As the Israelites prepare to leave Egypt, the Torah describes them as “arising armed.” They left somehow with weaponry, almost like an armed camp. Later, as we see them engaging with the Amalekites and others, it explains where all the weapons came from. Yet it’s a strange moment- how did this slave people succeed in becoming an armed camp?
Degel Machane Ephraim, a late 1900s Hasidic commentator, notices this problem and says that “arising armed” actually means “arising prepared.” They were ready. After 400 years of slavery, and one year of a drama of hope and redemption, they were finally ready to leave behind the shackles of slavery and become free people.
Despite God’s promises, they had repeatedly given up hope over the year of Moses’ message. Only now, at the very end, were they finally ready to listen and to leave. We see this with refugees from disasters throughout history. Many are never ready to leave even the most horrible of situations. There are Jews who stayed until they could no longer leave, somehow believing the Nazi death apparatus would never get them, or that the German people would wake up and shut it all down.
That the Israelites were ready, then, is significant and unusual. They had prepared themselves for what was coming. The Degel goes on to say, “In all things, a person must ready themselves to be a vessel and to be prepared for that matter.” Yet by the same token, our success is rooted in God, “for God has the salvation.” There is then a paradox of preparation. We must orient ourselves to the task, knowing that the task lies beyond us. Only with help from God, from the inner place in which God offers us direction and strength, can we find the outcome we so desperately seek.
Prayer, for example, requires preparation. A person must be receptive as the individual seeks gratitude, joy, and faith. They must ready themselves by being aware of the truth of their own self, their own needs and hopes, which they bring into the prayer experience. In the presence of that effort, prayer can be genuinely life changing.
This wisdom applies in all areas of our life. By arising prepared, by taking the time to orient myself as a vessel to the task at hand, I open myself up to the possibility of wisdom and meaning in that which I place before myself. By also knowing that my own preparation is met by God creates both a strength and a humility that leads to thoughtful, caring action.
I suggest a prayer before engaging in any meaningful task that lies in front of you. Take 3 long breaths. Then say, “I am open to the task in front of me. I want to approach it with strength and wisdom. Offer me now the direction and energy I need.” Then take three more long breaths. Such a simple practice may open up new channels of strength and capacity within you to approach the world with wisdom, grace, and power.