“Your call is important to us, please stay on the line …’”
Have you ever heard that infuriatingly upbeat and repetitive message and thought: “Life’s too short for this”? Then in the meantime, you find your own solution to the problem that you called the helpline for in the first place?
With the ten plagues having effected the release of the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they are now free and encamped on the banks of the Reed Sea.
However, when they see the might of the entire Egyptian army heading at full speed towards them, they start to panic and cry out to God in desperation.
They also complain to Moses that it would have been better to remain slaves in Egypt than to die like this in the desert.
For his part, Moses reassures the people there is nothing to be afraid of, because God will save them.
In response, God says to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me?”
The classic commentaries are perplexed. Surely, in times of need, prayer is exactly what is required?
Rashi understands that God is telling Moses now is not the time for lengthy prayers, because they are inappropriate when the Jewish people are in distress and all they need to do is continue with their journey, because nothing stands in their way, not even the sea.
God instructs Moshe: “Raise your staff and spread your hand over the sea and split it.”
In effect, Moshe is being told he has all the resources he needs to deal with the situation, rather than divine assistance.
Sometimes we are quick to cry out to God for help. But sometimes realising we possess the ability to resolve a dilemma ourselves actually reflects a deeper faith in God and our abilities that is truly deserving of success.
To paraphrase Kohelet: “There is a time to pray and a time to act.”
Rabbi Alex Chapper is community rabbi of Borehamwood & Elstree Synagogue and the Children’s Rabbi www.childrensrabbi.com