“And They Believed in Hashem” – Faith’s Positive Influence on the Entire World
We find ourselves in the very midst of Passover. Everyone has removed chametz from their homes, from the depths of their hearts, and has joined with the Holy One, blessed be He, by eating matzah, the bread of healing, and by having performed the mitzvot of Passover. As we know, all this leads to a solid faith in G-d. We are approaching the seventh day of the holiday, which is a true foundation of faith. Now if we look closely, we will see that the faith of the Jewish people has an influence on the entire world.
This influence comes from the power of the Children of Israel’s faith that Hashem would produce a miracle for them by splitting the sea. In fact the Sages have said that the tribes of Judah and Benjamin zealously sprang into the sea (Sotah 36b), thereby attaining solid faith, as it is written: “They believed in the L-RD and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31). Their faith was so great that the entire world was influenced by this miracle, to the point that not only Jethro converted, as the Gemara states (Zevachim 116a), but also the Egyptians themselves were affected and said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the L-RD fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:25).
This requires an explanation, for did the Egyptians not realize before this point that Hashem fought for the Children of Israel in Egypt? Had the Egyptians forgotten that they themselves had said, “This is the finger of G-d” (Exodus 8:15) as well as, “The L-RD is righteous, and I and my people are wicked” (ibid. 9:27)? Furthermore, how many times did they fear the effects of the plagues they endured in Egypt, to the point that they even asked Moses to pray for them (Exodus 8:4,24; 9:28; 10:17; Tanhuma Va’eira 33)? Consequently, this means that they knew that the Holy One, blessed be He, fought for the Children of Israel in Egypt. Hence why is it only here, at the sea, that they admitted it? Does it mean that up to now they really did not believe it?
This can be fully explained in light of what we said above, for everything depends on the Jewish people. They needed to realize that all the plagues which the Holy One, blessed be He, heaped on Egypt was not for them, for He could have simply sent a single plague on Egypt that would have killed everyone. Instead, everything that happened was solely for the Children of Israel, in order for them to know and believe in G-d by what they saw there. However because the Children of Israel had already grown accustomed to all the wonders they witnessed in Egypt, and because their faith was fragile, they did not cause the Egyptians to have faith in the Creator of the world, as they should have. This is why the Egyptians always ended up forgetting what had happened to them, and it is why they still continued to have doubts in Hashem. The Egyptians did not know if the Holy One, blessed be He, was taking vengeance out on them, or whether He was doing everything for the sake of the Children of Israel. Due to the fragile faith of the latter, Hashem hardened the hearts of the Egyptians to administer another plague so they would believe in Him even more, and also for the Children of Israel to awaken themselves to a perfect faith in Him. Proof of this lies in the fact that only one fifth of the Children of Israel actually left Egypt (Tanhuma Beshalach 1; Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, beginning of Beshalach), all due to the fragile faith of those who died in the plague of darkness.
However just before the sea split, as the Children of Israel found themselves being tested at the seashore, the great faith that they demonstrated by zealously springing into the water initiated a miracle, and thus the sea split for them. If follows that because of their incredible faith in G-d, Who would perform this miracle for them, they also incited a great awakening among the Egyptians, who had doubts prior to that time. The Egyptians were now affirming with certainty that it was the Holy One, blessed be He, Who had fought against them in Egypt, and not (as they had previously thought) that the Creator’s existence was in doubt.
From everything that has been said, we may learn a lesson of paramount importance concerning the great influence exerted by a person who wholeheartedly studies Torah with passion and diligence for the sake of Heaven. This approach has the power to create a spirit of holiness that can influence others who do not share this view, bringing them closer to G-d and arousing their desire to learn Torah. How many good things does the Holy One, blessed be He, constantly shower upon us, solely through the power of this awakening! All this comes through the power of the person who diligently studies Torah. It is not without reason that before performing a mitzvah we say, “With fear and love, in the name of all Israel,” for this awakens love in the hearts of others to perform the mitzvah as well. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. When someone harbors doubts in his heart, this can cause others great harm, for he introduces a spirit of doubt in their hearts as well.
We may reason that if a Jew who harbors doubts about his faith is liable to harm the faith of other Jews like himself, then he is all the more likely to instill doubts in the hearts of non-Jews. Due to our sins, this may unfortunately lead to non-Jews hating us, for when we begin to have doubts with regards to the Torah and mitzvot, even non-Jews feel its effects, and their hatred for us increases.
This can be understood in light of what we have said. The Egyptians began to truly believe in Hashem, with a sincere and unhesitant faith, only when the Children of Israel themselves “believed in the L-RD and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31). This faith led the Egyptians to start asking themselves some serious questions, prompting them to say: “Let us flee from Israel, for the L-RD fights for them against the Egyptians” (v.25). In addition, the Children of Israel incited the same fear among the nations of the world through the power of their faith, as it is written: “Peoples heard, they were agitated…all the dwellers of Canaan dissolved” (Exodus 15:14-15). All this was brought about by the Children of Israel’s sacred service of G-d, for if we as Jews strengthen the purity of our faith, it will have an influence of holiness on the entire world.