A Living Kiddush Hashem

The Midrash on “Az yashir Moshe” tells of a mountain named Emunah which stands just outside border of Eretz Yisrael. When Moshiach will come — may it be speedily in our days — the Yidden of the diaspora will stand on this mountain and sing shirah.

The Belzer Rebbe, Harav Yissacher Dov, zy”a, wonders: If the Yidden will be at the threshold of Eretz Yisrael, why won’t they first cross the border so they can say shirah in the Holy Land?

He explains that when the Yidden will arrive at the border, they will recall the long years of galus — the centuries of serving Hashem under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. They will remember the pain and the persecution at the hands of their enemies, and the agony of living during eras of spiritual darkness and gloom. Only the power of emunah, their belief that one day Hashem would redeem them and take them out of exile, that gave them the strength to survive.

When they will be freed from the shackles of exile to enter Eretz Yisrael, they will no longer have the opportunity to serve Hashem with emunah alone. For in Eretz Yisrael they will merit such levels of revelation of Hashem’s greatness that it will no longer be necessary to serve Hashem with blind faith.

Serving Hashem with emunah peshutah in times when Hashem’s ways appear to be totally hidden and incomprehensible to mere mortals is far a greater challenge, with consequently a far greater reward.

The Yidden will find it difficult to part with the merit of such a nisayon, and therefore they will stand on the “mountain of Emunah” and sing shirah.

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How indeed did our ancestors survive all these years in exile? For that matter, how are we surviving now?

The parashah opens with one of the most pivotal moments in our history, the dramatic story of when the greatly frightened Bnei Yisrael discovered that a massive Egyptian army, led by Pharaoh himself, had caught up with them.

The nation cried out to Moshe Rabbeinu, “Is it because there are not enough kevarim in Egypt that you took us out to die in the wilderness?”

“Do not fear!” Moshe Rabbeinu reassured them. “Stand fast and you will see the salvation of Hashem!”

Then Hashem said to Moshe Rabbeinu, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael and let them journey forth!’”

This is perplexing. When Yidden find themselves in distress, panic-stricken, what are they supposed to do other than cry out to Hashem?

One explanation is that the Yidden of the time needed a miracle that was above teva, and such a miracle cannot be accomplished through tefillah alone, but requires an act of mesirus nefesh.

Therefore the Ribbono Shel Olam instructed that the Yidden should be told to journey forth towards the sea, providing a situation that would require an act of mesirus nefesh.

Chazal inform us that when the Yidden arrived at the Yam Suf, one nasi after another declared that he would not be the first to enter the water. Then Nachshon ben Aminadav, the nasi of Shevet Yehudah, leaped into the sea, an act that earned him the privilege of bringing the first korban at chanukas haMishkan. To this day, every pioneer moser nefesh for a dvar mitzvah is known as a “Nachshon.”

This Midrash too is hard to understand. Yidden through the generations have willingly given their lives al kiddush Hashem. How is it possible that the nesiim — who had just witnessed such astounding miracles in Mitzrayim — were unwilling to take the first leap into the sea?

Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, explains that if Bnei Yisrael would have been told to jump into the sea and drown al Kiddush Hashem, they would all have done so instantly. What they were told to do is jump into the water so they should live, to enter deep and churning waters as if it were solid ground. This was a madreigah that was above them.

Nachshon ben Aminadav answered the call and acted with mesirus nefesh based solely on emunah peshutah. He didn’t stop to ponder the circumstances, but swiftly and without question followed the dvar Hashem.

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This power of mesirus nefesh based on emunah peshutah is what has ensured our survival in galus.

We have among us pillars of inspiration, people who walked in the valley of death and lost everyone and everything yet never asked any questions or expressed any doubts. They witnessed unspeakable horror in places like Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau, yet fortified themselves with emunah peshutah. After they were liberated, they faced the challenge of building a future while living with the past. Like Nachshon ben Aminadav they were moser nefesh — not to die al kiddush Hashem, but to live a life of kiddush Hashem.

May we learn from their example.