Israel is camped on the Sea of Reeds after exiting Egypt. The Egyptian army is pursuing them. They are on the brink of the yom suf, the edge of nothingness as they must take the next step into the unknown. Disaster approaches as they face the possibility of ultimate destruction before them on one side by their human enemy and on the other, a natural enemy.
They appeared to be surrounded, entrapped by the wilderness with the sea on one side and the warring Philistine on the other—an easy prey for the conquering Egyptian army as they had no weapons for defense, but herds of cattle and sheep to slow them down with women and childen outnubering the men.
In despair, the people cried, lamented and repented that they had ever left Egypt as they forsaw their fate being ground under the brutal hooves and chariots of the Egyptian assault. "Let us alone, for were it not better for us to serve the Egyptians? For it were better to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."
"And Moses said,unto the people, "Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.." Ex 14:12-14
They were gathered, bewildered by their opponents in an inescapable trap. Behind them was the bog. Step in and sink. Struggle and be swallowed up by quicksand. Advance at the foe and be run over.
How many times have you been cornered? Harassed by opponents and quarried by aggressors into a corner where there seemed no escape. To resist or fight back meant professional suicide in the loss of a job or credentials, and to step backwards meant to be involved in all the dirty politics and corruption surrounding you?
Moses sees the terror in the peoples' hearts and tries to encourage them. They stand on the edge of the bottomless pit. They see its yawning mouth of destruction at their very feet. The unpaid rent, the demanding mortgage payment, the loss of a job, the uninusred injury, thre rejection of workman's compensation or the doctor's diagnosis of a serious illness all become unbrearable oppressors in daily life. Step forward or backward, and no matter where you step, it seems that the earth opens beneath your feet.
The abyss, the ayin, the nothingness. Dov Baer of Mezritch teaches that before any thing is renewed or changed, there is a place of nothingness, the ayin. In changing a job, the person confronts a situation in which the old no longer applies. What he knew, what he did, is not applicable to the future. He is in between the two jobs and knows nothing about the requirements of the new or whether he will be able to adapt to it successfully. It is a time of extreme stress as he hangs suspended between the two. It's the moment when the writer, finished with the essay puts into the envelope and takes it to the post office. There is that short period of time when he can withdraw the action and return home safely without risking anything, but after it si posted, he must just trust that his submission will be read and appreciated.
It's the agonizing time when confidence is shared. There are no guarantees of acceptance or rejection, there is only the courage and faith to take the step forward.
The Israelites didn't know freedom. They had no experience of having their own government. They were reliant on Moses to lead them. Confronted with the swamp of reeds and imminent danger of quicksand and the Egyptians closely pursuing them, they despaired. What is Moses compared to a massive army equipped with chariots? They had no resources for creating a pontoon brige as Xerxes made during the Peloponnesian Wars for retreat. They were surrounded.
Moses, understanding their fear. After all he was the leader confronting the same ordeal without any magical powers. He tells them: Don't rely on me—rely on God. For Moses it was equally a test as he was no magician. He didn't have a roadmap of the wilderness with rest stops and McDonalds plotted along the way. Do you think it's easy to lead a mass exodus of two million people and also many herds of animals?
There are no guarantees when confronting the ayin, but you must have faith to take the first step. The Sea of Reeds did not magically split as in a MGM movie. The rabbis say that because Nachshon stepped in first, the others followed. Step by step the sea parted and they went over dry shod. Often it only the pressure that we suffer, that causes us to break out of a oppressive situation. One day, the harassment at work becomes too much and we give notice after years of suffering inadequate pay for the amount of work exploited from us, or the toothache just doesn't go away by chewing on cinnamon and cloves all day. The doctor finds an abscess in the inner ear caused by a bone fragment from an extracted tooth.
The Israelites did not leave on their own. They were in Egypt for centuries and they became accustomed to being abused. How often do you read about abused wives who feel obliged to remain although their lives and the lives of their children are endangered? Yet all through Exodus, the children of Israel constantly mourn the loss of enslavement. whenever they are confronted by a new challenge, they cry out, "of, if we were only back in Egypt—think of the sweet pickles and the onions, the garlics and leeks," because accepting responsibility for one's behavior requires courage as well as faith.
To achieve your goal, there is always an ayin, a chasm of nothingness to cross, but only in the ayin will you find God. God is the great nothingness from which all the world and creation is made-- the beginning and end of everything.