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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Two years ago on Friday, Parshat Beshalach, I was traveling to Long Beach with my wife and father-in law, Rabbi Singer, for the Shabbos sheva brachos of our cousins Pinny and Hadassah Fried. We were 15 minutes away when the transmission of my relatively new car died, in the middle of a busy four-lane road, with no shoulder to pull onto. My car was on the side of the road, sticking out like a sore [broken] thumb into a busy lane. No tow truck was available for hours, and Shabbos was fast approaching. We needed to solve this—move the car somewhere and get to our hotel right away!

A repair shop across the street kindly offered to let us leave the car there for the weekend. Getting the car across those four lanes was our challenge. I had a broken foot and could only hop! Neither my wife nor my father-in-law were able to push the car.

Just then, a police car stopped and told us we had to move the car. We explained the problem. He turned on his lights and parked his car in the middle of the road, blocking all lanes and stopping traffic on both sides. Yes, on Parshat Beshalach, the path across the four-lane road split! A few men from the repair shop helped push the car across the street, while I hopped across alongside my wife and Rabbi Singer. It was a sight to see. And we made it to the hotel with just a few minutes to spare before Shabbat.

I’ve heard many people say, “If I would witness miracles like the ten plagues or the splitting of the sea, then I would believe in Hashem. How come Hashem doesn’t perform miracles anymore?” In truth, even obvious miracles aren’t enough. Let me share a shocking midrash in Yalkut Shoftim: The midrash explains the verse at the end of the long Tachanun prayer, “To you, Hashem, is tzedakah and we are ashamed.” This is referring to klal Yisrael at the splitting of the sea. Why the shame? A man named Micha had taken an idol with him when he left Mitzrayim and carried it in his pocket as he walked through the split sea. What an embarrassment that a Jew should carry an idol while Hashem was saving our lives! Yet, Hashem did an act of charity and in His infinite kindness, split the sea despite this rebellious act.

But how was it possible for Micha to carry an idol when he was witnessing such awesome open miracles?

Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains that any level of clarity regarding Hashem that is attained without effort, simply won’t last. It was true with Micha and with many others. Chazal tell us everyone present at the splitting of the sea had a vision of Hashem superior to that of the great prophet, Yechezkel, yet many were not changed by the experience. The key to change is the effort we make to work on ourselves, not a wondrous experience itself.

When I was in yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael, a group of boys told me they miraculously escaped a terrorist attack unharmed. A terrorist with a machine gun opened fire at people sitting outside the many restaurants on the street. People ran, hid and cried. One boy told me that when the coast was clear, he quickly ran to a beit midrash to say Tehillim and thank Hashem for saving his life. However, another person had a very different reaction. After the coast cleared, he went back to the restaurant to order another beer!

We all experience things that can inspire us to make a positive change. But do we act on it? We can hear an inspiring lecture, shiur, or attend an uplifting shabbaton, but if we don’t make an effort to change as a result of these experiences, we will remain the same.

One can walk out of Egypt and into the sea and stand at Har Sinai with an idol in his pocket!

We experience kriat Yam Suf (splitting of the sea) daily in our lives in different ways. True, it’s not every day we have a major road split for us, but things like getting a raise, a new job offer, a shidduch for a child, a refuah sheleima or even just experiencing less traffic on a commute to work one day—these are all the Almighty reaching out to us. It’s up to us to recognize His ongoing assistance…and act on it.

We all have a metaphorical idol in our pocket—an area in our lives we need to work on, such as attaching too much importance to monetary matters or worrying too much about our self image. Let’s try to toss bad influences and bad traits out of our lives. Opportunities to get closer to our Heavenly Father are abundantly there for the taking—if we just make the effort to reach out and grab them.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim