Translated by Yanki Tauber from the Rebbe's talk (1962).
One man embarks on a quixotic crusade to change the world. A second gives up on the world and retreats into whatever protective walls he can erect around himself. A third takes the "practical" approach, accepting the world for what it is and does his best under the circumstances. A fourth recognizes his inability to deal with the situation and looks to higher authority for guidance and aid.
The Ten Plagues forced Pharaoh to let Israel go. After two centuries of slavery, the Jews were headed toward Mount Sinai and a covenant with G-d to be a "light unto the nations." Indeed, the goal of the Exodus was, as G-d told Moses "upon leaving Egypt, you will serve G-d at this mountain."
But the sea was right ahead, as Pharaoh's army closed in behind. Egypt was alive and well. The sea was oblivious to the new nation's destiny.
The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people divided into four camps. Some said "Let us cast ourselves into the sea." A second group said "Let us return to Egypt." A third faction argued "Let us battle the Egyptians," and a fourth camp advocated: "Let us pray to G-d."
The Midrash explains that "Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G-d" is Moses' response to the desperates who wanted to plunge into the sea. "As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again," is meant for those ready to surrender. "G-d shall fight for you," is the answer to those who wished to do battle, and "you shall be silent" is Moses' rejection of those who said, "This is beyond us. All we can do is pray."
What are we to do when caught between a hostile world and an unyielding sea? "Speak to Israel," G-d told Moses, "let them go forward."
There is the "Let's throw ourselves into the sea" approach of those who despair of resisting, much less impacting, the big bad world out there.
Let us plunge into the sea, they say, the sea of the Talmud, the sea of piety, the sea of religion. Let us sever all contact with an apostate and promiscuous world. Let us build walls to protect ourselves from the alien storms outside, so we can foster the Sinai legacy within. In the chasidic idiom such a person is 'a tzaddik in peltz--a righteous man in a fur coat.' There are two ways to warm up on a cold day: you can build a fire, or wrap yourself in fur.
THE SLAVE AND THE WARRIOR
Plunging into the sea is not an option, argues the Submissive Jew. G-d placed us here. Our mission is deal with it, not escape it. We'll just have to lower our expectations.
This Exodus was obviously a pipe dream. How could we presume to liberate ourselves from the rules and constraints that apply to everyone else? To be G-d's "chosen people" is nice, but we are a minority, dependent on Pharaoh's goodwill that holds sway in the real world.
A third response to a hostile world is the Fighting Jew. He knows that it is wrong to escape the world, and equally wrong to submit to it.
Finally, there is the Jew who looks at the world, looks at the first three camps, shrugs his shoulders and lifts his eyes to heaven. He knows that turning his back on the world is not the answer, neither is surrendering to its dictates and conventions. But he also knows that "The Torah makes peace in the world, for its ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace."
"You're right," says the Praying Jew. "Realistically, it can't be done. But who's being realistic? Do you know what the common denominator between the three of you is? Your assessments and strategies are all based on natural reality. But we inhabit a higher reality. Isn't the very Jewish existence a miracle? Ours is the world of the spirit, of the word."
True, it is important to safeguard and cultivate all that is pure and holy in the Jewish soul, to create an inviolable sanctum of G-dliness in one's own heart and one's community. True, there are times when we must deal with the world on its own terms. True, we must battle evil. Certainly we must acknowledge that we cannot do it all on our own. True, each of these four approaches have their time and place. But neither is the vision to guide our lives and define our relationship with the world about us. When headed toward Sinai and confronted by a hostile or indifferent world, our response must be: go forward!
When we do, that insurmountable barrier will yield and that ominous threat will fade away. Despite "evidence" to the contrary, we have the power to reach our goal. Even if you have to split some seas. If only we move forward.