Recently, while preparing for the 92nd Street Y Satellite Broadcast of Walter Issaacson speaking about his relationship with Steve Jobs, I was touched by Steve Jobs’ words: “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
While each of us might enjoy the promise of a well-mapped future, Jobs reminds us that we can look back to history for guidance, but we cannot expect to forecast the future. He reminds us that we need to take educated steps forward into the future with a bit of faith.
This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, brings us back to the shore of the sea just after we passed from slavery to freedom. The Torah teaches us, “And Moses made Israel move on from the Reed Sea” (Exodus 15:22). We can read this verse and wonder why would Moses make us move forward. Wouldn’t we have moved forward on our own? Rabbi Tanhuma helps us understand the circumstances:
“Moses had them move against their will, for they were not ready to leave the shore. Why not? Because when Israel left Egypt, Pharaoh, together with all those hosts, set out to pursue them. What else did he do? As he set out in pursuit of Israel with his chariots and horsemen, he adorned all the horses with precious stones and pearls. When they reached the sea and the Holy One drowned them, all these precious stones and pearls floated on the surface and were cast on shore, so that every day Israelites would come down and gather them. That is why they did not wish to move from there. Moses, perceiving this, said, “Do you think that the sea will continue to bring up precious stones and pearls for you every day?” So, against their will, Moses had them move on. (Tanhuma Buber, Beshalach, #16. (fifth century C.E.)
After passing through the waters of the Sea of Reeds, we thought that we could live in the past, reaping the rewards of yesterday into tomorrow. According to this midrash, Moses teaches us that life requires us to move on with faith.
Our sacred studies teach us how to connect the dots of history with the hope that we can draw lines that connect the dots of yesterday with the dots of tomorrow. I call that faith.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)