(If you haven't already, you can read the previous post How Even a Doubting & Flawed Jew Can Still be Saved: The Kli Yakar on Parshat Beshalach.)
If you read the Kli Yakar's description of Am Yisrael at the point where the sea splits, you get the image of quite a diverse group of people.
For example, the Kli Yakar (Shemot 14:22) speaks of 2 general groups:
(1) Tzaddikim (righteous people who were ready to go into the water even before it split)
(2) Pachotim ("Lesser" inferior people described as "banim lo emun bam—children with no faith in them" who only moved forward once they saw the dry land between the split walls of water "ki lo he'eminu baElokim—because they did not believe in God" (!) Meaning, they didn't believe he would split the water and enable them to pass through until they saw it completely revealed before their eyes.)
Throughout this parsha, the Kli Yakar keeps bringing up these pachotim and their blatant lack of emunah.
They're not sure about Moshe's Prophecy, not sure about Hashem Himself, they're repeatedly described in severe terms: pachot (lesser, inferior), holding onto bad beliefs from Mitzrayim, they're somewhat faithless & inconsistent, and so on.
But please note Hashem's Great Compassion:
He still rescued these pachotim!
Because they displayed a willingness to leave Mitzrayim and they wanted to be redeemed.
If you think about it, it's incredible what these fearful, doubting, "I'll believe it when I see it!" pachotim merited—all in the zechut of their ratzon, their desire to be better than they were.
The 4 Categories of Am Yisrael at the Splitting of the Sea
Category #1: Tzaddikim (righteous people who, relying on Hashem with complete emunah & bitachon, were ready to go into the water even before it split)
Category #2: Beinonim A (average people who wanted to cry out to Hashem)
Category #3: Beinonim B (average people who wanted to do battle against the oncoming Egyptian military)
Category #4: Reshaim gamurim (completely wicked people who wanted to return to Egypt)
Note: It's not clear to me whether the reshaim were actual Jews from bnei Yaakov or whether these were the Erev Rav only.
Frankly, while I would like to see myself as a person who would just march into the water on faith alone, the more realistic part of me sees myself in the Beinonim A category because it's more realistic that I would simply freak out from everything that's going on and just start screaming: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! HELP!!!"
Just being honest.
Picture This: You at the Edge of the Sea
Before them, they have a sea that is supposed to split, but isn't doing anything.
In fact, Nachshon ben Aminadav wades in...and still, nothing happens.
He goes forward into even deeper water, the waterline reaching his waist.
Still no split.
The water reaches his chest.
A large and mighty army is rushing at you from behind.
And you know exactly how bad these warriors are because you are still traumatized by everything they put you through until now.
(It's sort of like if after being liberated from a death camp, a Jew would see a large army of Nazis in full Nazi uniform rushing at her in military jeeps.)
It especially doesn't bode well because you've just seen from personal experience how the same man who promised to help you and acts as God's spokesman seemed to have made things much worse before your liberation, when his talks with Pharaoh resulted in even crueler labor for you and your fellow suffering Jews.
Is that what's going to happen now? Are things going to get even worse?
You can't handle that anymore.
Speaking of your fellow suffering Jews, at least 80% of them are no longer around since the Plague of Paralyzing Darkness.
Instead, your remnant group seems to have been joined by people who don't look or talk like you. Yes, they're Egyptians who followed you out of Mitzrayim, but they seem to be conflicted.
In fact, they don't seem very loyal.
So now you must deal from an enemy from within, in addition to the enemy from without.
Furthermore, while you have some people calling out chizuk and following Nachshon ben Aminadav into the water, other people seem to be in the middle of a meltdown and are just screaming for Hashem to just save them.
And still others are rallying people to at least go down fighting.
And yet another group (quite a large group, actually) is making extremely persuasive arguments in favor of giving themselves up to the Egyptians, appealing to one's emotions on why it would be sooooo good (and logical!) to go back to Mitzrayim.
In addition, you have your own stuff to deal with.
Your emuna is shaky. You're honestly not sure about the exhortations from the man acting as God's spokesman and you're not even sure about God Himself.
And Mitzrayim is still in your head. As the Kli Yakar explains in Shemot 15:23-26, you are an "ailing soul" who "fell ill by buying into the bad beliefs" you "acquired in Egypt."
