D'vrei Torah by Rabbi Ellie Shemtov
Powerless does not mean helpless or hopeless.
Just because you feel helpless or hopeless doesn’t mean it’s true. We all experience moments of despair that keep us from moving forward in our lives. But no matter how helpless or hopeless we might feel, there is always something we can do to lift our mood such as talking with a friend, making dinner or performing a deed of loving kindness. All of those actions help jumpstart us out of our despair and provide an antidote to feeling helpless and hopeless. As Teddy Roosevelt once said: When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.
In this week’s Torah portion, B’Shalach Pharaoh has given the Israelites permission to leave Egypt. The Israelites hastily depart, but not long after their exodus Pharaoh once again changes his mind declaring,
מַה־זֹּ֣את עָשִׂ֔ינוּ כִּֽי־שִׁלַּ֥חְנוּ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵֽעָבְדֵֽנוּ
What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?
Pharaoh then instructs his army to go after Moses and the Israelites.
As the people catch site of Pharaoh and his army, they find themselves fenced in by the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them. Trapped in this way, it would have been easy for the Israelites to feel hopeless and helpless. But God encourages them to seize the moment and take one small step forward into the sea. If they can do that their despair will be lifted. God will part the waters allowing them to cross over on dry land and escape the Egyptians. It is in that moment the Israelites come to understand that powerless does not mean helpless or hopeless.