As every diplomat knows, there is a time to talk, a time to pray and a time to take action. This very lesson is recorded in the Torah when Jacob encounters his murderous brother Esau after many years of separation. Jacob sends messengers with gifts (diplomacy), he prays to God, and takes action by splitting his camp into two (Genesis 33).

When faced with a challenging situation, deciding what is the most propitious action to take is difficult, to say the least. Months, even years, can go by while a proper course of action is debated (e.g. Iran today). Sometimes, however, leaders act purely on intuition. Such was the case when Moses found himself and the Israelites trapped between an army of angry Egyptians and the Sea of Reeds. Moses viewed it as a time for prayer, telling the Israelites that “God will do battle for you, and you will be silent” (Exodus 14:14). God, however, viewed it more as a time for action and responded, “Why do you cry to me? Speak to the Children of Israel and they should travel. And you, lift your staff and stretch your arm over the sea and it will split” (14:15-26).

Forty years later, however, Moses erred by taking action rather than offering words. When the Israelites complained about a lack of water, God instructed Moses and Aaron to gather the people before a certain rock and to speak to the rock so that it yield its water. Moses, instead, hit the rock after declaring, “Now listen, you rebels, can we draw water for you from this rock?” (Numbers 20) The water came, but God rebuked Moses. This was a time for diplomacy, not brute force.

Today, the decision whether to engage in diplomacy or action might be in the hands of politicians, but the rest of us can certainly pray that, when faced with such challenges, we make the correct decision.

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