February 2020 – Parshat Beshalach

It is not for naught that Sir Winston Churchill has been consistently named ‘History’s Greatest Briton’ in poll after poll.

Till today there is something mesmerizing and alluring surrounding the character and persona of Britain’s wartime Prime Minister.

Many are drawn to Churchill’s vibrantly iconic bowler hat, polka dot bow-tie and cigars. Many historians and researchers are drawn to his quick-wit, charisma and ingenious usage of the English language (Churchill even won a Nobel Prize in Literature).

However for me, I find the greatest admiration and inspiration from Sir Winston in his resoluteness and leadership qualities.

No leader aside for him saw and forewarned the growing dangers of Nazi Germany. No other leader defied Hitler and his gang’s relentless persecution of Jews. And no leader could rally England in unity and with such bravado as he did while facing the onslaught of the Blitz.

However, Churchill’s leadership qualities were not innate or natural. As a youth he is often described as being both sickly and quiet. Thus a slew of influencers helped build and mold the ‘British Bulldog’, the nickname given to Churchill.

Surprisingly, even though not a particularly religious man, Churchill greatly admired Moshe Rabenu. In a 1931 article titled ‘Moses: A leader of a people’ Churchill described him as being: “One of the greatest human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernable in the human story.”

Not only are both leaders similar due to them both having to fight despots, but also they both contained uncanny perseverance and resolve.

Most prominently we find this parallel in this week’s Parsha Beshalach when immediately upon leaving Egypt, Pharaoh in a change of heart decided to pursue the Hebrews in an attempt to force them back into slavery. Thus the Hebrews are found wedged between the Red Sea and the oncoming Egyptian army.

The Midrash describes the Israelites dividing themselves into four ideological camps in response.

The first group said, “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” A second group said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third faction argued, “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians.” Finally, a fourth camp advocated, “Let us pray to G‑d.”

However Moshe rejected all four options, saying to the people, “Fear not; G-d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent.”

Despite the oncoming onslaught, Moshe still maintained and wholeheartedly believed in G-d’s promise  “And I will take you out with an outstretched arm.” By Moshe, such a statement was no mere rhetoric and assured him that there was no need for intricate plans in the face of the oncoming calamity, but rather a need for strengthening of perseverance and ‘Bitachon’ (faith).

Moshe’s unwavering faith in response to catastrophe proved to be the deciding factor in the Splitting of the Sea and the completion of the Exodus.

Moshe’s resoluteness is also a lesson for us today. Many a time it can feel in our spiritual service (or in other walks of life)  that we have reached breaking point – an inability to connect or see the fruits of our labour.

Despite current trends of demanding instant gratification or rewards, one’s spiritual connection or prayer needs investment and work. Through such determination and perseverance we can truly connect to the divine and escape the ‘Egypt’ that was holding us back.

As Churchill once said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”