Live freely!

“And Israel saw the great power that the Lord exercised against the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the LORD and Moses His servant.” (Shemot 14:31)

This verse is so profound that it made me think of the development of emunah (faith) in our lives. If we step back a little as we read this week’s portion Beshalach which means “When released or sent”, we witness the birth of a nation that had lost its identity and personality.

I have known of children who have suffered physical and emotional abuse; it changed their personalities and when we see them years later,  we may wonder what happened to that happy and communicative child. Constant abuse has changed their reality. Egypt, and specifically Pharaoh, had for decades continuously abused the Israelites, which greatly affected their mindsets.

According to certain academics, aggression causes various effects in human beings: According to Seligman,  aggression is reproduced in others. We see this in Moshe when he took justice into his own hands.  He saw an Israelite being attacked and went to defend him, resulting in the Egyptian being killed (Shemot 2:11-12). According to Bandura, aggression results in depression/anxiety generating a complex social cycle learned through observation and transmitted to others. We then see how the Israelites constantly complained about the lack of meat and water, and going around in circles, etc. When we evaluate the stories of the exodus, we see how slavery affected the “normal and healthy” lives of these people and that it does not make us better people by criticizing them for how they behaved in threatening situations.

I can see certain traits in this portion – responses to real situations that instill fear. For example, in Shemot 14:10 the Israelites see Pharaoh (the aggressor) camping behind them, causing stress and their immediate complaint to Moses: 14:11 “Did you bring us here because there were no graves in Egypt? To die in the desert? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” This response did not come out of nowhere; according to UNAM researcher Francisco Sotres, it was a response to a stimulus from the past (whether real or imaginary) that produced emotions that could not be controlled and generated “a behavioral, physiological, or bodily survival response.” If we understand a little about the complex body created by the Eternal in Bereshit, we realize that He instilled survival mechanisms within us and that dangerous situations produce adrenaline and cortisol, causing sugar to be released into the muscles to be able to escape, hide or face danger. This stress can cause reactions such as muscle contraction. What is the danger of this type of response? It is living in a chronic state of fear, stress, anxiety, or as Sotres mentions a state of “continuous emergency” because they bring consequences such as ulcers, trauma or mental disorders, even when a real threat no longer exists. For example, let’s say I was assaulted in a park, generating a physiological and behavioral reaction. What would be a problem? Every time I would pass through a park or a similar place, a fear would overtake me causing the same reaction as that original traumatic event.

It seems that the Eternal, in the process of growing us up as a nation, was placing Israel in uncomfortable situations in which they had to relive certain traumas so that they could overcome generational fears with their corresponding responses to these stimuli so that they could be free once and for all. Here’s an example; In 1991, El Salvador had recently emerged from a war, and I had the opportunity at that time, to travel to the United States for the first time. As a child, I had learned that a “bang!” was equivalent to a bullet, and we had to take shelter. I arrived in Miami for a school camp, when suddenly a car’s tire burst with a  loud “bang!” My first reaction was to throw myself on the ground; sweating I covered my head and looked for a place to escape. The children from other countries and the Americans just stared at me; for them there was no stimulus to that specific noise of a “bang!”, but for me, there was the stimulus that had been caused by a civil war. What was the difference between them and me? The thing is that they had lived “free” from a civil war, and I had been a “slave” to one.

I observed on this occasion that to be free, we must free ourselves from our fears. David knew this; he had lived with many fears in his life; he had to face Saul, Absalom, and many enemies who sought his death. He wrote in Tehillim 34:5 -7,10 “I sought the LORD and He answered me; He delivered me from all my terrors. They looked to him and were radiant, and their faces shall not be ashamed. This poor man cried and the LORD heard and saved him from all his troubles…. Fear the Lord, your pious ones; for those who fear him will have no want.” When I read this psalm, I said, David could imagine the human responses to the stimuli that generate fear in us: “terror, shame, anguish, fear of scarcity.”

Based on these, we can see them in this portion: in 14:12 we read, “Leave us to serve the Egyptians. For it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert.” The response to a stimulus that causes Terror: fear of dying in the desert.

