Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kedushah and Candy Bags

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Back when I lived in Michigan, one of my sons to studied Kung Fu in a local dojo. One way that they projected the seriousness of martial arts was in the established "sanctity of space" surrounding the dojo. Administrators politely but firmly discouraged cell phone use anywhere in the building. Neither students nor visitors were permitted to wear shoes on the workout mat. These and other minor but firmly enforced rules conveyed the tangible message to students that this dojo was a serious place for serious personal growth. Not surprisingly, this was the most successful martial arts center in Southeastern Michigan. Because the sifu (master) took his craft seriously, his students followed suit and grew both physically and spiritually during their time in the dojo.
After a while, I realized just how similar the dojo's rules are to the halachot related to kedushat beit hakenesset (sanctity of the shul). Halachah establishes very clear and firm rules about the sanctity of the Beit Hakeneset. The Shulchan Aruch (see אורח חיים סימן קנ"א) writes that in a Beit Kenesset:
1. One may not act with frivolity or light-headedness.
2. One may not discuss mundane or trivial matters, like business or world events.
3. One may not eat or drink.
4. One may not kiss his young children – really. (See רמ"א אורח חיים סי' צ"א סעיף א')
Chazal instituted these rules for a very specific reason: the way that we treat and relate to our Beit Hakeneset directly influences not only how we behave there, but how we use that space to relate to Hashem.
I raise this issue because the words of the Sefer Hachinuch on Parshat Terumah caught my attention. Terumah (and Tetzaveh, Vayakhel and Pekudei) relate the blueprints for and construction of the mishkan. But even before they delve into any of the details of the mishkan, Chazal confront a critical introductory question addressed by Shlomo Hamelech at the dedication of the first Beit Hamikdash in Yerushalayim. Why does Hashem command the construction of the Mishkan at all? After all,
כִּי, הַאֻמְנָם, יֵשֵׁב אֱלֹהִים, עַל-הָאָרֶץ; הִנֵּה הַשָּׁמַיִם וּשְׁמֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, לֹא יְכַלְכְּלוּךָ--אַף, כִּי-הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר בָּנִיתִי
But will God in very truth dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You; how much less this house that I have built!
Sefer Hachinuch, (see Mitzvah 95) in a long and powerful essay worth reading, explains that while Hashem doesn't need a Beit Hamikdash, we certainly do.
הלא ידועים הדברים וברורים שהכל להכשר גופותינו, כי הגופות יוכשרו על ידי הפעולות, וברבות הפעולות הטובות ורוב התמדתן מחשבות הלב מטהרות מתלבנות מזדקקות. והשם חפץ בטובתן של בריות כמו שאמרנו, ועל כן ציונו לקבוע מקום שיהיה טהור ונקי בתכלית הנקיות, לטהר שם מחשבות בני איש ולתקן לבבם אליו בו...ומתוך הכשר המעשה וטהרת המחשבה שיהיה לנו שם יעלה שכלינו אל הדבקות עם השכל העליוני
Behold these ideas are well-known and clear, that all of this is for the preparation and perfection of our bodies. For the body is prepared through action, and with these continued good acts and their continued steady practice, the thoughts of the heart are purified, clarified and refined. God desires the benefit of [His] creations, as we have said, and therefore He commanded us to set aside a place that will be pure and clean in the greatest possible cleanliness, to purify there the thoughts of man and to refine their hearts toward Him…And through this preparation of action and purification of thought we will have there, we will exalt our intellect to cling with the Exalted Intellect.
Hashem commands us to build a Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash to give us a place completely and totally devoted to our spiritual development. We treat that place with reverence, respect and purity because we need that purity to leads us towards Hashem.

