Torah Weekly - Parshat Beshalach

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Parshat Beshalach

For the week ending 17 Shevat 5761 / February 9 & 10, 2001

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    Pharaoh finally sends B'nei Yisrael out of Egypt. With pillars of cloud and fire, Hashem leads them toward Eretz Yisrael on a circuitous route, avoiding the Pelishtim (Philistines). Pharaoh regrets the loss of so many slaves and chases the Jews with his army. The Jews are very afraid as the Egyptians draw close, but Hashem protects them. Moshe raises his staff and Hashem splits the sea, enabling the Jews to cross safely. Pharaoh, his heart hardened by Hashem, commands his army to pursue, whereupon the waters crash down upon the Egyptian army. Moshe and Miriam lead the men and women, respectively, in a song of thanks. After three days travel only to find bitter waters at Marah, the people complain. Moshe miraculously produces potable water. In Marah they receive certain mitzvot. The people complain that they ate better food in Egypt. Hashem sends quail for meat and provides manna, a miraculous bread that falls from the sky every day except Shabbat. On Friday a double portion descends to supply the Shabbat needs. No one is able to obtain more than his daily portion, but manna collected on Friday suffices for two days so the Jews can rest on Shabbat. Some manna is set aside as a memorial for future generations. When the Jews again complain about a lack of water, Moshe miraculously produces water from a rock. Then Amalek attacks. Joshua leads the Jews in battle while Moshe prays for their welfare.




    "And the Children of Israel went in the midst of the sea on the dry land,
    and the waters were a wall to them...."14:22

    The night was wet. The road was like an ice rink. Before he knew it, two blinding headlights pierced his windshield. He couldn't keep the car straight. He threw the wheel violently to the left to avoid the lights and suddenly felt himself plummeting into nothingness. Adrenaline coursed through his body like a high pressure oil-line. He threw open the door and jumped into the blackness.

    What was that below him? He reached out with his last ounce of strength and grabbed the branch. The g-shock as the branch arrested his fall practically wrenched his arms from their sockets.

    And then everything became very quiet. A thousand feet above the canyon floor, he swung from a lone branch sticking out of the sheer rock face. The wind whistled through his fingers. The branch started to groan and creak; his weight was too much for it. Never having been too religious, he now raised his eyes heavenward and cried out: "Is there Anyone up there?" "Is there Anyone up there?"

    "Let go of the branch and I will save you," came a voice from above.

    He thought for a moment, then shouted: "Is there anyone else up there!?"

    There's an expression in Yiddish: A sheine gelechte. If it weren't so tragic -- it would be funny.

    The Jewish People are at war. This war is not being fought in Gaza. It's not being fought in Chevron or Gilo. The war is being fought in the heart of every Jew.

    History repeats itself. Since the Jewish People have started to return to their ancestral home in the Land of Israel, the oft repeated cry of every Arab nation is "We will drive the Jews into the sea." (This, by the way, is not an invitation for us to hire them as our chauffeurs.)

    I don't know if the Arabs are aware of it, but our Sages teach us that the eventual redemption of the Jewish People will be a clone of the original redemption from the slavery of Egypt. "I have redeemed them -- the last as the first." In this week's Torah reading we read of the mighty Egyptian army bearing down on the Jewish People whose backs are to the sea. Pharaoh and his army wanted literally to "drive the Jews into the sea."

    Our present enemy is trying to drive us into the sea in a more subtle way. Their insistence on a "Law of Return" which would involve the immigration of 3 million of their ilk into the Land of Israel would effectively drive any Jewish dominated democracy into the sea. Democracy's great weakness is that it is based on quantity and not quality. It's a numbers game -- that's all. An extra 3 million Arabs in the Land of Israel will present a demographic bombshell to the State of Israel which even the wholesale import of non-Jews from Russia will not stem.

    The last will be as the first.

    Among other things, the Torah is like a time-capsule. It contains a message for every generation. Ours in no different. The Torah tells us in this week's parsha how to respond to a nation who would drive us into the sea:

    "And the Children of Israel went in the midst of the sea on the dry land,
    and the waters were a wall to them..."

    In this verse the Torah says the Children of Israel walked through the sea on the dry land, but seven verses later the order is reversed and it says they walked on the dry land in the sea. The Vilna Gaon explains that when the Jews arrived at Yam Suf, the sea looked like it was going to do anything but split. The Egyptians were bearing down on them. Not until Nachshon ben Aminadav, Aharon's brother-in-law, literally took the plunge and waded into the water up to his neck, did the waters finally part.

    The first verse is referring to Nachshon: For him the sea became dry land, but for the rest of the people, they only walked on the dry land created by Nachson's trust in G-d.

    The Jewish People should never rely on a few hand-picked heroes. Each one of us is expected to be a Nachshon. Each and every Jew is expected to be a pioneer of faith, to dive into the sea of fear. Each and every one of us must put our trust in the Rock who has brought us to this day.

    There is no one else up there.


    Shoftim 4:3 - 5:31



    After 20 years of Canaanite oppression, the core of the Jewish People are led to repentance by Devorah the Prophetess. The Sages compare the results of her inspirational leadership to "the restoration of the wick for the light of the Sanctuary." Through her shining example, she rejuvenated the bearers of the light of Torah.

    In the merit of this mass repentance Devorah receives a prophecy that she should lead 10,000 men into battle and that G-d would deliver the Canaanite General Sisera into the hands of the Jewish army. G-d causes confusion amongst Sisera's camp, and the Jews overpower them. Sisera flees to the encampment of Chever, who was at peace with the King of Canaan. There he seeks refuge in the tent of Yael, Chever's wife. Yael invites him into her tent, guaranteeing his safety. When he requested water to drink, she gave him milk to make him drowsy. When he was fast asleep, she picked up a hammer and drove a tent-peg through his temple. Thus Israel was saved. After the victory, Devorah leads the nation in a song of praise to G-d. This song outlines the recurring theme in the history of Israel: Oppression -- Repentance -- Victory.

    Both the Parsha and the haftara contain a national song of praise to G-d. Perhaps another similarity is to be found in the words of our Sages that the Exodus took place in the merit of the righteous women of Israel, who played as great a role then as would Devorah and Yael in the future.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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