You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Beshalach.
From Rabbi Jill Hammer The Jewish Book of Days
The Tree of Marah
The Torah portions of this season tell of the Exodus, in preparation for the spring re-enactment of freedom from slavery. In one story, the Israelites come to a bitter spring called Marah. They are thirsty, but the water is impossible to drink. Moses cries out to the Eternal, and the Eternal shows him a tree. Moses throws a branch of the tree into the water and the water becomes sweet.
The sages argue about what kind of tree has such healing power. They do agree that the tree had bitter wood. IT was not the inherent sweetness of the tree but the Holy One’s intervention that made the tree able to turn water sweet.
This story too is reminiscent of sap. The sap of the tree is sweet, not because of the taste of the wood itself, but because the tree is able to make sugar from the light it receives from its leaves. So too in Shevat the Holy One teaches us that only when we allow ourselves to take in the light can we bring sweetness to the world.
The Trees of Elim
After the Israelites leave Egypt, they come to a mysterious place know as Elim. Elim has 12 springs of water, one for each tribe of Israel, and 70 palm trees, one for each of the elders of the people. The water and the trees are connected: Both symbolize the life force, that the Israelites experience now that they are free. They also represent Torah: Trees and water are both common metaphors for sacred text. Elim represents a community gathered around a common purpose, just as trees in the desert gather around a water source to grow.
This is the season of earth within air, and the fragrant trees of Elim remind us how the scent of trees can carry in the wind. Perhaps this sent greets the Israelites as they approach the oasis. Torah, too is earth within air, the strength and permanence of trees, surrounded by ever-changing currents of human interpretation.
At Elim, the Israelites rest, and begin to expand their horizons. At the end of Shevat, as we prepare for spring, we too expand our horizons. At the end of Shevat, as we prepare for spring, we too expand our horizons. Like the Israelites, we look for waters, physical and spiritual, to sustain us as we climb toward a new season.
From Rabbi Shefa Gold
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
(When He Sent)
Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
The Israelites cross the Red Sea and celebrate with song and dance. They are sent on their journey and given manna for sustenance which appears daily. If one takes more than he can consume that day, it rots and turns wormy. The Israelites receive Shabbat. They start complaining.
IN BESHALLACH WE ARE SENT on a journey of purification. The path seems impossibly circuitous, doubling back on itself, spiraling around and through every place of darkness within us – untangling the residual knots of our enslavement. We must take with us the bones of Joseph.1 The Hebrew word for bones also means “essence.” As we journey forth we carry the essence of our lineage, the bare bones of wisdom which we will flesh out with our own experience.
Our blessing is the wilderness, the landscape that will allow us to recreate ourselves in the image of freedom! The journey will call forth all of our strength and reveal every flaw. This is the kind of blessing that Ram Dass calls, “Fierce Grace.” It begins in miracle as we walk on dry land in the midst of the sea.
Thus every spiritual journey begins. In the midst of the turbulence of this world, and in spite of our fear, we somehow find the courage to take one loving focused step and then another, with each step finding our footing on a path that only reveals itself step by step. But we DO it! We don’t let the fear stop us. We cross into the wilderness leaving behind the safety of slavery – a life of conditioned response.
WE CELEBRATE THE MIRACLE of this crossing with a song and a dance that become the force of “sending” (beshallach). The power of the song and the magic of the dance propel us into the wilderness. The song lays out a formula for Salvation. My strength, “Ozi,” and the Song of God, “ve-zimratYah,” will be my salvation.2 The blessing of Beshallach comes in the balance of these two aspects.
Ozi is the force of will that I bring to this crossing – the place inside me that desires freedom and truth, and will do anything for its attainment. Ve-zimratYah is the part of me that knows how to surrender, that opens to the rhythm and melody of God’s Song and gives itself unconditionally to “what is.” The blessing comes in the balance of will and surrender.
With too much will, I isolate myself from the flow of Divine Grace that moves the world. With too much surrender, I become passive and abdicate my responsibility for full partnership with God in the work of Liberation. Too much will or surrender, and I might have drowned in the sea. In the marriage of my strength of will and a surrender to the God-song, the sea of confusion splits open and the dry land appears beneath my feet.
THIS INTERNAL BALANCE of will and surrender comes to us slowly through practice and by learning from our mistakes. The blessing of Manna and the blessing of Shabbat are given to us as practices we can use to perfect this balancing.
Manna is the miraculous sustenance that is given to us each day. I may only gather what I can eat this day. If the force of my will grows too strong, it feeds my ambition and I will try to gather more than I can use. I will want to have enough manna for a week, a year, a lifetime, and from the will’s point of view I can never have enough.