The comments of the Chinuch resonate strongly with me this week. Last Shabbat in my shul in Yad Binyamin, we celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of the son of a neighbor. After the kriat hatorah came the compulsory candy-throwing and the literally dozens of children writhing on the ground, lunging for toffees. In one sense, it was a beautiful scene: a shul packed with children celebrating a young man's entrance into the ranks of Jewish men. But in the real world, pandemonium ensued. Kids ran everywhere, diving between benches at stray candies. Girls threw candy at the men. Men threw candy at men. The davening stopped completely, and even when prayer resumed, it would be hard to argue that many other than the chazzan were actually praying for a long while.
Commenting on the prohibition to kiss your children in shul the Mishnah Berurah writes,
בשל"ה קורא תגר על המביאים ילדים לבהכ"נ והיינו קטנים שעדיין לא הגיעו לחינוך מטעם כי הילדים משחקים ומרקדים בבהכ"נ ומחללים קדושת בהכ"נ וגם מבלבלים דעת המתפללים ועוד גם כי יזקינו לא יסוקו ממנהגם הרע אשר נתחנכו בילדותם להשתגע ולבזות קדושת בהכ"נ אבל כשהגיעו לחינוך אדרבה יביאנו אתו לבהכ"נ וילמדהו אורחות חיים לישב באימה וביראה
The Shelah strongly criticizes those who bring their children to shul – and this refers to those children who have yet to reach the age of education. This is because small children play and dance in shul and desecrate the holiness of the shul. They also disturb the concentration of those who are praying. Moreover, when they grow older they will not abandon the bad habits that they learned as children, to go crazy and denigrate the sanctity of the shul. But when they reach the age of education quite the opposite is true: one should bring [his children] to shul and teach them the way of life, to sit with awe and fear.
Reading the wise words of the Chafetz Chaim, I realize: I am one of those children. My entire generation grew up chasing candy in shul, wandering the aisles waiting for davening to end. True, at least we were in shul. But can we truly claim that we treat our shuls today with a level of sanctity that encourages an atmosphere of sanctity and seriousness that brings us closer to Hashem? Do we honestly refrain from frivolous talk in shul? Do we turn off our cell phones before we enter (that's mostly for men during the week) or do we text quick answers during chazarat hashatz?
And, perhaps even more importantly, are we raising our children in exactly the same way? Or will we prevent them from repeating our mistakes? Consider these questions the next time you (unwittingly) go to kiss your beautiful baby in shul on Shabbat morning.

Orot Scholarship Fundraising Event in Raanana

On Monday Feb 23rd, Orot Israel College held a scholarship fundraising event co-sponsored by Leelah and Joseph Gittler and Tamar and Jonathan Koschitzky at the Gittler home in Raanana.
Both Leelah Gittler (a former Bat Zion Bogeret) and Nomi Spanglet, the director of development and alumni relations made brief introductions.
Rimona Sharvit, an Orot graduate and homeroom teacher and Limudei Kodesh elementary school co-ordinator at Beit Sefer Noam in Raanana, expressed her gratitude to Orot for helping her become the dedicated, passionate and well trained teacher that she is today.
The guest speaker of the evening was Rabbi Yona Goodman, director of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary Education and Jewish Values. The topic of the lecture was: Parenting in Crisis, and included a multimedia presentation addressing the challenges of raising religious teenagers in the modern world.
Orot would like to thank the Gittler and Koschitzky families for their very gracious hospitality as well as for their continued support to the College.
We look forward to having several additional scholarship events during the coming year.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slow Steady Steps - Devar Torah for Mishpatim

