Beshalach: God’s Dilemma


In a beautiful blogpost on parashat Beshalach Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser cites the well-known midrash which says, “Arranging marriages is as difficult for the Holy Blessed One as was the parting of the Red Sea.” (Vayikra Rabbah 8).

Rabbi Goldwasser brings the question raised about this midrash in the Zohar which asks, “Was parting the Red Sea so difficult for God? Is it not true that as soon as God is resolved to do something, all obstacles are as nothing? How was it that the dividing of the Red Sea was difficult for God?” (Zohar II 170a).
The Zohar answers that God’s “difficulty” lay not, of course, in the splitting of the sea. His quandary was how to choose the lives of the Children of Israel over those of the Egyptians. The Zohar quotes the angel of the Egyptians addressing God before the Egyptians were drowned in the sea. The angel challenges God, asking Him why He is punishing Egypt and saving the Israelites. He asserts that they are all sinners.  He questions how a God of truth and justice chooses between the two peoples.
At that moment, the Zohar tells us, God is faced with a harrowing dilemma which is the  real difficulty of the parting of the Red Sea.

Rabbi Goldwasser points out that the Zohar finds a message about God’s agonizing choice embedded in a strange silence which is found between the two verses above: in verse 14, Moses enjoins the people not to be afraid. He tells them to stand and watch silently as God goes to battle for them. And then, in verse 15, God says to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!”
Rabbi Goldwasser asks what happens between those two verses? Moses’ cry to God is not recorded. How can the people advance before the waters have been parted? What, he asks, is missing from the story? He says that according to the Zohar, “the missing moment is the moment of God pondering the horrible dilemma. When God asks Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me?” the Zohar reads it as a moral challenge. It is as if God is asking Moses, “Did you really think that I would save you at the expense of the Egyptians because of your pleas? Don’t cry to Me. Rather, cry out to the Israelites and beg them to behave in a manner that will make them worthy of being saved! Tell them to “go advance” … in their behaviour!””
Reb Jeff says, “That is what is missing from the story — the way that God struggles over the fate of one imperfect people over another. None is without faults, yet some must flourish while others perish. God makes choices where there are no good choices, and God agonizes over it. Who will live and who will die? How can God make choices if human beings will not “go advance” in their choices?
And what does this have to do with arranging marriages? The Zohar wants to tell us that these tough choices are not just about nations and the broad scope of human history. They happen every day on a personal scale. Every wedding sets into motion events that will lead to “weeping for some and singing for others,” says the Zohar. It is hard, even for God, to discern how to allocate good and bad fortune in a world so clouded by uncertainty, human frailty and moral shades of gray.”

He concludes that marriage, and in fact all sacred relationships, are miracles as wondrous as the parting of the Red Sea. We need, he says, to recognize this and to make ourselves worthy of the miracle. When a relationship brings suffering, God also suffers over it. And in order for a relationship to bring joy, it is incumbent on the partners to work on it – to “go advance!”


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