top of page

Fight. Surrender. Pray. Give Up. Embracing Our Various Reactions to Adversity

In the Torah portion Beshalach, one of the most iconic moments in Jewish history is the splitting of the sea. But before the waters started to part, the Jewish people were facing down what appeared to be their imminent capture or slaughter by the Egyptian army. We have read the Book (and seen the movie) and know it turned out all right, but their terror had to be unimaginable as the promise of freedom looked like it was turning to bitter dust.

How did they react in that moment? The midrash explains that there were four different groups:

The Fighters: “Let us wage war against the Egyptians.”

As the Egyptian chariots approached and the sea blocked their escape, one group was determined to take a stand. They refused to go down without a fight, believing that their strength and courage could save them.

The Surrenderers: “Let us return ourselves to Egypt.”

In contrast, another group chose a different path; they sought to surrender and return to the familiar life of bondage in Egypt. Fearful of the unknown and disillusioned by the trials ahead, they longed for the perceived stability they once knew.

The Prayerful Souls: “Let us pray to God.”

One group turned to prayer amid the chaos and uncertainty. They recognized their dependence on a higher power and sought divine intervention to guide them through this perilous journey.

The Hopeless: “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.”

Lastly, there were those who believed there was simply no hope. Overwhelmed by the imminent threat and the apparent lack of options, they succumbed to hopelessness and were willing to give up and die.

Which One are You?

Years ago, I attended a workshop where the leader divided the room into four sections representing four reactions. The leader then asked us to go to the corner we thought we would belong to. At that time, I was unsure of my choice, but eventually, I selected the corner that looked the best. As it turned out, I was "right" because the leader discussed how prayer was the best option in such situations.

However, in those inevitable moments of life, when it feels like my back is to the wall and an implacable adversary is coming at me, or when I see no way out of an unbearable situation, how do I usually react? To be honest, I find a bit of myself in all four groups at one time or another. Don’t you?

Fight: Sometimes, you can confront challenges head-on, ready to tackle any obstacle that comes your way. You embody a warrior spirit from deep within, stand your ground, and refuse to back down. When that happens, this drive can lead you to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and emerge victorious.

Surrender: But sometimes you experience moments of longing for comfort and safety, seeking solace in the routine or the familiar. It is crucial to remember that surrender does not only imply defeat but can sometimes be a conscious decision to take a break and regroup, preparing for forthcoming challenges with renewed strength.

Pray: This group reminds us of our innate need to find solace in spirituality and seek guidance in times of turmoil. Whether you find peace in communal or personal prayer, turning to prayer grounds us, unites us and offers strength during challenging times.

Hopeless: Sometimes, we fail to see a way out, and in the face of personal trials or global crises, we may encounter moments where our faith and trust wavers, leading us to doubt the potential for change. Remember that acknowledging these feelings is essential, but it is equally vital to remind ourselves of the infinite possibilities that lie ahead. Resilience, the antidote to hopelessness, doesn’t ask you to deny the darkness –just not to stay there indefinitely.

Throughout the years, as we wandered in the desert, at crucial junctures, we saw how these different identities arose and conflicted. Time after time, Moses’ unwavering faith in a future in the Promised Land was met with wanting to return to Egypt. After the infamous spies came back with their report, the will to fight for the Promised Land was defeated by a sense of hopelessness. On the other hand, centuries later, when all of Israel was surrendering to Greco-Syrian rule and adopting Hellenism, a small band of brothers opted to fight and changed Jewish history.

In his latest Netflix special, comedian Dave Chappelle was joking about the famous scene of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars and was critical of Will Smith. But then, in all seriousness, Chappelle said he can’t judge between them because there are times when he is Will Smith and loses it when someone he loves is attacked. And other times, he is Chris Rock and can keep his composure under very trying circumstances. This was beyond saying he understood each man but that he identified with them both.

Acknowledging diverse responses fosters empathy and understanding within ourselves and coexistence among others. We realize that all these emotions and perspectives coexist by embracing different aspects of our individuality and not denying them out of fear or shame. Moreover, when we understand and accept these varied reactions, we can navigate life's challenges by drawing strength from various sources and finding balance amidst complexity.

Internalize and Actualize:

  • Reflect on a time when you identified with the group of "Fighters" in a difficult situation. How did your determination and courage help you overcome the challenge? How did it impact your relationships with others? Have you ever found yourself relating to the group of "Surrenderers" during a challenging period? How did surrendering or seeking comfort in the familiar affect your relationships? Were there any long-term consequences to this choice?


  • Describe a time when you turned to prayer amidst chaos and uncertainty. How did this spiritual practice affect your relationship with yourself and with God? Did it bring you peace or guidance? Reflect on a moment when you felt hopeless and unable to see a way out. How did this mindset affect your relationships with others? How did you eventually overcome this feeling?


  • How can embracing the different aspects of your individuality help you develop empathy, understanding, and coexistence with others? Can you imagine a situation where understanding and embracing someone's different reactions to challenges would have improved a relationship? How can understanding your own complexity help you navigate challenging situations and maintain relationships?


1 則留言


wow-this is so insightful-thank you chana! shabbat shalom! Gevura xo

bottom of page