When I follow the impulse of ego-driven or fear-based will, all the surplus manna that I have gathered will rot. And so I must learn to gather only what this moment requires. Realizing that ultimately, I am not the one in charge, I surrender in faith to the taste of this day’s bounty. (The Midrash tells us that manna tasted different to each person.)
The will is required in order to gather in sustenance and distribute it justly in our world. That force of will in us must be continually strengthened and refined. And on the sixth day we gather in a double portion in preparation for Shabbat, the day of surrender. The blessing of Shabbat is given to us as a practice of re-balancing and of integrating the gifts that we have been given.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
AFTER THE MIRACLE OF OUR CROSSING, we journey for three days into the wilderness and our thirst begins to plague us. The waters that we find here are bitter. Our resistance to stepping into the void disguises itself as complaining and rebellion. We are tasting the bitter waters that have accumulated inside us during the years of slavery. This is the place in us that is in the most need of healing and purification.
DURING THE COURSE of a week-long retreat, it takes about three days for “normal” consciousness to drop away, for the cluttered mind to begin to clear, for the body to release its rigid posturing. Then I am confronted with whatever bitterness that has accumulated inside me.
That bitterness might be projected on outer circumstance. “The food is terrible.” “My bed is too soft.” “My back hurts.” “The teacher isn’t very clear.” “Perhaps this isn’t my practice after all.” “I’ll never do it right.” “I should just go back home, this isn’t for me.”
Beshallach sends us to our own bitterness that we might be healed. In order for this healing to occur, we must acknowledge the bitter murmurings and compassionately yet firmly set them aside, making room for Moses, our capacity for wisdom, to act. God shows him a tree, which Moses then throws into the bitter waters, rendering them sweet. The spiritual challenge of Beshallach is the sweetening of our own bitter waters. If those waters are not sweetened, they will poison us, and sell us back into slavery. (“I’m going back home, this isn’t right for me.”)
THE TREE THAT MOSES USES to sweeten the waters is the Tree of Life. Whatever bitterness we carry (difficult memories, regrets, grudges, or disappointments), will be transformed when touched by this tree. So what does it mean to cast the Tree of Life into our pool of bitterness?
The Tree of Life has its roots in Heaven and its branches spread out into our lives. It is the bridge connecting the infinite mystery with this finite seemingly imperfect world. When I take hold of that tree, I am touching the truth of my connection to the Source of all Life. In touching that tree I connect myself with all of Creation.
When I can grasp that perspective, I can understand that my small pool of bitterness is only a drop in the ocean of the great being that we are together. My fixation on that small drop is what makes the water seem bitter to me. As the Tree of Life expands my perception, the spiritual challenge is to let go of the drop and become an ocean, vast and sweet. This is the healing that God-consciousness brings. “I am YHVH who heals you” – from the disease of feeling separate and abandoned.
1 Exodus 13:19
2 Exodus 15:2
3 See Spirit Buddies by Rabbi Shefa Gold. http://www.rabbishefagold.com/spiritbuddies.html for an explanation of this aspect of the practice.
For Guidelines for Practice please click on link below to website
From Rav Kook
Beshalach: The Proper Time to Light
It is customary in Jewish communities around the world to light Sabbath candles 18 minutes before sundown (except Jerusalem, where they are lit 40 minutes before). The Talmud [Shabbat 23b] records a dialogue between 5th century scholar Rabbi Yosef and his wife regarding the correct time to light.
Not Too Early, Not Too Late
When Rabbi Yosef saw his wife lighting just before sundown, he gently rebuked her, explaining that the candles should be lit earlier, while it is still light outside. He compared the Sabbath lights to the pillar of fire that led the Israelites during their travels in the desert.
“The Torah states: ‘The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left their place in front of the people’ [Ex. 13:22]. This teaches that the cloud-pillar would complete the task of the fire-pillar, and visa-versa.”
In other words, the cloud-pillar would appear shortly before the start of day, while the fire-pillar would appear shortly before the night. So too, we should light Sabbath candles before the start of night.
Upon hearing this, the rabbi’s wife wanted to light much earlier Friday afternoon. But an elderly scholar instructed her that one should light “not too early and not too late.”
This account requires clarification. What is the connection between pillars of fire and Sabbath candles? Why must one light not too early nor too late?
Fire and Cloud
The pillars of fire and cloud provided a visual focus for the Israelites in their travels across the vast desert. Superficially, it would seem that the fire and the cloud pillars were completely disconnected, serving diametric functions. The fire gave light, while the cloud blocked the light and gave shade. In fact, they were related phenomena, both providing a continual point of reference for the people. As Rabbi Yosef taught, each one completed the work of the other. This complementary relationship expressed itself in the fact that, as the day waned, the fire-pillar already began to appear. And as the night neared its end, the cloud-pillar would become visible.
