Parshas Beshalach: Basking in an Open Miracle or Shlepping through the Mud?

By Sara Wolfe

At the start of this week’s Torah portion the Jewish people have witnessed open miracles that are unparalleled in human history. Towards the beginning of the parsha, they experience yet another intense miracle, with the splitting of the sea. With their backs against the proverbial wall, with nowhere to turn as the Egyptian army was rapidly advancing,  G-d split the sea, enabling the Jewish people to escape Egypt once and for all. The sages teach us that this miracle which was experienced by everyone provided every single person with a level of prophecy. Even the maidservants had greater levels of prophecy during this time than the greatest of the later prophets of Israel.

Despite having lived through this incredibly intense moment of inspiration and feeling of Divine closeness, Sefer Tehillim, (the Book of Psalms) testifies that, “our fathers in Egypt did not contemplate Your wonders, they were not mindful of Your abundant kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea at Yam Suf.” Rabbi Yissocher Frand quotes a fascinating midrash which explains how exactly the Jews rebelled at the Red Sea. He says that part of their rebellion included complaining about the muddy ground they had to walk through after the sea had split.

Needless to say, this is quite difficult to understand. After all, the Jews were on the brink of being run over by the Egyptian army, and when it seemed like all was lost, G-d simply performed one of the greatest miracles known to man, and they crossed the sea. Therefore, how does it make any sense that they were complaining about the mud which was a natural by-product of this miracle?!?

Rabbi Frand explains very simply that this is a part of the human condition; human beings can literally complain about anything. We see from this narrative that to a large extent, our levels of contentment and happiness might very well be all about attitude. Two people can look at the same circumstance, and one person might interpret it as an open miracle whereas the other person views it as an insurmountable annoyance. It’s all about perspective.  And it works both ways. Just like one can interpret an event like the miraculous splitting of the sea as an annoyance, one can similarly interpret very challenging circumstances as a blessing from the Almighty. We have the opportunity to go through life either focusing on the bad, or focusing on the good. Luckily, the choice is up to us.