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Superficial confidence can be nourished superficially, but true confidence can only be built up intrinsically.
Receiving “pump-up” speeches and “You Rock!” stickers from people who love us and believe in us is great — absolutely vital for just about all of us. However, at the end of the day, until we take the plunge of action ourselves, any confidence that was given to us artificially will remain superficial and flimsy.
We may look self-assured to others, and sometimes, we can even fool ourselves, but even a small bump along the way can pop (and eventually DO pop) our synthetically inflated swagger balloons.
The Jews who left Egypt had their confidence built up completely synthetically by the miraculous firepower of the ten plagues that escorted them out of land of their oppressors, who were left in utter shambles. The Torah makes a point of describing this national confidence as leaving with “hand held high.” I see an image in my mind of fearless fist pumping 3rd world civilians dressed as soldiers, cheering and waving flags, while riding state-of-the-art NATO artillery tanks that they unboxed the day before.
On some level, they looked and felt invincible…
…and yet, behind the scenes, God had to make sure that “no dog would bark” when they left Egypt because this would have totally freaked them out, and possibly sent these newly freed Jews whimpering back to their homes.
Additionally, God’s proverbial GPS had to “recalculate” their route so that they wouldn’t bump into the Philistine war raging on the coast of Israel — even though this was undoubtedly the quickest route. The newborn nation wasn’t yet ready for such a test of their confidence.
And when the pillar of cloud that guided them during the day would do the “changing of the guard” with the pillar of fire that would light the way them at night, God had to be careful that not even a moment would pass without one of these pillars of artificial confidence in plain sight, so that no one would panic during the transition.
Apparently, the outward confidence they had rapidly acquired was more fragile than it had appeared.
Understanding this psychological insight about the fragility of synthetic confidence can help us make sense of the sort of national schizophrenia that is otherwise crazy-making for the reader of the Torah. When the Jews finally meet the Red Sea, a week after leaving their homes in Egypt, they find themselves trapped with the Egyptian Royal Cavalry at their backs. In one fell swoop, most of them seem to lose their whole sense of security, which had seemed so robust to the untrained eye. They even go so far as to sarcastically remark to Moshe, “Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you’ve brought us to the middle-of-nowhere to die?” How could they utter such words after everything they’ve witnessed??
But of course, the “self-assured” Jewish nation is merely being reduced to the vulnerable slave population it had been a historical five minutes prior.
All of this raises a question:
Why did God make us face our fears at the sea after He coddled us every step of the way to get there?
The answer is His coddling was preparation for our ultimate self-determination.
Protection, encouragement, validation and nurturing are fundamental to education and human development, but the time eventually comes when people have to make moves on their own. Inspirational quotes, pats on the back, promises of protection, and yes, even Divine Intervention cannot accomplish what we can achieve in one act borne of our own courage.
With this in mind, we can now appreciate that the Divine-miracle of the Splitting of the Sea was God’s echo of the Human-miracle of those who jumped into it when it was just a plain, old, un-split body of water standing in the way of their destiny.
Confidence isn’t a switch that is flipped. It’s built — one-jump-at-a-time into those unknown waters before us. We, as a nation, and as individuals have had literally countless freak-outs since that freak-out on the banks of the Red Sea. Having survived to tell the tale, over three thousand years later, we should feel filled with confidence that is real and earned. This true confidence should embolden us to dive into the next unknown, which in our heart-of-hearts we are still a bit afraid of. We’ll be able to do this knowing that it is the One Who has orchestrated and keeps orchestrating every challenge so that it’s hard enough to make us freeze with fear, but we know, deep down, that it builds our confidence like nothing else when we make it to the other side.
(If you enjoyed thinking about this idea, you’ll enjoy watching Disney’s and Pixar’s Oscar-winning short film, Piper.)
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