All in all, things have been pretty horrific for a few generations. Is God really ready to perform revealed good now? Does He really love us?
A great many people around you feed into your doubts, and do so with great conviction.
As the Egyptians approach, you see something even more terrifying: the Sar of Mitzrayim.
(That's the spiritual force of Mitzrayim, an angelic representative. The Ohr HaChaim says that he accompanied the Egyptians in pursuit of Am Yisrael. The Kli Yakar says he was already slain in Shamayim and I'm not sure how it all goes together, but both are true. For example, it could be that what the Ohr Hachaim described was like an earthly klippah of the actual Sar that had already been done in Above.)
Yet despite all the people freaking out (who are at least crying out to Hashem, which is a big virtue) and despite the people who've lost faith in the splitting-of-the-sea concept and rally others to go down fighting, and despite all the wicked people with their convincing arguments to give up and go back...
...the sea splits.
Not only does it split, but the ground is dry and passable underneath.
YES! We are SAVED!
We understand why the fearless tzaddikim were saved, but what about all the rest who'd just given up and were having a meltdown, determined to go down fighting, or wanted to return?
Not to mention the lack of emuna and the "bad beliefs" they still suffered from the Egyptian mentality.
Why did the sea part for them too?
Because they WANTED to leave Mitzrayim.
Ultimately, the beinoni screamers and rabble-rousers did not want to go back.
Remember, for all their faults, they survived the Plague of Paralyzing Darkness solely due to their ratzon.
And they did follow Moshe Rabbeinu out of Egypt, which displayed a willingness to leave Mitzrayim and everything it stood for.
They wanted to leave and they wanted Hashem.
They wanted to be bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.
And so they merited Salvation via astounding miracles.
But we're not done yet.
Why Am Yisrael Could Not Sing Shirah Right Away
Az yashir Moshe u'vnei Yisrael—THEN they sang.
They only sang after what?
When they entered into the sea (whether into the water or waited until the dry land appeared), the Kli Yakar in Shemot 14:22 declares them tzaddikim gamurim—completely righteous.
This terrific act of emunah and dedication to Hashem conferred upon them automatic tzidkut.
...they felt bitter and rebellious again as they came out the other side.
"Just as we emerged from this side, likewise the Egyptians will emerge from another side," they said.
It was still that Egyptian defeatist, rationalist thinking.
It was only after they saw all their pursuers (including the Sar of Mitzrayim) terrorized and pulverized to death that "they believed in Hashem and His Servant Moshe."
Again, the Ohr HaChaim says that's why they sing about seeing "Mitzrayim dead at the edge of the sea."
"Egypt" rather than "Egyptians"—because they saw the Sar, whose name was Mitzrayim, dead.
And then they knew without a doubt.
When Nothing Works
First of all, many people today invest in spiritual efforts.
People daven so much as best they can, they'll say the entire Sefer Tehillim in one go (even though that takes hours & the Hebrew is hard), they say "Todah" and "Gam zu l'tovah!", they take on kabbalot, they go to the Kotel for 40 consecutive days, improve their middot, do more chessed, give more tzedakah, do teshuvah (sometimes with quite a lot of mesirut nefesh), they throw out their goyishe books and music and focus on the Jewish stuff, and...
...either they don't see any improvement, no relief on the horizon, or things get even worse!
There's also practical hishtadlut. How to raise your children "right," how to be a good spouse, how to deal with difficult people, how to deal with a passive-aggressive boss, how to deal with a narcissistic parent or spouse, etc....
...and you don't see any improvement in the person or the situation.
(BTW, if you are responding with good middot, then you are refining yourself, even if you don't feel it. But your self-refinement may not improve the other person. That's not your fault.)
It other words, all your hishtadlut and all the beautiful chizuk you've read in either frum or secular books and heard in shiurim just don't seem to work.
You're taking an honest look around and with some exceptions, it mostly seems like nothing you do WORKS.
No results. What's the point?
So going back to Mitzrayim, it also looked like nothing was working.
The people called out to Hashem and trusted the big Prophet to intervene with Pharaoh on their behalf, and then their situation got MUCH WORSE.
When the Darkness of Makkat Choshech finally lifted, fourth-fifths of their Nation was gone.
On their way out, they were joined by questionable characters (Erev Rav) WITH the permission of God's spokesman—and then they were pursued by an army of sadists.
