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Parashat Shemot: Don’t Give Up Before You Start

Parashat Shemot tells of the miraculous rescue of Moshe Rabbenu as an infant. His mother sought to save him from Pharaoh’s deadly decree by placing him in a basket in the river, where he was ultimately discovered, rescued and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya.

Moshe’s rescue marks the first miracle of the Exodus story. The Midrash tells that the basket was at a distance from the princess, and there was no realistic way for her to reach it. But G-d performed a miracle and her arm stretched for several yards, enabling her to take hold of the basket and rescue the infant. This miracle, whereby Beneh Yisrael’s future leader was rescued, began the miraculous process of the nation’s redemption from slavery.

The Torah makes reference to this miracle at the very end of the Exodus story, after the final miracle of this process – the splitting of the sea. The Torah says that after the Egyptian army was drowned, "Beneh Yisrael saw the great hand which G-d had extended in Egypt." The word "saw" in this context should be interpreted to mean "understood." At this point, upon experiencing the miracle of the sea, Beneh Yisrael reflected on the very beginning of the story, and they fully understood the "great hand" – the hand of Pharaoh’s daughter which miraculously extended to rescue Moshe.

Why were Beneh Yisrael able to "see" and comprehend the miracle of Pharaoh’s daughter specifically after the splitting of the sea? What aspect of the miracle required understanding, and why did the people achieve that understanding after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds?

As mentioned, Moshe’s basket was situated many yards away from Batya in the river. Realistically, there was no chance for her reach it. And yet, she tried. She outstretched her hand as far as it could go, and then G-d stepped in to do the rest. The old saying goes, "G-d helps those who help themselves." We often find ourselves in situations that appear impossible, well beyond our reach, and in many cases they are. But even under such circumstances, we should not despair. We must never give up on a challenge before we start, before we invest effort and do the best we can. Batya is our model for how to approach seemingly impossible challenges and undertakings. We have to give it our best shot, extend ourselves as far as we are able to, and trust that the Almighty will then help us extend even further, bringing us toward the realization of the goal.

Beneh Yisrael experienced this lesson firsthand at the sea. They were trapped with nowhere to go. No situation was more helpless than the situation Beneh Yisrael faced when the Egyptians trapped them against the ocean. But they did not give up. Nahshon, a leading figure from the tribe of Yehuda, marched into the sea and kept walking until the water reached just below his mouth. At that point he cried out to G-d, "I’ve done as much as I could – now I need Your help." Just then, the sea split, and Beneh Yisrael were saved. The miracle of Batya repeated itself, if you will, at the time of the miracle of the sea. There, too, the person involved went as far as he could go, trusting that Hashem would then step in to do the rest.

And thus at that moment, Beneh Yisrael "saw" and understood the lesson of the "great hand," the miracle of Batya. They now internalized this critical lesson of never giving up under difficult conditions, of persisting even when hope seems lost, of continuing to fight the odds when they’re stacked against us. They understood, and we are to understand, that we must "stretch our hands" as far as they go, extending ourselves to the very fullest, and then G-d will find a way to ensure that we reach our goals and tackle and solve even life’s most difficult problems.

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