Then, we read in 15:22-23 “And Moses led the children of Israel out of the Sea of Reeds, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; And they walked three days in the desert and found no water. And they came to Marah; but they could not drink water from Marah, because it was bitter;” What was the stimulus? DISTRESS. They couldn’t drink water.

Later, 16:3, “And the children of Israel said to them, If only we had died at the hands of the LORD in the land of Egypt when we sat by the pot of meat, and when we ate bread to the full; because you have brought us out into this desert to kill us”. What was the stimulus? FEAR OF SHORTAGE. This was imaginary, they had left Egypt with a lot of cattle! (Shemot 12:38)

Lastly, in 17:8  we see how the Amalekites tried to embarrass Israel in a senseless attack, “And Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim.” These people wanted to boost their morale.’

While meditating on it, I observed that sometimes, the Eternal allows certain traumas to occur in our lives; they provoke in us terror, fear, shame or anguish, to such an extent that if we do not free ourselves from these traumas, our health and well-being can deteriorate, not only personally, but at the family, community and social levels.

In the same portion, we see that the Eternal sent the “medicines or remedies” for each specific situation. What was the cure for Terror? There were three: first, faith, Emunah that the Eternal gives to each of us;,  He cares for each of us and fights for us (14:14); second, he teaches us that to exercise our emunah we need to turn it to Bitachon, trust,  by walking into the unknown (14:15 – Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to go!), and third, that we must observe God’s salvation and show gratitude for it at every moment. We read in 14:31 “And Israel saw the great power that the Eternal exercised against the Egyptians” followed by the song of Moses and the children of Israel in chapter 15.

What was the cure for heartbreak? He says in 15:26 “There God imposed upon the people, statutes and judgments (mishpatim – chukkim), and there He tested them. And He said, If you will listen attentively to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all his statutes, then I will not send upon you any of the diseases that I have sent upon the Egyptians.” If the Torah is continually before us, we will not fear, we will not live in distress, as Tehillim 119:92 says, “If Your Torah were not my occupation, then I would have perished in my affliction.”

And what was the remedy for the fear of scarcity? The Shabbat and the manna are equivalent to obedience to the voice of the Eternal. The immediate response was not to send quails, but it followed their complaint. In 16:4 we read: “And the Lord said to Moses: Behold, I will rain bread on you from heaven; and the people will go out and gather a day’s portion daily, so that I may test whether they walk in my Torah or not.” Manna reminds us that we receive everything from Heaven. If we have this faith that everything comes to us from Heaven, we will be able to overcome the anxiety generated by a perceived shortage. Also, he teaches us that we should not live to accumulate but rather that we should live with our daily portion. Third, on Shabbat (16:5) a double portion was gathered that miraculously did not spoil; that is, we live confidently that God will provide for Shabbat and we must rest in Him.

Finally, how do we deal with and face shame? In 17:9 -10 “And Moses said to Joshua (Yehoshua): Choose men for us and go out and fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill, and the rod of God will be in my hand. And Joshua did as Moses had told him, and he fought against Amalek.” It is interesting that Amalek does not disappear, but appears from generation to generation in different forms, because he said, “the Eternal will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” When Amalek is weakened it disappears (17:13), it hides, but it is not eliminated, so we must know that at some point this evil will return. The first Amalek to destroy is the low self-esteem caused by being ashamed of who we are or what our beliefs produce in us, but then it is the shame caused by external agents. Unlike the court at the Hague that ruled that we cannot use the Torah (specifically referring to this portion), we must understand that Sinat Chinam, gratuitous hatred must be destroyed, senseless hatred, generating evil and shame for the pleasure of others who inflict it. We must not tolerate evil against God’s creation simply for our pleasure, because it is equivalent to fueling the spirit of Amalek in the world; we must face it, stop it, and eliminate it, even if others do not understand.

Do you want to live as a free person? Do you want to stop being a slave to some trauma? You must openly decide today to activate your faith by turning your Emunah to Bitachon, to fight against evil, to give thanks, to obey the judgments and statutes of the Eternal, and to welcome the manna from Heaven by keeping Shabbat. Job 22:28 says, “You will make a decision, and it will be fulfilled for you, and light will shine in all your ways.” Decide today that you will do whatever it takes to be free from your fears, revering the Eternal and trusting in Him.

Shabbat Shalom