Rather than taking the direct route to the land of Israel, God leads the Israelites towards the sea, where the Egyptians catch up with them. God causes the sea to split, and while the Israelites walk safely across, the Egyptians following after them are all drowned. The Israelites sing a song of thanksgiving to God, but soon have new challenges to face of life in the desert, and complain for food and water, which God provides. The parsha ends with Amalek’s attack on the Israelites, and the instruction to blot out the memory of Amalek.
Beshalach – Mark Lazar
Mark Lazar is a Jewish educator currently based in Jerusalem specializing in informal education, leadership training and user-friendly Judaism.
Ironies ... maybe of ironies.
As I sit to write these words, it is the tenth anniversary of my youngest son's brit mila. His name is Ilai (Ayin-Yud-Lamed-Yud) and the Biblical passage I used at his brit is the second verse of the Song at the Sea in this week's Torah portion, "Azi V'zimarat Yah, Veihe-lee L'shuah: The Lord is my strength and my might, He is my deliverance"(Exodus 15:2). His initials are linked within the verse and the words at that time truly gave me strength, and to my new born son, I wished him the same.
And Moses and the children sang (the Song at the Sea):
Mi khamokha ba-elim Adonai
Who is like You, Lord, among all that is worshipped?
Mi khamokha, nedar ba-kodesh, nora t'hilot, oseh felah.
Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, working wonders?
And the children sang:
- Why did you bring us out? So we could die?
- Mi khamokha ba-elim Adonai?
- Why is the water so bitter? We are thirsty! Provide for us!
- Who is like You, Lord, among all that is worshipped?
- Are you trying to starve us to death? We are hungry! Feed us!
- Mi khamokha ... Who is like you?
- What is this manna-dew that rots the next day?
- Nedar ba-kodesh ... majestic in holiness
- It falls not on the Sabbath!
- Nora t'hilot ... awesome in splendour
- Give us water to drink! Now!
- Oseh feleh ... working wonders.
Why did you bring us out? So we could die?
We worshipped idols.
We took on false leaders.
We spoke gossip.
We carried wood.
We died ... in the desert of life.
Lodged between the events of the miracles of the plagues and the sea on one side, and the revelation at Mount Sinai and the receiving of the commandments on the other, a slave generation complains. Quick to forget the praise they uttered, the base mutterings of their rumbling tummies and souls cry out in distasteful dissidence. How easy to lose one's faith. Did God?
Who is like You ... gracious and compassionate, patient, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, assuring love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and granting pardon ... Who is like You?
And yet, despite our failings or perhaps because of them, we are in constant search within our Torah, within our history, in an attempt to live up to the values and ethics that preserved our people (in theory) and that continue to challenge us both in and outside The Land. "The past throws stones at the future and land in the present." (Yehuda Amichai)
So today on Ilai's brit anniversary, we live apart, almost with resolvement after the reeling of family separation and divorce. The times we have together bi-weekly and the Shabbatot we spend give us strength and give us might. I still wish the same for him, to take on the phrase "The Lord is my strength and my might, He is my deliverance." I believe he has truly internalized it. I wish me the same... I just don't have forty years left in this desert anymore.
Amongst this portion's themes is that of the challenges of change. The Israelites, as a newly free people, must acquire new skills including strengthening themselves for the journey ahead and becoming skilled warriors in preparation for their capture of Canaan.
That requires a need for their self-image to change from one of slave to that of victor. They can no longer be dependent on another people (the Egyptians) but have to become self-reliant. And at the same time, by carrying Joseph’s bones with them to Eretz Israel, they have a powerful reminder of their heritage.
The story of their forty-year journey is full of difficulties, hardship and dissent. But all these are overcome to achieve their eventual goal. The lessons which we can learn from this parashah and those which follow should give much food for thought to those involved in change, be it individuals or organisations in our community or, indeed, Israel's politicians.