Our Own Little Egypt
Even though the Israelites had just experienced a series of open miracles, there they were with Moses, their leader, at the edge of the Red Sea, and they were scared. They would have to cross the sea to get out of Egypt.
The Torah puts the number of Israelites standing at water’s edge at 600,000 males between the ages of 20 and 60. Scholars double that number to include women, and quadruple that number to include children and teens. That’s a total of 2.5 million. (There were also thousands of non-Israelites with them. When Pharaoh said, “Go!” they went too.)
Midrashic experts of the Oral Torah believe that only one out of 50 Israelites left Egypt with Moses. The Nation of Israel was huge after more than 400 years of slavery in Goshen, on Egypt’s northeastern border.
Of course, the Israelites feared the unknown. Following Moses into the desert, they could die of hunger, thirst, or who knows what? The Israelites were used to the bitter life of Egypt, and the Torah describes their increased suffering. At the same time, a future outside of their known misery was completely unknown. The 20 percent of Israelites who followed Moses believed it was possible to thrive in freedom.
But the believers stopped at the sea. Pharaoh and his army were in close pursuit, and the turbulent sea was in front. The time had come to not be afraid. When everyone else hesitated, one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, jumped into the tumultuous water, up to his mouth. Only then did the sea part.
It’s easy to remain in a known place or mindset, even if it comes with pain, but many dream of a better way to live. And then there are the few who go beyond dreaming. They jump into the unknown and thereby forge a path for themselves–and sometimes others, too. Passover is known as the Festival of Freedom, a whole week to assess our lives and figure out how to free ourselves from social pressures, damaging relationships, destructive habits and making too many bad choices.
Our family wishes everyone a truly liberating Passover.
Chana Shapiro is an Atlanta Jewish Times columnist.