Then at the edge of the sea, NOTHING IS HAPPENING.
It was very disheartening.
And even after they crossed the sea, they looked back and saw the army of sadists crossing the sea just as they did.
Heck, if Hashem let the reshaim and Erev Rav (who were Egyptians) pass through, maybe He'll let the Egyptians pass through too?
But Hashem protected everyone who initially displayed the right ratzon.
The sea snapped back into action and this mostly sorry remnant of Am Yisrael merited to see what Yechezkel Hanavi did not see. (Mechilta, Beshalach 15:3)
Likewise, it seems that many of us feel like everything we do just isn't working, including spiritual work.
We may have made enormous progress with our middot and emuna, yet why aren't our prayers being answered with revealed good? Especially if we're asking for such good things that Hashem wants, like: for ourselves or others to overcome taavot and other bad middot, for ourselves or others to do teshuvah, for shalom bayit and our children to turn out as wonderful frum people, to find a Torah community in which we can blossom, and much more.
So I think that Yetziat Mitzrayim shows us that Redemption can come when you least expect it.
And it can come even when you're disheartened, doubtful, misguided, confused, panicked, with a wonky hashkafah and "bad beliefs," and among a very mixed crowd as you're being pummeled from all sides with conflicting messages.
Remember, many of these Jews left Mitzrayim and even crossed the Yam Suf WITH non-Jewish influences in their head. Mitzrayim was full of materialism and occultism. It was really bad and pervasive, and it was hard not to be influenced by them.
Yes, even with all your flaws and confusion, Geula can arrive just because you WANT it.
The Spiritual See-Saw
Even during the Plagues, they had their emuna ups and downs.
Yes, they followed Moshe Rabbeinu out of Mitzrayim, but then they weren't sure about crossing the sea. They were pachotim, beinonim, reshaim, lacking emuna, didn't believe so much in Hashem, etc.
But they crossed the sea as tzaddikim gamurim.
Yet the moment they finish crossing the sea and the ginormous walls of water are still standing, they look back and plunge back into despair. "Oh, those Egyptians will just cross the same way we did, and we'll be back to square one. Phhfthtt."
But then the sea crashes onto the Egyptians and—yay!
Am Yisrael is catapulted to an extreme level of emunah in which they surpass Yechezkel Hanavi in Prophetic visions!
Up. Down. Up. Down. Up.
It's so painful, exasperating, and frustrating, but if you're going through this (or seeing someone else go through this), please know that it is entirely normal.
Some people will try to shame you about what appears to them as a lack of consistency or stability, but please know that it is really, really good that you are trying so hard to be the kind of person the Torah says you should be.
Note: The difference between spiritual ups 'n' downs and genuine instability lies in the fact that you are trying, that you have a Torah-mandated spiritual goal in mind that you strive to reach despite your lack of inner and outer resources.
People who are emotionally unstable do not care (more than lip-service) about middot or spiritual goals, they simply go with their emotions and immature thinking without any goal higher than some kind of emotional/ego release.
Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender also expounded on this, that sometimes it feels like you're caught in a whirlpool, that you're totally off balance and trapped.
Or that you're stuck in muddy quicksand and the moment you get one foot unstuck, the other foot sinks. This leads to an awkward dance as you try to get unstuck and maintain your equilibrium.
He says that all you need to do is make sure that in the end, you have at least one foot out of the mud.
Just one foot is good enough.
That one foot out of the mud means you were trying.
That means you WANTED to get unstuck, even if you never succeeded.
For more of this idea, please see:
The Lovely, Flawed, Faltering Redeemable YOU
If you feel like:
- nothing you do works, no matter how hard you try and no matter how kosher l'mehadrin minhamehadrin is your goal
- you're disheartened, confused, frightened, you've been accused of having a bad hashkafah or suffering the influence of the surrounding society despite your best efforts to figure out the Truth and work on yourself,
- if you feel like you're high on Hashem & doing things right, and then plunge into despair as you realize you've messed up yet again, then work yourself back up to a state of emunah and simcha, only to have the cycle repeat itself (sometimes even within the same day) AND your goal is to be a genuinely good person according to HASHEM'S standards,
- if you wish so much that Mashiach would just come already...
...then you're exactly the kind of person Hashem likes to save.
YOU are ripe for Redemption.
You're good enough!
He has done it before.
And He can—and will—do it again.