Similarly, Sabbath lights are a focal point of the inner peace, holiness, and enlightenment that flow from the sanctity of the Sabbath. Like the pillars of fire and cloud, here too we have two opposites – the Sabbath and the days of week. And like the pillars, they too share an inner connection. The enlightenment of Shabbat should not be confined to 24 hours, but should benefit the entire week. By lighting the Sabbath candles while it is still weekday, we demonstrate that the Sabbath light casts its spiritual radiance over the other days of the week.
However, lighting too early is also inappropriate. The weekday has its own function and purpose. Without the six days of activity, the spiritual rest of the Sabbath would not be fully experienced. Just as a white piece of paper stands out more clearly when contrasted against a black background, so too the blessings of Shabbat are more vivid against the background of the six days of work.
Exile and Redemption
The final redemption is described as a time that is “completely Shabbat.” Yet it too has its polar opposite – the period of exile. Each is required in its own time. Were the redemption to come before its time, we would be unprepared for it, and blinded by its brilliant light. As Rabbi Yosef taught, the light needs to be lit at the proper time. Not too early, not too late.
[adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, p. 77]
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
Beshalach: Two Levels of Love
When the Israelites saw that they had been rescued from Pharaoh’s army at the sea, they sang out with gratitude:
“This is my God, and I will enshrine Him; My father’s God, I will exalt Him.” [Ex. 15:2]
Is the repetition in this line from “Shirat Hayam” (the ‘Song at the Sea’) merely poetic? Or is there a deeper significance to the two halves of the verse?
Although not apparent in translation, the verse uses two different names of God. The first half of the verse uses the name El, while the second half uses Elokim. What is the significance of each name? How do they specifically relate to the desire to ‘enshrine’ and ‘exalt’ God?
Innate and Contemplative Love
The song, Rav Kook explained, refers to two types of love for God. The first is an innate love and appreciation for God as our Creator and Provider. God, the Source of all life, sustains us every moment of our lives. All things are inherently drawn to their source, and this love for God comes naturally, like the innate feelings of love and respect for one’s parents.
This natural love of God corresponds to the Divine name El. The word El is in the singular, reflecting an appreciation for God as the only true power and the ultimate reality of the universe.
A second, higher form of love for God is acquired through thoughtful contemplation of God’s rule of the universe. As we uncover God’s guiding hand in history, and recognize the underlying Divine providence in the world, we experience this higher, contemplative love. This love corresponds to the name Elokim – in the plural – referring to the myriad causes and forces that God utilizes to govern the universe.
Enshrining and Exalting
These two types of love differ in their constancy. The natural love of God as our Creator should be a constant and unwavering emotion, like love and respect for one’s parents. But the elevated love, the product of contemplation and introspection, is nearly impossible to sustain continually, due to life’s many distractions.
Regarding the innate love of God, the verse speaks of enshrining God. With this natural emotion, we can create a permanent place – an emotional shrine – for God in our hearts. “This is my God, and I will enshrine Him.”
The higher, contemplative love, on the other hand, does not benefit from this level of constancy. One should always strive for an ever-deeper appreciation and awe of God. This is our spiritual goal, achieved by utilizing our faculties of wisdom and insight. Regarding this form of love, it is appropriate to speak about exalting God, indicating an emotion that is the product of concentrated effort. “My father’s God, I will exalt Him.”
[adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 235]
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Reading the song and singing our own
Here’s what I wrote about this week’s parsha in 2006 for the now-defunct Radical Torah.
Shirat Ha-Yam is both visually and verbally breathtaking. Some compare it to brickwork, seeing in its shape the patterns of stone on stone that suggest how Torah can be foundational. Others consider it to evoke the ocean crossing, with ragged waves drawing back on both sides and a column of Israelites in the middle.
From the Jerusalem Talmud comes the metaphor that Torah is written in black fire on white fire. Some modern-day midrashists suggest that the text’s missing stories exist for us to extrapolate from the white fire, the spaces between the visible words. If that’s so, then this poem is redolent with untold stories — or maybe the spaces in the text are openings for our own words of praise. Before we get to the white spaces, though, the black text is worth exploring.
The Song of the Sea bedazzles with metaphors for God’s military might:
In Your great triumph You break Your opponents;
You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw.
