This week’s Torah portion, Beshallach (Ex. 13:17-17:16) begins with the long-awaited exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt. They journey to the Reed Sea and the chariots of Egypt pursue them. Caught between the Egyptian army and the depths of the sea, God performs a miracle for the Israelites, splitting the waters of the sea so that they may cross on dry land. When the Egyptians follow, God returns the sea to its normal state, drowning the army of Pharaoh. Moses and Miriam lead the Israelites in songs of praise, and then they continue through the wilderness. Only three days after the miracle at the sea, the Israelites begin grumbling about the lack of potable water and food, and express regret that they ever left Egypt.
God, through Moses, Aaron and Miriam, has set the Israelites free from slavery and saved them from their pursuers by spectacular means, and yet they voice neither awe nor gratitude, only a petulant longing for the security of regular meals. This seems outrageous until we examine their state of mind.
A slave does not have to make decisions. A slave works as commanded, eats what he or she is given and dares not ask questions. The Israelites could not see the big picture; they were accustomed to living one day at a time, one hour at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time. In this way, they resemble trauma survivors, or the critically ill. The miracles that they had witnessed had not yet been made a part of their consciousness. They were only able to accept it, and the miracle yet to come at Sinai, over time.