by Rebbetzin Malkah
When the Baal Shem Tov was young, he lived in the mountains of southern Russia. From time to time he would walk to the top of a mountain, and lose himself in thought. Lost to the world, lost to himself, but found to G-d.Deep in this lostness and this foundness, he once began to walk where there was no ground to walk on. As he put his foot down, he was stepping into an abyss.
Stonewashing is a process in the textile industry that is used to give a new denim cloth garment a worn-out appearance. This process also helps to increase the softness and flexibility of otherwise stiff and rigid fabrics such as denim. This process entails what the name implies: washing the denim with large stones to roughen up and soften the cloth. As stones represent an obstacle or hardship, the denim is likened to B'nei Yisrael's fabric of faith. The challenges that Hashem places before B'nei Yisrael as they travel through the wilderness are meant to tenderize and increase their faith. Moshe, Mashiach Yeshua and the Baal Shem Tov all prove to us that through this stonewashing comes a small seed of faith that can rise above the evil, chaos and doubt that prevail in our midst. Not only can we move mountains, but we can be a conduit of faith and possibility to those around us, even in the most impossible of circumstances.
A Sea of Doubt
Water. It gives life to plants, fish, and humans. Too much, we drown. Too little, we die. Both extremes lead to certain death. But something in the middle brings life and a flourishing society. As B'nei Yisrael approaches the Sea of Reeds and finds Pharoah's army at their back, how do they make peace with the water? The water is merely a test of their faith. As the army of doom draws near, it is clear that the people have great doubt and are paralyzed with fear.
"Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again. Hashem shall make war for you and you shall be silent." -- Shemot 14: 13-14
According to the Midrash, the sea would not part until the Israelites had enough courage to enter the waters first. However, one man by the name of Nachshon ben Ammindav from the tribe of Judah (and, according to the rabbis, Aaron's brother-in-law), had faith greater than any seed of doubt. He stepped forward and walked straight into the waters of the sea and thus they began to split. To this day, the rabbis attribute faith and courage to Nachshon ben Ammindav. For him, the Sea of Reeds was like a stone in the stonewashing of his faith. He allowed himself to be malleable to the divine will and submitted himself to the test in order to soften his will. Rather than fall into despair, he used the moment to turn the sea of doubt into a moment to commune with Hashem.
As Hashem brings B'nei Yisrael though the wall of water, Egypt's greatest warriors are consumed by the water. As the multitudes stand on the shore and observe, they receive a great injection of faith. But it won't be enough as they encounter their next obstacle. Their garments of faith aren't finished being stonewashed. There are yet to be more stones to transform their faith.
Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink
As the parasha continues, we encounter B'nei Yisrael in the midst of the wilderness with the opposite predicament. Instead of standing before a sea of water, they stand before a sea of sand in Marah and a pool of water that is bitter and undrinkable.
He [Moshe] cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet....He[Moshe] said, "If you hearken diligently to the voice of Hashem, your G-d, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees, then any of the diseases that I placed in Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am Hashem, your Healer." They arrived at Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms; they encamped there by the water. -- Shemot 15:25-27
The Baal Shem Tov says that even with water before them, the doubt and bitterness within their souls after three days of wandering have spoiled the water and made it undrinkable. Their own negativity and inability to see beyond themselves sour even their environment. Moshe Rabbeinu, however, calls out in faith to sweeten the waters for the people, almost like giving a candy to a wailing child to sooth and assuage. What is interesting is the use of the words chuq u'mishpat - literally decrees and ordinances. Mishpatim tend to be easier to follow since in many cases they are logical. Following the decrees - chuqim - which at times don't always have a logical component, would be the litmus test. Despite the decrees, would they possess even a shard of doubt that would hamper their ability to obey?
HaMan or Haman?
The next challenge B'nei Yisrael encounters is hunger. Quickly forgetting the date palms and the water at Elim, they believe they are going to perish for lack of food. Moshe again implores Hashem on their behalf and the mannafalls from the heavens. This food, spiritually necessary and easily assimilated, would be the key to purifying their souls and honing their ways. They would gather a day's worth of manna and enough on the sixth day to carry them through Shabbat. How then could any doubt remain in their hearts if they were sustained daily with heavenly food in the harshest of conditions? The answer is that when they gathered the manna, they did so with reservation. They proved this when they disobeyed the decree not to gather manna on Shabbat.
It happened on the seventh day that some of the people went to gather, and they did not find. Hashem said to Moshe, "How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? See that Hashem has given you the Sabbath; that is why He gives you on the sixth day a two-day portion of bread. " -- Shemot 16:27-29
From here on, we see again the reservations of B'nei Yisrael as they continue on and camp at Rephidim. Their doubt brings the absence of water as well as an adversary known as Amalek and his army. This attack comes not because Hashem wanted to test them, but because B'nei Yisrael lacked the ability to trust in Hashem. Their refusal to obey the commandment of manna showed that they lacked "spiritual water", or Torah precepts, and this doubt brought about not only their physical lack but also their ultimate enemy.
HaShem maintains a war against Amalek from generation to generation. -- Shemot 17:16
While Hashem could have certainly defeated Amalek, it is evident that this is not the job of our Creator. As our rejection of manna continues on today through our flippant adherence to the Torah, Hashem will continue to allow our struggle with Amalek. This is a stone to tenderize us for a lifetime. Is it a coincidence that the word for manna - HaMan - is spelled the same way as Haman? Through our rejection of the decree of the manna we seeded something else quite disastrous. As we received Haman, a descendant of Amalek, during the time of Esther, so too have other figures in history come against B'nei Yisrael with the same spirit. Amalek is the representation of doubt and unbelief in G-d's existence; his name is equal to 240 and is synonymous with the word doubt - safek - which also equals 240. Amalek, and all who operate in his spirit, are the absence of faith in the miracles of G-d and also the denial of His authority in men's affairs. This is the stone that will continue to brush against our faith and either cause us to become stronger, or ultimately become our demise if we fail to trust in Hashem.
Closing the Gap
Mashiach Yeshua declares that the smallest amount of faith is enough to accomplish even the greatest feats.
I tell you that if you have trust as tiny as a mustard seed, you will be able to say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move; indeed, nothing will be impossible for you. -- Matthew 17:20
Then Kefa called to him, "Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you on the water." "Come!" he said. So Kefa got out of the boat and walked on the water toward Yeshua. But when he saw the wind, he became afraid; and as he began to sink, he yelled, "Lord! Save me!" Yeshua immediately stretched out his hand, took hold of him, and said to him, "Such little trust! Why did you doubt?" -- Matthew 14:28-31
Just as Moshe stretched out his hand many times and was a conduit for miracles and faith, so too did Yeshua stretch out his hand and continues doing so to us today. While we are not the ones who experienced the miracles of our forbearers directly, we must believe the power of the Holy One and stamp out doubt. For if we doubt, we grow weak and the spirit of Amalek has dominion in our lives. Our faith needs to be like a pair of stonewashed jeans.... flexible, transformed and enduring. May our faith be like the toughest Levi's - up to the job, reliable and prevailing in all circumstances of life.
Yasher Koach and Shabbat Shalom.....