Trapped at the Sea, tra la la

Guests constantly visit my study and though I talk to them, sometimes quite loudly, they are strangely invisible to everyone else. One frequent visitor is my father. His presence helps me prepare speeches. When the ideas flow too slowly or I find myself struggling to memorize a difficult paragraph, I invite him in.  He knows how hard it is but he nods encouragingly and tells me that he often encountered similar challenges.

Sometimes, Orville and Wilbur Wright join me. They’re an interesting pair.  I invite them whenever I find myself falling into the trap of envying others. I eavesdrop as they mutter to one another about Samuel Langley who was given $50,000 by the United States War Department to build a flying machine.  In 1903, $50,000 was  a lot of money! When Langley’s contraption crashed into the Potomac, he gave up.  Orville and Wilbur remind me that they persevered year after year, crash after crash, while others got the press and the awards. In December 1903, the Wright brothers succeeded.

Another favorite companion is Ernest Shackleton. Though he usually glowers at me, his visits strengthen me when I feel weak. After his ship, Endurance, was crushed by ice on his Antarctic expedition, he and his men suffered unimaginable hardship and deprivation.  With considerable self-sacrifice, Shackleton brought every one of his men to safety.

Imagination is a wonderfully useful tool and developing it allows you to entertain your own visitors, as I am sure you do. Bringing them into your life allows you to draw inspiration and courage from them.

Do I need to know every detail of each exhausting attempt made by Orville and Wilbur? No, of course not, just as I do not need to know the gruesome details of Shackleton’s frostbite. Just the fact that the Wrights made a heavier-than-air flying machine, and that Shackleton brought real meaning to his ship’s name is enough to strengthen my resolve.

This past weekend, at the Passover Seder, we detailed God’s goodness to the Israelites in a song composed of fifteen stanzas. Each stanza concludes with the words, “It would have been enough for us,”  or in Hebrew, Dayenu.

For instance, we sing, “Had God given us the Egyptian’s wealth but not split the Red Sea – It would have been enough for us,” and, “Had God brought us to Mt. Sinai, but not given us the Torah – It would have been enough for us.”

This makes absolutely no sense, does it? After all, had God given us wealth and then not split the Red Sea, the Egyptian army would have overtaken the Israelites and quickly recovered their treasure, not to mention their slaves. The whole point of going to Mt. Sinai was to receive the Torah.  How can we possibly sing, Dayenu – It would have been enough for us?

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the song is meant for us today. It isn’t a historical recollection of 3,330 years ago. In those days, they needed the Red Sea to split in order to escape their tormentors. However, for the purpose of inspiring us today and allowing us to draw on the power of those events, recollecting each isolated instance of God’s goodness is enough. We don’t sing, “It would have been enough for them,” but rather, “It would have been enough for us.”

Similarly, details of what the Wright brothers did and what Shackleton accomplished are way beyond what I need in my study when I seek added fuel to overcome the obstacles I encounter in my own work. Bringing their basic stories to mind suffices for me, though for their own lives every last ounce of resourcefulness and perseverance was needed.

During his frequent visits, my father reminds me of one additional truth that makes all the difference. We never need to stand alone facing the future fearfully. God is with us; we only need invite Him in. And it is easier to bring Him into my study than those other guests because it takes no imagination at all.

Edited and reprinted from April, 2011

13 thoughts on “Trapped at the Sea, tra la la”

  1. Dear Rabbi Lapin,
    Your answer to Don was very humble. I, too, often think of your words of wisdom during the day.
    You and Susan are a delight.
    Praise the Lord the weight of the world isn’t on our shoulders. Jesus took it all to the cross.
    I am so thankful for Him and for God’s other gifts… family, friends, the Bible… Rabbi and Susan Lapin!
    You two are blessings!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thanks for your kind words Sonia-
      Susan and I appreciate you and your words! Regarding what you termed as my humble response to my friend Don, not to press the point, but Winston Churchill once used words I’ll paraphrase. Someone praised his successor as prime minister, Clement Atlee, by saying Mr Atlee is a modest man. To which Churchill responded, “He has much to be modest about!”.

