Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 27 January 2018 / 11 Shevat 5778

Parshat Beshalach

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Authenticating Doubts

The anticipated moment of redemption has finally arrived. After two hundred and ten years of servitude, of grueling and dehumanizing slave labor, the Jewish People are finally set free. They have followed Moshe’s instructions regarding the korban Pesach to precision and they are freed from the Egyptian grasp, led by a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. The future, it seems, is bright.

But then, Pharaoh has a change of heart and directs six hundred chariots with the finest crews to chase and retrieve the Jewish People. The Jews, camped by the sea, watch in horror as the Egyptian army appears, marching in hot pursuit. In view of the situation, one can easily understand their misgivings about Moshe’s mission. They had no basis to assume that G-d would perform such an extraordinary miracle as the splitting of the sea. They doubt Moshe, saying to him, “Is it for lack of graves in Egypt that you brought us here, to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us to take us out from Egypt?”

These doubts, which persistently reemerge in the people’s minds, points out Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari 1:49, 41 87), are an important testimony of the authenticity of Moshe’s mission. Ten times throughout their sojourn in the wilderness, the people challenge Moshe’s leadership. This is a clear indication that the Jewish people were of lucid mind, and were not easily duped or bought. They were not fogged by fanciful notions, nor willing to accept any alternative to their miserable lot in Egypt. If this people, full of challenge and doubt — a stiff-necked people —ultimately commit themselves to Moshe and the law he transmits to them, this is proof that the impact of the events created an unshakeable belief in the authenticity of Moshe and the Torah. The Torah records these doubts to underscore that the mission of the Jewish People was not accepted by the unvarnished whimsical masses. Indeed, the same sentiment is expressed by our Sages when they describe how all the blind, deaf, and lame were cured at Mount Sinai. The Law was not given to the disabled, feeble misfits of society. It was presented to, and accepted by, the strong and lucid, who recognized its power and truth.

  • Sources: Commentary, Shemot 14:11

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