thing to do, because it makes me uncomfortable?