  2. We, as a society, always want MORE.

    This teaching reminds me that what we really(deep down in our being) desire is God and whatever God designs to give us should be sufficient…

    My Grace is sufficient – (2 Corinthians 12:9)

    Thanks so much for what you and Susan do. You bless me every week.

  3. My dear friend, I often sit back and say, WWLD? As in What Would Lapin Do, then wait for your “visit” 😇

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Don–
      So good to hear from you even when you place a burden upon my shoulders so very much heavier than they are equipped to carry. What Lapin would do is probably not nearly as reliable or nearly as helpful as what Lapin would say. Lapin only wishes he himself always followed the permanent principles of ancient Jewish wisdom without failure of falter. So while, like most humans, Lapin doesn’t always do the right thing, he does always know when he has failed and mourns the lapse. But when he speaks or writes, he does his utmost to make sure that only the timeless truths emerge. But enough of this third person language. In conclusion, you can’t imagine how inspirational you and your family are to us.
      your friend,

  4. As usual Rabbi, you have provided great food for thought. I will now be meditating on Dayenu, keeping in mind the ancient jewish wisdom you have just shared. Thank you and chag Pesach sameach!

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Thank you Lisa–
      Happy to hear that you found this Thought Tool helpful. Appreciate your good wishes,

  5. Hi Rabbi Lapin
    Speaking of splitting the red sea, I need some help to clarify a confusion. On page 178 of “Business Secrets from the Bible”, you wrote “The Israelites were actually in the water, some of them up to their necks, and were told to keep marching before the water split.”
    The english translation of our Bible is written differently in exodus 14:21″And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”
    I don’t understand how the LORD divided the waters all night per the english translation before the Israelites crossed and how some were already in the water before they split per your writing on page 178.
    Would you mind clarifying?

    Thank you in advance


    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Vanessa-
      Thanks so much for writing. The secret lies in the sequence of verses 15 & 16 in chapter 14. You might have thought that God would have first spoken 16–“Split the sea” and only then 15–“Tell Israel to start marching” But the reverse is true. First God instructed Moses to get them marching and only then came verse 16 with its instructions to split the sea. First Israel had to act with fortitude and faith and only thereafter does the miracle manifest. You can see the relevance to our own lives particularly in the fiscal arena as I explained in our book Business Secrets from the Bible. Thanks for reading it!

  6. Brian F. Tucker

    My father didn’t lead a very Christian life. However he did leave me with some wise sayings and cliches that I still remember and can call on when various circumstances or problems arise. One quote reportedly from Thomas Edison after umpteen thousand attempts to make a light bulb was I haven’t failed. I merely discovered umpteen thousand ways not to make a light bulb. As you have pointed out many times over, if we work at it long enough and hard enough and trust God to give the answer, there isn’t much we cannot do or problem that can’t be solved.

  7. How I love your Passover message, dear Rabbi! From dayenu ‘it would have been enough for us’ the message I myself take home is: our own wisdom is not good enough…rely on the wisdom of God, who knows us inside and out, who knows what is best for us, and indeed intends the best for us. And let us not forget that we can all learn from spirit guides, who can guide us through life and beyond: homeward. Also I am pleased that you and your father are still in touch, that he speaks to you in your study, and that you listen to him and to the Lord and utterly reject Marx and Lenin and Alinsky with their warped and twisted social engineering… I wish I could have known your Dad, but I suspect that I can see much of him in you and in your teachings.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Yes, indeed James,
      Much of what I teach and particularly how I teach come directly from my father. The rest, from other equally gifted transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom at whose feet I was privileged to sit. I am the most unoriginal person you know. I try to transmit faithfully only that which I was given.

      1. On the contrary, dear Rabbi! Your dry and wry wit I am sure is quite original and apropos and it helps win over many a seeker to the Cause. As good old Sir Winston would say, you have much to be modest about. Tee hee hee.

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