By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
“Pharaoh drew near, and the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! The Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moshe, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Isn’t this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert?’ Moshe said to the people, ‘Don’t be afraid! Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation that He will wreak for you today, for the way you have seen the Egyptians is [only] today, [but] you shall no longer continue to see them for eternity. The Lord will fight for you, but you shall remain silent.’” (Exodus 14:10-14)
The Jewish people’s reaction to the sight of the Egyptian army approaching seems contradictory. They first respond by praying to God for salvation, demonstrating their belief in God and faith that God can and will help them. However, in the very next verse, they berate Moses for bringing them out of Egypt to die in the desert. How did their faith and trust in God vanish? Ramban suggests that the Torah is recording the response of the entire nation. The righteous among them turned to God in prayer and trusted in God to save them. Other groups of Jews lodged the various complaints against Moshe.
The Ramban also offers a different answer based on the Mechilta (Midrash of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai). Initially, the nation faithfully prayed to God for Pharoah to have a change of heart and return to Egypt. When they saw Pharoah continuing to approach, their evil inclination took hold of them, whereby, they lost their faith and complained rebelliously. Moshe countered this evil inclination by restoring their faith in God and assuring them that God would redeem them from this tribulation.
While travelling the spiritual path, one realizes that one may have tremendous faith and trust in God on one day and that the very next day one’s faith and trust wanes. What the nation experienced occurs within all of us constantly—our faith waxes and wanes. When we recognize that our faith is being diminished by our evil inclination, let us use the encouragement of Moshe (and all our sages) to restore our faith and trust in God.