It's gotten so bad that I can't even listen to the news anymore.
If you thought that new elections in Israel would break the political gridlock and move the country forward, you thought wrong. We don't even know who won. Likud? Labor? Lieberman. Who knows? And if we thought that we could record some progress on our end, our enemies certainly aren't going anywhere. Gilad Shalit remains in the blood-stained hands of Hamas, who hold him to extort the release of still more murderers. Hizballah and Iran continue to mass weapons and technology. Arab citizens in Israel supported Hamas during our last war. It just doesn’t seem to end, leading to a sense of weariness – and despondency.
That's where a pasuk in this week's parshah can help. Describing the process of entering the Land of Israel, Hashem tells Moshe that,
אֶת-אֵימָתִי, אֲשַׁלַּח לְפָנֶיךָ, וְהַמֹּתִי אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם, אֲשֶׁר תָּבֹא בָּהֶם; וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-כָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ אֵלֶיךָ, עֹרֶף. וְשָׁלַחְתִּי אֶת-הַצִּרְעָה, לְפָנֶיךָ; וְגֵרְשָׁה, אֶת-הַחִוִּי אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי וְאֶת-הַחִתִּי--מִלְּפָנֶיךָ.
I will send My terror before you, and will confus all the people to whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send the hornet before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before you. (Shemot 23:27-28)
Sounds good. I like the idea of my enemies, confused and dazed, running away from me chased by a swarm of hornets. If only. But then we read on:
לֹא אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ מִפָּנֶיךָ, בְּשָׁנָה אֶחָת: פֶּן-תִּהְיֶה הָאָרֶץ שְׁמָמָה, וְרַבָּה עָלֶיךָ חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה. מְעַט מְעַט אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ, מִפָּנֶיךָ, עַד אֲשֶׁר תִּפְרֶה, וְנָחַלְתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ.
I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the beasts of the field multiply against you. By little and little I will drive them out from before you, until you increase and inherit the land. (Shemot 23:29-30)
Why not? Why not just get rid of our enemies in one fell swoop, driving them out in an instant? Wouldn't it be easier for the Jewish people to enter an empty land, ready for them to settle and develop? Couldn't we actualize the Zionist Dream if we didn't have to keep fighting the Arabs all the time? Ironically, we could not. Commenting on these pesukim Abarbanel explains,
שלא יחשבו ישראל שפתע פתאום יהיו כל העממים מגורשים מן הארץ, וכאשר לא יהיה כן יאמרו כי מבלתי יכולת ה' לא גורשו משם. לכן אמר: "לא אגרשנו מפניך בשנה אחת", אך "מעט מעט אגרשנו מפני
So that Israel will not think that suddenly all of the nations will suddenly be driven out of the land – and when that did not happen they will say that they were not driven out because God was unable to do so. [For this reason it says] "I will not drive them out in one year" rather, "little by little I will drive them out."
While we would love the redemption and conquest of Israel to be an instantaneous and cataclysmic event, we also want it to be real and lasting. And you can't have both. Life just doesn't work that way. Your wedding day (if you're married) was amazing. Mine sure was terrific – what I remember of it. The chuppah, the dancing, the food. Actually, we didn't have a chance to eat any of the food, but no matter. If you ask yourself whether your wedding was the most significant event in your relationship with your spouse, I hope you'll say no. It's never one specific event, as great as each one may be. Rather, real relationships rise from daily life, from the ongoing joint struggle to succeed and flourish together. Flashy events, while exciting and powerful, don't create lasting impressions, nor do they create facts on the ground. Only the slow, difficult work of growth and inheritance can establish a presence that will endure.
What's true for each of us in our personal lives certainly holds true for the Jewish people as a nation. It won't happen in a day or a year, and not even in sixty. We need to "grow and inherit the land." We're not there yet – physically, spiritually or religiously. But every time I drive to work up a modern highway, dotted with flourishing companies, green farms and growing businesses, I feel that we've taken one step closer to that goal. Every day that we continue to take the small steps each and every day: to build another school, another community, another business, another home, another student and another teacher, we inch ever closer to Hashem's promise in the Torah:
וְשַׁתִּי אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, מִיַּם-סוּף וְעַד-יָם פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וּמִמִּדְבָּר, עַד-הַנָּהָר
And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the River.
אמן כן יהי רצון.

Yom Iyun on Religious Zionism at Orot Israel College

Michlelet Orot held recently a yom iyyun on the subject of "Our Relationship to Religious Zionism." This Yom Iyun was part of Orot's many planned year-round activities focusing on Religious Zionism. Guided by both President Rabbi Prof. Neria Guttel and Dean of Students Rabbi Dr. Moshe Rachimi, Orot has developed this thematic program with the knowledge that our students will soon become the educators that influence and shape the next generation of Israeli youth.
During the Yom Iyun, Rabbi Yona Goodman, Director of the Advanced Institute for Contemporary Education and Jewish Values, discussed "Religious Zionism as Identity", describing the challenges that we face as a larger religious community that does not adequately define itself, and directions for improvement. Dr. Vitela Arzi, head of the English department and Dr. Keren Goldfard exposed to the audience a unique joint project between Michlelet Orot and Yeshiva University. In addition, students in the dance department performed a dance they had developed on the topic of Religious Zionism under the guidance of Mrs. Talia Perlstein, head of the dance department. Rabbi Elyashiv Avihail clarified the positions of the great rabbis towards Zionism with a presentation edited by his son, Segev Paniel Avihail הי"ד. Segev was one of the eight young students tragically gunned down at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem over a year ago. He had created his digital presentation during the year before his death. Watching his love for Israel on the screen demonstrated the power that love for Eretz Yisrael can have, especially from our youth. His presentation remains a living testimony to the purity of his heart and soul. May his soul rest in peace, and be a source of strength for his family and klal yisrael.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Felix Winner of the Prize for Jewish Education

