Toward the beginning of the Az Yashir song of praise which Benei Yisrael sung after the miracle of the sea, they exclaimed, “…sus ve-rokhevo rama va-yam” – praising God for casting “the horse and its rider” into the sea (Shemot 15:1).
The Tosafists, in the Hadar Zekeinim commentary, note the significance of the fact that God drowned both the horses and the Egyptian horsemen when He had the waters of the sea fall back into place after Benei Yisrael safely crossed. They explain that after the miracle of the sea, God turned to each Egyptian horseman and asked, “Why did you chase after My children?”
The Egyptian responded, “The horse brought me against my will!”
God then turned to the horse and asked, “Why did you chase after My children?”
The horse, naturally, defended itself by saying, “The Egyptian brought me with his feet, with spurs, against my will!”
God then cast both the soldier and the horseman together into the sea, as both took part in the unjust pursuit of Benei Yisrael. This account presented by the Hadar Zekeinim appears in a slightly different version in the Mekhilta.
Often, we attribute our position in our lives, our conduct, our habits and our routines, on our “horse” – the natural current of life. Like the Egyptian in the Tosafists’ depiction, we defend our innocence by blaming our inadequacies on our circumstances, our surroundings, our natural instincts and weaknesses, and the influences to which we are subject. We perceive ourselves as helpless objects being carried by the “horse,” the flow of life and our ingrained tendencies, such that we cannot be held responsible for where we end up and what we do.
In truth, however, the “horse” is under our control. Nobody but we decide how to act and how to live our lives, notwithstanding our negative impulses and external influences against which we must struggle. We cannot excuse our shortcomings by saying, “This the way I am,” or by blaming our upbringing, our environment, the hardships we’ve endured, or any other factor. We are to assume responsibility for our conduct, recognizing that we are the “horsemen” who control where we go and what we do. It is only once we accept responsibility, and acknowledge our power over ourselves, that we can then work towards becoming better and actualizing our potential to its very fullest.