The Torah relates that many Egyptians came along with the Jews when they left Egypt. These Egyptians were awestruck by G-d’s many miracles and wanted to be part of the Jewish nation. The Medrash states that an astronomical number of Egyptians joined them.
A question raised is, why does G-d specifically praise the Jews through the Prophet Jeremiah for traveling through the desert without food provisions and putting their total trust in G-d when there were so many Egyptians who did the same? The answer is that almost all the Egyptians who came along with the Jews returned to Egypt when they saw that the Jews were not taking the direct route to Israel. G-d had steered them away from the direct route through the Land of the Philistines out of fear that the Philistines may wage war against the Jews and the Jews would return to Egypt. Thus only a relative handful of Egyptians traveled with the Jews to the desert. But, every single one of the 2.5 million Jews fully trusted in the Almighty to provide all that was necessary to survive, and they are lauded by the prophet for it.
In this week’s Parsha the Torah speaks of the splitting of the Red Sea and the prophetic song of Az Yashir the Jews sang. In one of the verses of Hallel it states, “The waters saw – and ran.” What did the water see that caused it to split?” The Medrash answers, “It saw the remains of Yosef,” which Moshe had exhumed from Egypt and taken along to be buried in Israel.
Commentators point out that the waters saw in Yosef that he quickly ran from the clutches of the seductive advances of his master’s wife. Yosef left her so quickly, that he left behind his cloak that she had grabbed from him.
The Ramban – Nachmanadies – asks why didn’t Yosef go back and grab his coat from his masters’ wife? That way, she would have no evidence and it would have saved him much grief. An answer given is that Yosef’s passion to commit the sin was so strong, that he knew that if he remained a second longer, he would succumb to his temptation and sinned. He therefore ran away without making any calculations of the ramification of his coat being left in her hands.
We find that the angel of the sea did not want to split and complained to G-d, “Why should I split for the Jews and drown the Egyptians? After all, they both had worshiped idols in Egypt.” The angel of the sea did not want to take responsibility for killing the Egyptians.
But when the sea saw the remains of Yosef, and recognized that Yosef did the will of G-d without calculating the risk of leaving his coat for doing so, it immediately split.
My uncle Rabbi Moshe Saks o.b.m. points out that the Holiday of Tu B’shvat, which we celebrate today, always falls during the week of the Parsha which discusses the splitting of the Red Sea. What is the significance? Commentaries explain that the Esrog is the fruit chosen to be used on the Holiday of Succos because in the six days of creation the Esrog tree was the only tree which listened to G-d’s command and produced its bark that tasted like its fruit. All other fruit trees only produced fruit, while the bark and wood of the tree itself did not taste like its fruit.
Chizkuni explains that the trees did not listen to G-d because they were afraid, “If we produce our trees to taste like fruit, we have no chance for survival, because people or animals are going to cut us down and consume us.” This was a mistake by the trees; they shouldn’t have made any calculations when it was in conflict with G-d’s command. The Esrog was therefore chosen for the Mitzvah of Succos because it did not make this personal calculation; rather, it listened to G-d.
We can draw great inspiration from the decisions the Esrog, the Sea, and Yosef made. They each made a personal choice and gave up their own will to do the will of G-d. This brought enormous and eternal reward.
Our personal daily struggles and challenges are no different. When we give up our will – to do the will of G-d, it will bring us great blessings and eternal rewards!