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לימוד תורה

Real or simulated difficulties.

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life

Parashat Beshalach - 5781

Life certainly has wonderful moments but also quite a few moments of struggle. Dealing with difficulties is part of the dynamics of life. Not all difficulties are at the same level. There are routine difficulties that can be dealt with relatively easily, and there are those exceptional difficulties that from an objective point of view, are impossible to deal with. And right in the middle, there are great difficulties, which are difficult to deal with, but if an effort is made and energy and spiritual strength are gathered, it becomes possible.

Sometimes a person breaks down already from the beginning and does not have the strength. There are spoiled people who even routine difficulty seems unbearable, and they give up without trying to cope. Successful coping creates a sense of ability, which makes future difficulties easier to deal with.

On the other hand, there are those who tend to produce imaginary difficulties or exaggerate and intensify them more than they really are, and sometimes even present them as impossible to deal with. Many times, this serves their need, to blacken the image and achieve something. The assessment of difficulty should be proportionate. On one hand not to overdo it and on the other, not to be taken lightly, cancel or underestimate it. Dealing with the difficulty is subjective and varies from person to person. Sometimes, when the difficulty assessment is required in a personal, or public context, it is advisable to test it by rating the difficulty level from 1 to 100. For this reason, a scale was set: the most difficult thing we know will be level 100 and a relatively easy task to deal with, will be level 1. That leaves us to analyze if the case is closer to 1 or to 100.

At the beginning of the Parasha, the Torah outlines the route of the journey of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel, outflanking, through the desert, and not the short way, through the land of the Philistines:

וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וְלֹא־נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹקים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹקים פֶּֽן־יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃ וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱלֹקים אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף ...

"Now when Pharaoh let the people go, G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for G-d said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt. So, G-d led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds…" (Shmot 13:17-18)

The divine statement "The people may have a change of heart when they see war" indicates an objective diagnosis of the difficulty. Being slaves who had just been set free:

אמר הקב״‎ה כך גלוי לפני אם יהיו מנוסים לא יעמדו בנסיון

"Precisely, because G-d was aware that the Israelites were not yet in a condition to withstand the Satan, He decided not to give the Satan that opportunity at this time". (Chizkuni ibid)

Although if G-d had wanted, he would have strengthened miraculously the ability of the people to withstand the difficult challenges:

"וכמו שהסב ה' אותם מן הדרך הישרה אשר היתה מכוונת תחלה מפני יראת מה שלא היו גופותם יכולים לסבלו לפי הטבע ... כי כמו שאין בטבע האדם שיגדל על מלאכת עבדות בחומר ובלבנים והדומה להם ואחר כן ירחץ ידיו לשעתו מלכלוכם וילחם עם 'ילידי הענק' ...וכמו שהיה מחכמת ה' להסב אותם במדבר עד שילמדו גבורה - כמו שנודע שההליכה במדבר ומעוט הנאות הגוף מרחיצה וסיכה וכיוצא בהם יולידו הגבורה והפכם יוליד רוך לב - ונולדו גם כן אנשים שלא הרגילו בשפלות ובעבדות וכל זה היה במצות אלוקיות על ידי משה רבינו' ... ואי זה מונע היה לה' שינחם 'דרך ארץ פלישתים' ויתן להם יכולת להלחם ולא היה צריך לזה הסיבוב ב"עמוד הענן יומם ועמוד האש לילה... תשובה אחת כוללת והיא שהאותות כולם אף על פי שהם שינוי טבע איש אחד מאישי הנמצאות אך טבע בני אדם לא ישנהו ה' כלל על צד המופת." (מורה נבוכים ח"ג ל"ב).

"Here G-d led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object… It is contrary to man's nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course; it would be just as if a person trained to work as a slave with mortar and bricks, or similar things, should interrupt his work, clean his hands, and at once fight with real giants… It was the result of God's wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness till they acquired courage. For it is a well-known fact that travelling in the wilderness, and privation of bodily enjoyments, such as bathing, produce courage, whilst the reverse is the source of faint-heartedness: besides, another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery. All the travelling in the wilderness was regulated by Divine commands through Moshe… What prevented G-d from leading the Israelites through the way of the land of the Philistines, and endowing them with strength for fighting? The leading about by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night would then not have been necessary.... What prevented Him from giving us, as part of our nature, the will to do that which He desires us to do, and to abandon the kind of worship which He rejects? Although in every one of the signs the natural property of some individual being is changed, the nature of man is never changed by G-d by way of miracle… It is also for this reason that He distinctly stated the commandments and the prohibitions, the reward and the punishment…" (Guide for the Perplexed Part 3:32)

Some interpreted that objectively, they could have faced the difficult challenge, only they did not have the strength of mind or fighting spirit: "If it depended on their will, they would return to the Egyptian slavery: as soon as they would see war on their way to independence that would guarantee their freedom. It is written: וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם 'the Israelites went up armed out of the land of Egypt'. The sword was not absent from their waist, but the courage of heroism and the fighting spirit were absent from their hearts, and above all they still lacked the degree of confidence in G-d, the same virtue that gives man desire and courage - heart, strength and enthusiasm for everything as he knows everything comes from above" (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, ibid).

The corona crisis we are living, creates difficulties from all the three levels mentioned before: the routine, the impossible, and the one in the middle. Difficulties in the health field - which causes many patients and deaths, the mental - tensions and pressures due to closures and limitations, and the economic - those who are not allowed to make a living as usual. At the same time, we are in a long political crisis.

In a corrected state there would have been a separation between the two and dealing with the corona crisis and eradication of the virus would have been done in unity. Unfortunately, however, the corona crisis is being used as a political card. For both sides:

On the one hand, those who want to translate the successes in dealing with the crisis into a political electorate, to cover up the failures and beautify the picture (the pandemic itself and some of its prices cannot be blamed), and on the other hand those who want to point out precisely at the failures to beat the existing leadership. Among other things, by intensifying the public's difficulties in the health, social and economic fields, beyond what they really are, and blackening the picture of the crisis, beyond its true dimensions.

One has to say to these and those: it is transparent, the public is not naive. If you want to gain the public's trust, you need to present these difficulties in the most reliable and accurate way possible.

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