Friday, January 21, 2005

II-4 Beshelach In Over My Head

II-4 Beshelach In Over My Head

II-4 SP Beshelach "When he sent" 21 Jan 2005

Torah: Ex:13:17-17:16
Haftorah: Jdgs 4:4-5:31


1. Ex 13:17-18:8
2. Ex 14:8-14
3. Ex 14:15-25
4. Ex 14:26-15:26
5. Ex 15:27-16:10
6. Ex 16:11-36
7. Ex 17:1-16


With the last three plagues, Pharaoh finds his power limited. Regretfully he lets the Israelites go in his grief for his own son, struck down by the last plague of death. The Israelites move out en masse with a pillar of cloud leading them into the wilderness. Morning breaks and the Pharaoh assembles his army for revenge. Within a short time, a cry goes up in the Israelite camp, "Were it not better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness?" Caught between the Egyptian armies and the sea before them, the Israelites give into despair. Moses stretches his hand over the sea and it parts opening a path for an oppressed people to become a nation on the other side.

In Focus:

Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer, for God said, "The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt." Ex 13:17

And they said to Moses, "Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Ex 14:11

The the Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward." Ex 14:15

In Over My Head

The quickest way to get to Canaan was to follow the Way of Horus along the Mediterranean, but this was a trade route fortified by the Egyptians against external forces and invaders sweeping in from the Mediterranean, "the Philistines." To go this way would mean direct confrontation with the past on both fronts, with the Egyptians hounding them from behind and the Egyptians before them all the way as well as the intimidation of other hostile tribes.

Instead, They were led southwards where they were caught between the Yom Suf and the rampaging Egyptian Army, moving with one heart as one man according to Rashi's commentary. Viewing their impending doom, the joy of liberation is short. Burdened with all the wealth they could take with them, plus their flocks and their herds and their old and their young, their daughters and their sons, the Israelites could only howl with bitterness, "Why did you bring us here to die in the desert? Aren't there enough graves in Egypt?"

What did they take? The goodwill offerings of the Egyptians who were begging them to leave. Opening the door, the Egyptians shoved them out, fearful of their own death. (Ex 12:33-37) While the Israelites were busily engaged collecting worldly things, Moses went off to fulfill a commitment to one long-forgotten Joseph who wanted his bones interned in Canaan. The contrast of the diverse activities reveals the difference of temperament and faith between Moses and his people. While the Israelites were busily thinking about opening new bank accounts without having first established a national currency or identity, Moses was busy fulfilling a spiritual commitment to the past. He was recovering Joseph's bones which midrash tells us were at the bottom of the Nile. The Israelites were greedy for the flash of gold, looking at the latest Maserati camel model and dreaming about having sleek Jaguar chariots, yet they didn't have the emotional or spiritual depth for independence. A dependent people, they were used to having others organize their days, give them their daily work orders and receive in return their daily cucumbers. Brickmaking is indeed a hard business, but at least they stack up. You can number them, gloat about the quotas fulfilled and complain about the backbreaking labor involved. Whatever pain you suffer, you can blame on the boss over you. This is the mentality of a drone or drudge, but doing something independently? Taking responsibility for oneself? Not at this level of maturity. They followed Moses of their own free will. He even gave a three day seminar about their need for return to their previous state of existence as a people of God.

The two contrast oddly. Yet Moses understands the commitment of the past. Taking thee bones of Joseph didn't mean packing a neat little ossary into his backpack, but accepting the spirit of Joseph, taking on the responsibilities of leadership and vision required for leading a people from slavery into freedom.