Twelve educators, among them Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Felix, founder and first Rosh Michlalah of Orot Israel College, are the winners of the Prize for Jewish Education, a prize annually awarded by the National Organization of Religious Teachers in Israel at a ceremony at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem.
Mr. Shmaryahu Ben Zur, President of the Religious Teachers Organization, who proposed and initiated the idea of awarding the "Oscar" to the Religious-National Educators, praised the achievements of the winners of the Religious Education Prize who leave a personal impression through their educational achievements over many years.
Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Felix, founder of Orot Israel College, expressed his thanks on behalf of the prize recipients, who, together with hundreds of guests watched a short presentation on the stations in their lives, from childhood through their retirement.
Michlelet Orot played a primary role in the life track of five among the twelve winners of the Religious Education Prize for this year.
The faculty, students and administration of the Orot Israel College of Education congratulate Rabbi Dr. Felix for this well-deserved and wonderful honor.

On the Wings of Eagles - Devar Torah for Yitro

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Bat Zion director

Having lived through the recent Gaza war, Israel has seen its share of miraculous events. The story of the "mysterious woman" who saved numerous soldiers in Gaza has made the rounds around the world. Even less overtly miraculous events surrounded the Gaza War. When describing the recovery of 2nd Lieutenant Aharon Karov, "Doctors at Beillinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah called the soldier's rapid recovery miraculous." Other miracles occurred as well that Parshat Yitro allude to.
When introducing the giving of the Torah to Moshe and the Jewish People Hashem tells him,
כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב, וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם; וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל-כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי. (שמות י"ט:ד-ה)
"So you shall say to the house of Ya'akov and tell the Children of Israel: You saw that which I did to Egypt; and I carried you on the wings of eagles and I brought you to me." (Shemot 19:4-5)
Commentators wonder what Hashem means when he refers to carrying the people "On the wings of eagles." When did He carry the people at all? (Nowadays, as we fly to Israel in comfort on 777s, we have no trouble envisioning that image. But what did the Torah mean back then?) Different parshanim offer a number of possibilities, all of them figuratively.
Seforno explains the term in terms of uncharted territory: just as an eagle flies where no other bird can, so too did Hashem separate the Jewish people from the rest of the nations to bring them close to Him. Ibn Ezra sees the term as a symbol of strength - and of slow travel. The eagle cowers before no other bird, so he travels at his own deliberate pace without fear of attack. Similarly, Hashem could lead the Jewish people at a leisurely pace without fear of external attack.
Rashi also interprets the phrase symbolically, but in doing so offers us a new insight into the Divine protection that Hashem gives His people. Says Rashi,
כנשר הנושא גוזליו על כנפיו שכל שאר העופות נותנים את בניהם בין רגליהם לפי שמתיראין מעוף אחר שפורח על גביהם אבל הנשר הזה אינו מתירא אלא מן האדם שמא יזרוק בו חץ לפי שאין עוף אחר פורח על גביו לכך נותנו על כנפיו אומר מוטב יכנס החץ בי ולא בבני. אף אני עשיתי כן ויסע מלאך האלהים וגו' ויבא בין מחנה מצרים וגו' והיו מצרים זורקים חצים ואבני בליסטראות והענן מקבלם:
Like the eagle that carries his young on his wings; for all the other birds put their young between their feet, because they fear another bird flying above them. But this eagle only fears man, who may shoot an arrow (from below), for no other bird flies above her. For this reason she places her young on her wings saying, "It is better that the arrow should enter me than my child." So too – says God – did I do, (as it is written) "and the angel of God traveled…and he came between he camp of Egypt and the Jewish camp…" The Egyptians would shoot arrows and catapult stones – and the cloud would absorb them.
In other words, the "wings of eagles" formed a sort of shield, protecting the Jewish nation from external attack. No matter what the Egyptians fired at the people – whether weaker arrows or more powerful boulders – the projectiles continually missed their mark.
Does that sound familiar? To anyone living in Israel over the past few months, it's been a daily phenomenon. While we can never minimize the suffering of people who fell victim to Hamas attacks, time and time again the news would report multiple attacks and conclude the report by telling us that the rocket or mortar fell in an open area and end with the phrase, איש לא נפגע – "no injuries." Several times rockets fell in schools with no children in them. On days that school did meet the rockets fell out of range. Since 2005, Hamas has launched over 6,800 rockets and mortars into Israel. In 2008 3,278 rockets and mortar shells landed in Israeli territory. And while even one death is a tragedy, and Israelis have been injured and suffered from shock and trauma, the low, almost miniscule number of fatalities and injuries that we have suffered from such a withering attack is nothing short of miraculous.
It's almost like we're sitting "on the wings of eagles."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Orot Hosts Yom Iyyun for Girls Serving in Sherut Leumi

