Don’t panic, take a breath, look around, make a plan, and move ahead

Saturday, January 11, 2014

16th Torah Portion, 4th in Exodus – Beshalach

13:17-17:16 (116 verses)



The Children of Israel escape across the Sea of Reeds from Pharaoh and his army, who drown when the sea closes upon them. Moses and the Israelites sing a song praising Adonai. In the wilderness, God provides the grumbling Israelites with quail and manna. God instructs the Israelites to gather and prepare on the sixth day food needed for Shabbat. The people complain about the lack of water. Moses hits a rock with his rod and brings forth the water. Israel defeats Amalek, Israel’s eternal enemy. God vows to blot out the memory of Amalek from the world.




As a human being, I believe we all understand what panic is.  The typical response to panic and fear is freeze, flee or fight.  We see that clearly at the Sea of Reeds chapter 14 of this week’s Torah portion:


“But the Egyptians pursued after them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army, and overtook them encamping by the sea, beside Pihahiroth, before Baal-Zephon. And when Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were very afraid; and the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?

Is not this the word that we did tell you in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. And Moses said to the people, Do not fear, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again. The Lord shall fight for you, and you shall hold your peace. And the Lord said to Moses, Why do you cry to me? Speak to the people of Israel, that they go forward.”


Rabbi Alan Lew, of blessed memory, came to Tucson and taught us that this passage gives us very clear instructions on why we should not panic. Here are the tools to move beyond your fear and move forward to be successful:

  1. “Do not fear”: Do not be afraid.  More importantly do not act on your fear.
  2. “Stand still”: Stop jumping around like a crazy person, fretting or barking out orders in a million directions. Be still, gather yourself together in one place – don’t move!
  3. “And see”: Look at what the reality is. There were six hundred chariots chasing the Israelites, a total of 1200 men. There were anywhere from 600,000 to two million Israelites. If they had checked the math, they would have seen that the Egyptians could never have defeated them.  In other words, see what is really there and not what you imagine.
  4. “Hold your peace”: Breathe. Allow your creative thoughts to flow. Consult experts. Let the information flow to you.
  5. “Go forward”: Get moving now. You have a plan. Move forward.



  1. “Do not fear.” Are you aware of the moments when you are panicking or fearful?
  2. “Stand still.” Find a space and a place to calm yourself and breathe. Breathe deeply through the anxiety. It will dissipate.
  3. “And see.”Allow positive thoughts an opportunity to enter your consciousness. Recognize that you do have choices available to you.
  4. “Hold your shalom.” Make a plan.
  5. “Go forward.” Move forward with your plan.


Daily Practice:


          Actually the five steps listed above may be part of your daily meditative practice. Set aside fifteen minutes in the morning and in the late afternoon. Find a comfortable seated position, your lower back may be supported; but do not lean your head against a wall or pillow. Breathe deeply, close your eyes and allow thoughts to flow in and out of your consciousness.  This may open you up to greater creative thinking.