But what is freedom? Is it found in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution? Or does it exist on many different layers depending on the viewer's perspective. Traditionally, American history taught that the Puritans arrived on Plymouth Rock to establish a colony for religious freedom. It's a myth. We know they arrived, but the other part regarding religious freedom? Freedom for whom? To establish a new colony where their rules would be strictly imposed on the inhabitants? Is that freedom? Or the huge proportion of indentured immigrants? Does merely escaping an oppressive regime mean you are free? Obviously not, because the Israelites mourn for their secure lives back in Egypt. Sounds crazy, but actually it's not. People are not so much the slaves of their political systems but slaves to the ideology and mentality of being slaves. As someone used to tell me, "You can take a Jew from a ghetto, but getting the ghetto out of a Jew is difficult." It's true, we become prisoners of our own minds and experience. We presume the future must be like the past.

Moses had a hard job. Actually between the rampaging Egyptians and the wailing Israelites, he was in the middle. Whichever way things would go, he could be blamed, but when the tomatoes flew; he stood up. He took Joseph's spirit with him, maintaining faith with man and God, realizing that to leave the past, you do it one step at a time—and then you take the plunge.

"What are you yelling at me for? Tell the Israelites to shove on..." Pretty abrupt instructions. Where to? Well, you know where: into the Yom Suf, into the Ayin, the abyss which we must all pass whenver there is a transformation or change. For each of us, there is a time when we have to turn our back on the rabble behind us, and take the first step into the depth of the unknown sea, the unknown future. Midrash states that Nachsen was the first in and the waters parted. There are many theories of this. Some say that the sheer weight forced the displacement of the waters. If you're a heavyweight, you might like this. Another says, that as they pressed forward, they could not see where their feet landed, the water parted—similar to walking through a field of dense nettles. As you go, there's a swath levelled behind you, but the forefront looks pretty prickly. Others think it happened like a Hollywood movie; but as God puts it, the important thing is forward motion.

Sometimes we feel really swamped, the waters are over our heads and we can't see our feet beneath us. We feel that we are sinking. We scream, our despair fills the air with moans, "twice or thrice more blessed is he who dies beneath the walls of Troy..." Sometimes we get very lyrical about the good old days when the rainwater leaked through the roof of the old flat and the bathtub fell through the floor--- We are desperate slaves of the past, fearful of tomorrow

And sometimes, God leads us the circuitous path around through the south into the Yom Suf simply because we haven't the maturity to engage in direct conflict with our own enslavement to the past. We need to pass through the abyss to understand who's really in control.


I-12 Vayechi Gn 50: 22-26 Joseph's Death

II-4 Beshelach Ex 13:19 Moses recovers and takes the bones of Joseph

Rabbi AronTendler, Rabbi's Notebook: How Did Pharaoh Do It?

Kolel, Beshelach 5762

"The Israelites have finally left Egypt. God does not lead the Israelites along the closest route to the Land of Israel, which is through territory occupied by the Philistines. Rather, the people are lead in the direction of the Yam Suf - the Sea of Reeds."


Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Beshelach: What are you yelling at me for? 2002
from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.
indepth look at Rashi's commentary regarding the yelling

Kolel Beshelach 5764 / 7 Jan 2004

"So the Israelites follow Moses and his God only to wind up between the approaching Egyptian chariots and the abyss ..."

Yanki Tauber, Beshelach: Exodus Part II
two parts of freedom

Yanki Tauber, Beshelach: The Four Factions
four world views about world crisis

Rav Frand, Beshelach: Everyone Needs Attention 5763
on the relationship of vay-ehi and vai

Rabbi Elihayu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Backseat Driver
on the difficulty of splitting Red Sea, finding a shidduch and parnasah

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Beshelach 5757
"This weeks parsha, Beshalach, begins with the possuk (13:17) "Vayehee, and it was, when Paroah sent the nation". We've mentioned before that the word 'vayehee' connotes sorrow..."

Pinchas Winston, Perceptions, Beshelach Was It Really Fair-Oh? 5763

Rabbi Aron, Rabbi's Notebook: Freedom Revisisted 5761

Rabbi Aron, Rabbi's Notebook, Illusion of Independence 5759

Rabbi Pinchas Winston, Perceptions, Beshelach: Heaven Sent 5762
with a section considering the relationship of TuB'Shevat and Beshelach


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