Mud and Blood at the Reed Sea

Who is right? The activists or the stick-in-the-muds?

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Levi Chazen,

Levi Chazen
Levi Chazen

During election week here in Israel, the Satmar Rebbi arrived amidst great fanfare, publicly coming out against the elections and telling his followers not only not to participate in the elections of the Zionists, but also, that all who did would burn in the fires of Hell. He even went so far as to offer a hundred bucks for anyone who did not vote in the elections, saving their body and soul.

On the other side of the spectrum, there were many rabbis across the board who came out in favor of our democratic system and commanded their followers to vote, stating that it is a great mitzvah - commandment - to participate and vote in the election, going so far as to tell us that voting in the elections is like eating matzot on Passover.

One leading rabbi told his followers that anyone who did not vote for his party would have to face Judgment Day and eternal punishment...

Well, what is going on here? How can it be that two totally opposite opinions “to vote or not to vote” are based on the same Torah, the same Talmud, and the same laws? How, then, is it possible that they come to totally different conclusions, opinions that are as different as night and day?

One can add to this question other relevant topics, such as: Does a Jew have the obligation to live in the Land of Israel today, or should he wait it out, outside the Land? While rabbis from the nationalistic camp will swear that every Jew should leave the exile behind and head home to Israel now before it’s too late, other learned rabbis will quote from the text telling their followers that it is forbidden to leave the galut and not to come up to the Land, but rather continue to build yeshivot outside the Land - for this is a great mitzvah! - and we have to wait for the Messiah to come before heading home to Israel. Both sides quoting text from the very same books!

On the Temple Mount issue, we also find arguments. The great majority of rabbis, including famous religious Zionist rabbis,tell us how very wrong it is to ascend the Temple Mount today for halakhic reasons, quoting texts that describe eternal punishments for those who ascend the Mount. One leading hareidi rabbi went so far as to say that all who go up to the Mount are “evil”; rather, they say the Temple is off limits until the arrival of the Messiah. To be fair, they would like it to be closed for others as well, and will continue to stay down below and pray by the Wall. On the other side, there are a growing number of rabbis who claim that it is a very great commandment to ascend the Temple Mount to show our presence there, quoting texts as well.

Well, can we have it both ways? Can we have our cake and eat it, too? Can both sides be right at the same time? After all, both sides to these issues are quoting the same Torah and texts.

I believe part of the answer is found in a midrash from our week’s parsha, B'shalach. The rabbis teach us that when the Reed Sea was miraculously split and the Children of Israel descended to the sea bed, mud from the sea floor got on their feet. Some of them complained, saying: Take a look at us, when we were slaves in Egypt we had mud on our feet when we were forced to make the bricks for our overlords the Egyptians. Now that we are in the riverbed and suppose to be "free", we still have mud on our feet!

Of course, these men simply could not see past their own noses! If only they would have looked at the "big" picture, the would of course have realized that the inconvenience of having mud on their feet was certainly worth the price of going through the Reed Sea and releasing the yoke of Egypt from themselves. But the people who are always looking down at their own feet - will not be able to arise and see redemption unfolding before their eyes. The ones who are occupied with looking at the very small picture, will cry out against participating in the elections, will tell you to stay in the exile and not come home to the Land of Israel, and will tell you to stay down below the mountain, at the Wall, instead of climbing up to the top. They will take sentences from the Torah to prove their views

But it's the ones who are looking ahead, seeing the entire picture; they see the sea splitting, see what Hashem has done to the mighty Egyptian army, and see the Hand of G-d in everything unfolding before them. They don't mind getting a little mud on their feet, for they are well able to see the Redemption at hand!