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 graves in Egypt that you took us out to die in the wilderness?”
Moshe Rabbeinu reassured them, saying “Do not fear. 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!’”
* * *
The Sar Shalom of Belz recalled that the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk had said that Moshiach would come in the lifetime of one of his talmidim. Yet all the disciples of the Rebbe Reb Elimelech had already been niftar, and Moshiach still had not come.
The Sar Shalom closed his eyes and saw before him the Rebbe Reb Elimelech.
“As long as a dvar Torah that does not appear in my sefer Noam Elimelech is repeated, I still have talmidim in the world,” the Rebbe Reb Elimelech told the Sar Shalom. Then he told him the following dvar Torah, which he elucidated with a parable:
There was once a king whose daughter was about to become a mother. Enemies of the king hired practitioners of witchcraft to prevent the birth. They succeeded, and soon the doctors reported to the king that there was nothing more they could do. The king became frantic over the fate of his daughter and grandchild.
A wise man appeared before the king with an idea: “Spread a rumor saying that the child was born.” The king followed the wise man’s advice; shortly thereafter, a healthy child came into the world.
The wise man explained that as long as the practitioners of witchcraft thought that they were being successful, they persisted in their incantations. When they heard the rumor that the child was already born, they assumed that they had failed and stopped casting their spells.
This is what happened at Yetzias Mitzrayim, said the Rebbe Reb Elimelech. When the Egyptians started pursuing Bnei Yisrael, there was a great kitrug (complaint) in Shamayim against them. The accusing malachim claimed “Eilu v’eilu ovdei avodah zarah — these [Bnei Yisrael] as well as these [the Egyptians] worshipped avodah zarah,” and therefore Bnei Yisrael were not worthy of a miracle.
At this, Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu to tell Bnei Yisrael to resume traveling. When the prosecuting malachim will see them moving forward, they will assume that they lost the case and will stop speaking ill about them. Once they stop their accusations, it will be possible for Bnei Yisrael to merit a miracle.
* * *
In Shirah d’Yisrael, the Bluzhever Rebbe, zt”l, wonders about this passuk. At first glance, he says, it is perplexing. The Ribbono shel Olam says, “Why do you cry out to Me?” But to whom then should Bnei Yisrael cry out?
The Rebbe explains at length that when a tefillah is for the needs of an individual, or even an entire nation, there are accusing malachim — mekatrigim — who do everything in their power to block these tefillos.
But when the tefillos are about kvod Shamayim, the honor of Hashem, then no kitrug is possible.
When Klal Yisrael is in a tzarah, or even when a single Yid is in pain, the Ribbono shel Olam, k’vayachol, “feels” the pain, resulting in a lack of kvod Shamayim. That is why Moshe Rabbeinu would later tell Hashem (after chet ha’egel), “Why should Egypt say …”; and Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “Why should the nations say ‘Where is their G-d?’”
At this crucial moment, with the Egyptians close behind them and the Yam Suf before them, Moshe Rabbeinu told Bnei Yisrael, “Do not fear; stand fast and you will see the salvation of Hashem.” He meant, do not fear or worry about your own precarious situation; daven only for the salvation of Hashem, for if Bnei Yisrael would not be rescued, this would cause a great chillul Hashem, chas v’shalom.
Thus, the Rebbe homiletically explains, Hashem told Moshe Rabbeinu: “Mah — why are you wondering what to do next? The solution is titz’aku eilei, cry out about Me, and in this merit speak to Bnei Yisrael and they shall journey forth and merit salvation.”