I remember my astonishment when I learned that elephants can be safely tied in place by a feeble rope. With the slightest exertion of strength, they could easily break free – yet they stand restrained. These trained elephants are chained at an early age with strong irons. They quickly learn that escape is far from their realm of possibility – thereby forever breaking their will to struggle. Thus, a fully grown elephant can be securely kept in place by a single string.
As our story continues, we find Pharaoh regretting his decision to let the people go, and decides to return the former slaves to captivity. He sends 600 chariots, each armed with three soldiers. In total, 1800 Egyptians rise up in hot pursuit.
These 1800 soldiers seem to pale in comparison with the 600,000 Israelite men of fighting age. Not to mention that the text clearly states, “the Israelites went up armed out of the land of Egypt” (Shemot 13:18). The well equipped Israelite army, outnumbering their opponents at more than 300:1 and with God on their side, had no reason to fret.
Yet, the people react to the approaching Egyptians with paralyzing panic. “Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, ‘Was it for a want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?’” (Shemot 14:10-11).
To make matters worse, Moses does nothing to help the nation believe in the power it wields. In fact, he does the exact opposite. After the people cry out for help, Moses tells them to be quiet and have no fear – for the Lord will battle for them. God quickly steps in saying, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!” (Shemot 14:13-15).
God is instructing Moses that he should be empowering the people to know their own strength. God is teaching us that agency over our lives rests in our hands alone. God is telling us that confidence is a gift we give ourselves in times of need. God is trying to open our eyes to the truth – that we are elephants restrained by mere strings.
This week I encourage us all to grant רשות זה לזה (permission one to the next) to give ourselves the gift of confidence. It is my prayer that small strings cease to hold back our fullest potential.