Did you ever find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place? Of course you did; we all have! There are times when we must choose between two un-satisfactory options – situations that are much bigger than we are, situations where we need God’s help.
We’ve all heard the expression, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But what if you can’t stand the heat and you can’t get out of the kitchen? Could it be that being stuck between a rock and a hard place may just be the spot God needs to bring you to…so that you can accomplish what God needs you to accomplish in your life?
What do I mean? Listen to this story. A little boy was leading his sister up a mountain trail and the way up was not easy. “Why this isn’t a trail at all,” the little girl complained. “It’s all rocky and bumpy.” Her little brother just kept climbing up the mountain. He shouted back to her, “Sure, the trail is rocky and bumpy. But the rocks and bumps are what you climb on!”
Sometimes the very things we see as obstacles, are the things that become stepping-stones in our lives – to propel us ahead out of a difficult situation. We all face times of pressure, times of exhaustion – times we do not know what to do. When you do, I urge you to think about popcorn! Yes, popcorn. Remember, popcorn doesn’t get to be popcorn…it doesn’t get to become what it’s intended to be… until the kernels are put in a fire – put under some pressure.
In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), the Jews have left Egypt and find themselves with the Sea of Reeds (often mistranslated as the Red Sea) in front of them and the advancing Egyptian army behind them. In other words, stuck between a rock and a hard place! They’re trapped – terrified. So, they do what Jews do best. They complain to Moses. Our fearless leader calms them down by saying Al tira-u, don’t be afraid. Stand tall and watch as God saves us from the Egyptians. You see them now, but you’re not going to see them anymore. God is going to go to war for you. Just be still and silent.” (14:13-14)
What is Moses telling them with the words, “Just be still and silent?” Based on the next verse where God asks Moses, Ma titzak Eylai (Why cry out to me? Tell the people to go forward), the commentators explain that what Moses meant is that they shouldn’t even pray to God. Now that’s really weird, because if there ever was a good time to pray, it seems like it would be then! Why is Moses telling them to be quiet and not pray?
The answer is that this is the key moment in Jewish history. It’s the birth of the Jewish people. This is when in our Jewish tradition when we see how God first wipes out our enemies and frees us to serve God. And so, Moses wants the Jewish people to be “all in.” Usually, when stuck between a rock and a hard place, we should pray to God. But Moses tells them instead, “Don’t close your eyes and start swaying and crying out to God. Keep them open and watch every detail. Burn what is now happening into your memory banks.”
Afterwards, analyze it, digest it, think about it, talk about it. Tell your kids about it so that they can tell their kids about it, so thousands of years later, when each of us each year on Passover sits down at our Seder, each of us through our collective muscle memory of Jewish history, each of us can feel that night every year as if WE were leaving Egypt…because our ancestors then were “all in.”
Many years ago, I told you about Nachshon and compared him to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the passage I just sited, when the Israelites cried out for help at the Red Sea, God told Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them to go forward.” However, the waters hadn’t parted yet, and no one moved. Then, the Midrash (Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael 14:22) tells us, one man named Nachshon – prince of the tribe of Judah – had the faith and the courage to jump in and the waters didn’t recede until it was up to his neck. Nachshon knew that there is a time for prayer, and there is a time to be “all in” and take action. With the waters up to his neck, Nachshon was the epitome of “all in” for God.
This is why we had that wonderful prayer in our former prayerbook, Gates of Prayer, which said: Pray as if everything depended on God; act as if everything depended on you. Today, even when we’re not up against a wall, stuck between a rock and a hard place, it’s so difficult to be “all in” for anything. You try to pay attention during your Zoom meetings, but there are so many things vying for your attention. Our attention is usually split because of the feeling we’ve got to be multitasking all the time. We’re lured by Facebook, and Instagram, and Whatsapp, and Slack, and email, and texting, and it never ends.
So, let’s find a way to be truly all in. Our faith in God depends on us living a life of action to express our faith. May we each live a life that makes a difference.