On Wednesday, January 14, 09 (18 Tevet 5769) Orot held a Yom Iyyun for over 300 girls who serve during their Sherut Le'umi (Bat-Ami) in the field of educational on the topic of "Coping with Different Situations".
Rabbi Yona Goodman began the program with a lecture on "A Spiritual Look at the War in the South". Afterwards, the girls split into several workshops in the varied fields of studies: Bible, Oral Law, Communications, Dance, and Educational Counseling in Informal Education. Each workshop addressed the subject: How am I coping with…" The workshops, while very interesting, ended too quickly, revealing the need for additional days of study.
After lunch was served, the girls were invited to hear the fascinating one-man show of Mrs. Liat Stern that dealt with her way of coping with her difficult life.
The purpose of the study day, which was the second of ten designated study days for girls serving in National Service, is to break the routine of these young women who work so hard in daily life. These conferences give them the opportunity to reflect on issues that are close to their hearts, while exposing them to the skills that the Michlalah can offer them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Fighting Our Fears - Devar Torah for Beshalach 5769

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Bat Zion director

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.
Why did the Jewish people cross the Yam Suf? You might think that they also crossed the sea to get to the other side, away from the charging Egyptian army. Chizkuni (on Shemot 14:22) didn't think so. In fact, he says that they didn't go to the other side at all.
לא שעברו בני ישראל את הים על דרך רוחבן, כי ידוע שאין הים מפסיק בין ארץ מצרים ובין ארץ כנען.
It is not that the Children of Israel crossed the sea at its length, for it is known that this sea does not divide between Egypt and Canaan.
Rabbi Aryeh Carmel, in a really interesting article that appears on the Da'at website, explains that this position in Rishonim emanates from a detailed Tosfot (ערכין ט"ו עמוד א' ד"ה כשם) that makes the same claim:
ואומר ר' בשם אביו רבי שמואל שישראל לא עברו הים לרחבו מצד זה לזה שא"כ היו ממהרים ללכת אל א"י אלא רצועה אחת עברו בים לאורך הים עד שפנו למדבר לצד אחד
And Rebbe said in the name of his father Rabbi Shmuel that the [Children of] Israel did not cross the sea lengthwise from one side to the other, for if so they would have hurried towards the Land of Israel. Rather, they passed through a single strip in the sea at its length, until they returned to the desert on the same side.
Rav Carmel suggests that Tosfot's view emanates from a misunderstanding of the geography of the terrain. (If you actually look up the Tosfot you'll see a really wild map of the Middle East – far stranger even than some of the maps you see from the U.N.) Using modern maps Rabbi Carmel suggests that the Jews did actually cross the sea lengthwise after having doubled back. See the dotted route on the map.
I'd like to ask a simple question: Even based on Rav Carmel's calculation of the route out of Egypt, the Jewish people really didn't have to cross through the Yam Suf. They could have easily continued through the Sinai Desert without crossing any body of water at all. Although amazing miracle and historical, what prompts Hashem to generate such a fantastic, yet unnecessary spectacle? Chizkuni answers:
אלא לא היה צורך שיכנסו בו, רק כדי שיכנס פרעה אחריהם ויטבע. ונכנסו בו חצי עגול, שהרי ממדבר איתם נכנסו לים וממדבר איתם חזרו מן הים.
Rather, there was no need for them to enter [the sea], except so that Par'oh would follow them and drown. And they entered in a half-circle – for they entered from the Eitam Desert, and returned to the Eitam Desert from the sea.
Why did we have to enter into the Yam Suf? The greatest miracle in the history of the Jewish people was a simple gimmick to lure the Egyptians to their watery deaths. The miraculous crossing was actually a massive military victory geared to inspire fear and awe across the globe.
