Rabbi Shimshon Refael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Refael HirschE. Resnick
They said to Moshe, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?’” (Exodus 14:11).

Why did the Jews doubt G-d at the Red Sea? Didn’t they know He could miraculously save them from Pharaoh’s army?

Rav Hirsch answers that no, they didn’t. We know because Tanach and post-biblical history records countless stories of G-d saving the Jewish people from annihilation. The Jews who left Egypt had no such history.

“In their position, and from their standpoint, [it was] a very understandable doubt,” writes Rav Hirsch. “How could they, how dared they, just quietly assume that G-d would help them in such an extraordinarily miraculous manner, for which there was absolutely no precedent, and which was so completely against all natural expectation?”

Rav Hirsch’s observation is very astute and explains why time and again we find the Jewish people complaining in the desert rather than trusting that all would be okay. How should they know that all would be okay? G-d hadn’t “proven” Himself to them yet.

Interestingly, after making this compelling point, Rav Hirsch immediately makes another one. He writes – citing the Kuzari – that the Jews’ complaint to Moshe at the Red Sea actually helps establish the veracity of the miracles recorded in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. He explains:

“Moshe had to deal with a clear-minded people whose minds were not befogged by fantastic ideas, and who were not easily taken in, or convinced, by the first man who came along. If then, ultimately, this very people have cheerfully given themselves up for centuries to fight the world, and to die for ‘the teachings of this Moshe,’ it is a proof that the sending of this Moshe must have won them over to an unassailable conviction by the force of actual deeds and occurrences.”

Rav Hirsch makes the same point elsewhere in commenting on our designation as a “stiff-necked people.” If we were an easygoing, gullible people, he argues, a fraudster could have pulled a fast one over us. But we weren’t. Thus, if our ancestors ultimately trusted G-d and Moshe, it’s because G-d and Moshe proved themselves worthy of that trust. And if our ancestors later allowed Moshe to introduce Torah scrolls among them that record miracles they experienced, it can only be because they actually occurred.

Samson Raphael Hirsch (June 20, 1808 – December 31, 1888) was a German rabbi, brilliant Torah scholar and founder of the Torah im Derech Eretz way of leading an Orthodox Jewish life.

Elliot Resnick, PhD, is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.