So, it was a whole week after Moshe Rabbenu had triumphantly led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, that place of harsh slavery and cruelty, as the culmination of a whole year of miraculous signs and wonders.
Massive flaming hail had destroyed so many buildings, and injured and killed countless Egyptians and their animals. In the plague of darkness, the Jews had seen 4/5 of their own countrymen pass away and been forced to bury them in secret, so the Egyptians wouldn’t see this and try to use it against the nascent Jewish people.
Then the last plague had come, the death of the firstborn, where the Jews had huddled in their homes behind their blood-daubed lintels, praying that they would be protected from the terrible scourge that was being released on their neighbors.
And after that - so quickly after that - redemption! Finally, finally, freedom! Pharoah himself gave the Jews their marching orders, and the Children of Israel emptied Egypt out of its finery and jewels, and left with their dough on their backs.
The first few days, the people were ecstatic, elated.
But then, the test returned.
Egyptian spies went back to sound the alarm that the Jews had no intention of returning, and before long in the distance, the Jews could hear the hoofbeats that signaled that Pharoah and his army were chasing after them.
And what happened at that point? Did Moshe Rabbenu sit down and sketch out the rough plan of what was going to come next? Did he explain how they were going to be saved? Did he give a public address where he told everyone to calm down and stop worrying, because this was all just part of the process?
It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that Moshe Rabbenu was also a little rattled and stressed by what was occurring. Moshe was a realist. The whole way along, he could see how difficult it would be to redeem the Jews, and what a challenge he was really up against. That’s why he turned down the job, when God first offered it to him.
But now, against all the odds, he’d managed to get the Jews out of Egypt, and was heading for the desert rendezvous where the nation would be given the Torah. It’s not too much of a stretch to believe that the encounter with Pharoah’s army at the Sea of Reeds was just as much of a surprise, and a trial, for Moshe Rabbenu as it was for everyone else.
So he had no comforting words for the wretched crowd spread before him, who thought that the tests were over already. They’d left Egypt behind, they’d left slavery behind, they were following Moshe, Hashem’s prophet, into a very uncertain and insecure future. Surely, everything would just be plain sailing from that point on?
It’s probably fair to say that none of the Jews expected another encounter with the Egyptians so soon after fleeing the country, and certainly not in the awful circumstance that they currently found themselves in: with their backs to the sea, trapped, with all their women and children around and precious little ability to fight back.
Can you imagine the despair they must have felt at that point?
They’d backed the wrong horse! They’d put all their eggs in Moshe Rabbenu’s basket, and now look what was happening to them! They were about to get mercilessly destroyed by the vengeful hordes of Pharoah.
What was the point of going through all those plagues, the terrible test of faith that was the plague of darkness, the terrible test of faith that was the Korban Pesach, just to get killed in this horrific fashion, trapped against the sea?
How could Moshe Rabbenu have led them to this place? How could God have done this to them?
The despair was overwhelming.
And then….the sea split. Even then, not at once. Even then, it still took Nachshon ben Aminadav’s bravery and emuna to wade in, when all hope was gone - I mean, what?!? You’re going to listen to Moshe Rabbenu again?!? And believe in miracles again?!? After everything that’s just happened to you?!? Are you crazy!!!
Thank God, he was crazy.
And the sea split.
And the Jewish nation escaped destruction, while the Egyptian were utterly destroyed.
To put this another way, the ‘down’ was solely to facilitate the ‘up’. God wanted the Jews to know and see that their oppressors had finally been destroyed for good, and that they were truly free people.
But until the sea split, can we imagine the test the people at the sea went through? The doubt and fear they experienced? The despair that kept them paralysed, waiting for the ‘inevitable’ to happen?
What a test.
In some ways, so many of us are still facing that test of the sea. After we’ve followed after God and his holy men for so long, and tried so hard to give Him what He wants, and sacrificed so much to finally get free of our bad middot and abiding problems.
We thought we were out, we thought we were free.
And now, the test returns even greater than before.
But soon, the sea will split.