But what about the Jews? Couldn't Hashem have spared them the agony and anguish of being chased through the desert? Why did Hashem put the Jewish Nation through such a difficult and challenging experience if the entire purpose was to decimate the Egyptians? To my mind, the crossing of the Yam Suf was not only about the Egyptians: rather, it served as a lesson for the Jewish nation – and for us as well.
The other day my family went on tiyyul to עיר דוד and took an amazing tour of many centuries of Jewish history through the newly discovered walls of ancient Yerushalayim. As we descended from the main level to the lower level, we ended up standing on a raised, grated metal platform. My mother, visiting from the United States, who's not a fan of heights, sat on the side. She just didn't like walking on a grate where she could see the depths. It made her uncomfortable and nervous. She got over it.
Imagine walking not on a solid metal grate, but on water. Yes, water. Commenting on the fact that ויבקעו המים – "the water split," Chizkuni states,
"ויבקעו המים" משמע עד קרקעיתו של הים וכתוב אחד אומר: קפאו תהומות בלב ים (ט"ו:ח) דמשמע שלא נבקעו לגמרי. אלא ים זה גדוש הוא, ואילו לא נבקעו המים כלל, הוצרכו ישראל לטרוח ולעלות למעלה, ואם נבקעו לגמרי הוצרכו לירד עד תהום. לפיכך נבקע הגודש דתילתא הוי ונעשה לישראל חומה מזה ומזה.
"And the waters split" implies [that they split] down to the floor of the sea. And another verse says "the depths froze in the heart of the sea," (15:8) which implies that they did not split completely. Rather, the waters were packed together [beneath the people]. Had they not split at all, the Jews would have had to expend energy to climb above [the waters], and had they split completely they would need to descend to the depths. Therefore the waters packed "until a third" and also gathered as walls for Israel on either side.
Imagine that you're a Jew living through יציאת מצרים. One minute you're walking along on dry land, and then the next minute someone tells you to literally walk on water - between two solid walls of water rising high into the air. And don't worry, it will hold you. And stay up. And not fall crashing down on you resulting in your horrible drowning.
We'd like to imagine that we'd have no problem taking that first step between those tall walls of water. But would we casually stroll out through the Yam Suf? Or would we think twice before inching out nervously, fearfully, carefully.
For this reason, the Torah twice repeats the phrase, ומים להם חומה מימינם ומשמאלם – "and the water was for them a wall – to their left and to their right." As much as the splitting of the sea served as a sign for the rest of the world of Hashem's might and power, the event also represented both as a test and a rite of passage for the Jewish people. In order to be saved, they had to believe. They had to literally put their lives in the hand of Hashem, and have total faith that He would save them. And putting your life on the line – while simple and obvious in hindsight – could not have been easy at the time.
Life is full of similar rites of passage. No, the challenges of faith are not nearly so daunting and the stakes never so high – but still. Each of us faces decisions in life where we must make a choice: to follow the path lying before us, despite the dangers – despite the tall walls of water held in place by some unseen force; or to remain firmly rooted in place, paralyzed by our fears and doubts and unwillingness to take action based on the faith we so loudly profess.
As you listen to the Torah reading this week, as yourself this question: if I didn't have the Egyptian army at my back, would I have taken the leap of faith to walk into the Yam Suf? What about the Yam Suf of my life? Have I take that fateful step despite the dangers? Will I?
Why did the "chicken" cross the road? To get to the other side.