Family Parsha Parshat Beshalach: Getting Started
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Beshalach(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

Getting Started


Sometimes we have a job to do, but it seems so big that we're hesitant to even get started.

In our Torah portion the Jewish people were crossing the wilderness after being freed from their slavery in Egypt. But soon they found themselves being chased by the angry Pharaoh and his fierce army wanting to enslave them again.

The Jews had no escape. They had come to the edge of the sea and there was nowhere else to run. The people started to panic.

But one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, had a different idea. He thought, "We have to get across the sea. There's just no alternative. I know that God will make it work, somehow ... some way."

While others hesitated, Nachshon simply started walking straight into the sea. With that God made a great miracle and split the sea in two and all the Jews were able to escape to freedom!

We learn from here that when we see what seems like an impossible job that we know has to get done, sometimes the best answer is to just jump right in. Often we'll be surprised to see what God will help us accomplish and that things really weren't as hard as we thought.

 


In our story a boy learns about how much he can accomplish once he gets started.

"JUMP-START"

Joe was sitting at his desk when he heard a knock on the door. "C'mon in," he said offhandedly.

In walked his Mom holding a plate of cookies and glass of milk. "I thought these might help my mathematician get through his homework," she smiled, but Joe didn't look up.

"You've been at it for a long time you must be hungry after all this brain work," his Mom added. But as she bent over to put the plate down on Joe's desk, she was surprised to see his math notebook filled with dozens of elaborate doodles, tic-tac-toe games, but not a single algebra problem. "Hey, Joe, where's your homework?" she exclaimed.

The boy threw up his hands. "It's no use, Mom," he said. "There are so many problems to do, and it's so hard. I just can't do it all."

His Mom pulled up a chair. "But Joe, you haven't even started," she said.

"What's the point of getting started, I'll never finish it all anyway," her son argued.

His mom smiled. "Joe, I know how you feel," she empathized. "I felt that way last week when we were having Aunt Sue, Uncle Sid, and all the kids over for Friday night dinner. I went shopping for all the food to cook for the meal, and when I brought it home I looked at all the groceries on the table and thought of all the cooking I had to do, and I felt like it was just way too much and I couldn't do it. But I knew I had to."

The boy looked up from his desk, interested, as his Mom went on. "But do you know what I did that helped get me through the whole thing?"

"What?" asked Joe, now curious.

"I just ... got started. I jumped in and began to do what I had to do. I started cutting up the salad and I must have gotten some help from heaven, because before I knew it I was finishing up making the dessert. And you know what? I even enjoyed doing it!"

Joe smiled as he thought about what a great meal it had been. "So that's what I suggest for you," she said. "Just get started and you'll see it's not as bad as it seems." With that, she kissed her son on the forehead and walked out of the room.

Joe took a cookie. It tasted good. He looked down at his math book and his empty paper. "I'll never get this done," he thought. Then he considered his mom's words. He looked down at the first problem. "Well I have to hand this in by tomorrow. I don't know how I'll ever do this, but I guess it couldn't hurt to start," he reasoned.

He laboriously began to write down the numbers in columns and calculate the answer. A few minutes later he had surprised himself and completed the problem. "That wasn't easy," he thought, "But I did it!" He began to attack the next problem, which somehow went much easier, then continued on. "Hey, how did I do all this? It's some kind of miracle!" He marveled at all he had done, as he noticed he was nearly half way through the homework. He plunged back in with renewed vigor.

A little while later, Joe looked up to see his mom standing in the doorway. "Sorry to barge in, Joe," she said, but when I knocked there was no answer. I was concerned, because it's getting late. Did you start your homework yet?"

Joe's face was beaming. "I'm sorry, Mom," he said. "I guess I didn't hear you knock. I'm in the middle of this really interesting algebra problem."

"Really!" said his mom.

Joe nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah," he said. "It's the extra credit problem. I finished the regular homework a while ago. You were right, Mom," he added. "Once I got started it was really okay. I think I also got a little 'help from heaven.'"

His mom shook her head and smiled.

"Er ... Mom, by the way," the boy went on. "I didn't only finish my homework, I also finished the cookies. Could I please have a few more?"

The two of them laughed. What had started as a rough night for Joe turned into a great one - once he jumped in and got started.

 


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Joe feel at first when he had to do his homework?
A. He felt overwhelmed. He thought that he would never be able to do it. So he didn't even want to start.

Q. How about after he took his mom's advice and jumped in and started?
A. He felt much better. Once he started he saw that he really could do it and that God was helping him to do something he had been afraid to try.

Ages 6-9

Q. At first Joe felt sure that he wouldn't be able to do the algebra problems, yet once he got started he was successful? How do you explain this?
A. Once a person overcomes his resistance and just gets started, he will often find that what he thought was impossible really wasn't. This is because God wants us to succeed. Once we show that we want something enough to really try, He opens doors for us to accomplish more than we dreamed possible.

Q. Do you think that having faith in something really makes it happen?
A. Faith is a powerful tool. It was Nachshon's faith that paved the way to save the Jews from Pharaoh. But a prerequisite to properly access the power of faith is to first consider whether what we want to get done is actually necessary and something that God wants us to do. If it is, we should throw ourselves into it full steam, having faith that somehow God will help us to make it happen. There might be roadblocks along the way, and it might take many attempts. But if what we're trying to do is really what God wants from us, and we try our best, eventually we will succeed.

Q. Can you think of something you never thought you could accomplish, but once you tried you found you really could?

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Why do you think God sometimes puts barriers in our path that make it difficult to accomplish something worthwhile?
A. At first glance barriers seem to be nothing but a hindrance. But actually they are very helpful tools to help us accomplish great things. In order to do something worthwhile -- whether to change the world, or change ourselves -- it takes a lot of strength, courage and willpower. These traits have to be developed. When we first start to do something worthwhile, God often places a barrier in our way. But not in order to stop us. But rather to test us and see if we're really dedicated enough to our cause to push on. When we jump in despite the barriers, often they will disappear, and we will emerge from them as a stronger people who are able to accomplish greater things than we could before. In a spiritual sense, it's no different from an athlete who gets in better and better shape by pushing himself to do more and more at each workout. He welcomes the barriers as an opportunity to grow, and so should we.

Q. The sages teach us that "All beginnings are difficult." How do you understand this? How can this knowledge empower a person?
A. Human nature is to resist change. This includes attempting something new. This resistance is known as the force of inertia. Because of this it is likely that, when we find ourselves at the beginning of any given task, it is going to seem especially difficult to us. The sages have revealed, however, that this is only a temporary phase. Once we go beyond the inertia, things become much easier. In our story, Joe found this out once he jumped in and began his homework. This knowledge is quite valuable as it can give us the extra boost to begin and stick with worthwhile projects that we might otherwise be discouraged to try.

Q. Can you think of something you never thought you could accomplish, but once you tried you found you really could?

 

Published: January 31, 2001

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