Parshas Beshalach

Burning Bridges

I remember my first road trip. I was with a couple of friends and we had ambitiously decided to go spend the day at the seaside town of Bournemouth – two hours away. We were too young to drive of course, so one of the more outspoken guys in the group managed to convince an older friend to drive us there.

We were all very excited. Traveling by ourselves to a faraway town, to enjoy a nice summers day by the sea. But as we were getting closer to our destination and further and further from home my excitement started to make way to distress and even fear.

The roads were unfamiliar, I didn’t recognize the people, and everything was different. I was beginning to feel unnerved. Juggling the excitement of the new adventure and the rich experiences that I was about to have; versus the discomfort with the unfamiliar, the fear of the unknown.

We’ve all had this experience one way or another. It may have been the first time going away to sleep away camp, and feeling homesick; or our first day on a new job and feeling a little anxious.

We feel comfortable with what we know. It feels predictable and certain. We know what to expect. So even though we are starting a new journey, which brings with it new opportunities, we still have that lingering fear.

And this is the challenge. Stay in your comfort zone, and you never grow or develop new opportunities. Venture out to pursue new opportunities and you have to overcome the discomfort of the unknown.

This reminds me of the opening of this week’s Parsha - Beshalach. The Israelites have just left Egypt and are on their way to the Promised Land. But what route should they take?

G‑d (who is directing the traffic) has two choices. The direct route, up along the coast, through modern day Gaza and right into the south of Israel. Or the long roundabout way, east - through the desert and then north; then crossing over the Jordan River, entering Israel from the east.

So which route does Hashem choose?

The Torah tells us in the first verse, (Shmos - Ex. 13:17) “It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt.”

The people were afraid of a new trip! As soon as they would encounter trouble on the way, they would want to return to Egypt. In fact this concern was not unfounded. Many times throughout the 40 year journey in the desert, when faced with challenge, like war or lack of provisions, they complained to Moshe and said let us go back to Egypt!

But why? In Egypt they were slaves!!! Why would they want to go back? Because the comfort of the familiar is so great, that sometimes we prefer that which we are familiar and secure with, over that which is unfamiliar; even though the familiar can be really limiting and even painful - like slavery! This is similar to what is known today as the Stockholm syndrome.

So when dealing with a new situation we should be aware of the possible pitfalls. Sometimes what’s holding us back, is not anything specific; but just the fear of the unknown, the fear of unchartered territory. The solution is right here. Take the rout that doesn’t allow you turn back at the first sign of danger.

When it happens the first thing is to be aware of what’s happening and then find ways to force ourselves to confront our fear. Burn the bridge! so that we don’t have a choice but to jump in and overcome the fear. And the best part is that soon enough we will become used to the new reality and that will become the new normal – the new cause of comfort and predictability. And we will have grown in the process!

While the lesson that we can take from this can be applied to many aspects of life, whether business, relationships, or health; I wish to point out the religious aspect as well.

There are many times that we may be curious or inspired to investigate a part of Judaism that we didn’t know about when growing up. It may be a new ritual like putting on Tefillin or lighting Shabbos candles, feeding the soul like davening in a prayer service (and we have a beautiful service once a month, you should check it out J), expanding the mind – a Torah class. And because we are not used to it, there is a feeling of unease, a fear of the unknown experience. So we take the easier route. We abandon the experience and go back to Egypt!

This week’s Torah portion challenges us, find an aspect in Jewish life that for whatever reason we don’t know much about, but would like to know more and experience it. Jump in and don’t look back. Before you know it, it will be for you the new normal, and will be a source of comfort and security in the future.

Shabbat Shalom