At the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up,
The floods stood straight like a wall,
The deeps froze in the heart of the sea…
God’s fury here is fire, and wind, and ice — three of the strongest forces the natural world offers. The metaphors overpower the poem’s narrative. Yes, the Song of the Sea reminds us of the story we’ve just read, but here the imagery takes precedence over the retelling. Read it once as poetry, and notice how the words roll like waves.
And then read it again as an expression of theology. Shirat ha-Yam teaches us that the appropriate response to survival is song. That he who seeks to conquer may himself be conquered, and that we have God to thank for our continued existence. That God is great, worthy of the finest words we can offer.
Three-quarters of the way through, we hear a new strain of melody. The inhabitants of other nations, the poem tells us, quake in fear at what our God has done to the Egyptians:
The peoples hear, they tremble;
Agony grips the dwellers in Philistia.
Now are the clans of Edom dismayed;
The tribes of Moab — trembling grips them;
All the dewllers in Canaan are aghast.
Terror and dread descend upon them;
Through the might of Your arm they are still as stone —
Till your people cross over, O Lord,
Till your people cross whom You have ransomed.
You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain…
I’m not entirely comfortable with the language of fear here. Awe is fitting, but the kind of fear I see in the Song of the Sea goes beyond that. The poem depicts entire communities cringing from the anticipated blow — a gorgeous use of hyperbole, but also suggestive of a relationship with God that troubles me. I don’t want my God to be revered out of fear.
The notion that our God is mightier than any other god in the neighborhood, and will smack down anyone who crosses us, may feel antiquated to contemporary liberal Jews. It’s theologically problematic for those of us who hold that though different peoples may choose different faces for our ascent, we’re climbing the same mountain. If our God isn’t just “ours,” this kind of singular bodyguard relationship doesn’t make sense. What’s more, history calls it into question. The seas don’t part in today’s world, no matter how much we need them to.
But the last three lines of that excerpt change its tone. Once the Israelites finish their wanderings, the tenor of the song shifts. We may be approaching our desert wanderings with bravado, Hashem flanking our rag-tag mixed multitude, but once we cross over the need to instill fear evaporates. We need protection in the interim place between where we came from and where we’re going, but once we get there, we can relinquish that metaphor for God — and that mode of interaction with the other nations around us.
What does it mean to be planted on God’s holy mountain, as the song predicts? Though the last lines clearly imply the building of the Temple, I want to suggest an alternate reading. The Exodus was never merely an escape from; it was also, and more importantly, a journey toward. Toward freedom, toward wholeness, and toward the responsibility implied by the covenant we formed when Torah was revealed at Sinai. Maybe this too is what it means to be planted in God’s holy mountain: the way we, individually and collectively, root our Jewish identity in the text we received at the foot of Sinai.
A text which includes both black fire and white fire, words and the spaces around them. Shirat Ha-Yam is a praise-song from a particular place and time. In the white spaces that surround the written words, we can sing our own songs of praise, our own shout-outs to the ineffable One Who breathes us into new lives, new journeys, new iterations.
Reflect on your life, and imagine a moment of profound liberation and rejoicing. Think of a time when you were–or, perhaps, a time when you hope to be–free from a Mitzrayim, a narrow-place which constrains you. What images would you use to express your joy at that liberation? What words make up your Song of the Sea, your song of jubilation to God today? What new song can we sing to God together when we reach this year’s Shabbat of Song?
From Rav DovBer Pinson
To transition from one reality into the next we need to go through an intermediary stage, an impass, where we are no longer the old, but not yet the new. Between one Yesh/existence and another Yesh there is an Ayin/Emptiness/nothingness, transcendence in the middle. Going out of Egypt, removing the mentality of slaver…y and emerge a free people the people of Israel needed to go through the -split- sea
From Rabbi Jonathan Case
Leaving Egypt was no simple task. They were leaving the home they had known their entire life. It was also the place where their families had existed for hundreds of years. Now they were being cast out. Everything familiar was to be left behind. Understandably, the people were frightened. Time and again they queried their leader, How will we survive?
To those who said, “Let us cast ourselves into the sea,” Moses responded, “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of God.” To those people who said, “Let us return to Egypt,” Moses answered, “You have seen Egypt this day; you shall not see them again forever.” To those who said, “Let us wage war against them,” Moses said, “God shall fight for you.” And to those who said, “Let us cry out to God,” he said: “And you shall be silent.” Mechilta
To those who said, “Let us cast ourselves into the sea,” Moses responded, “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of God.”
It is easy to give up. Saying that life is too painful is simple. Losing one’s employment, becoming addicted, losing a love, death and rejection are all components of a lifetime that repeat. We experience these events many times over. It would be too easy to surrender to those opposing forces and give up.
Moses tells us: You are not alone. There is an Ultimate Master of All that cares intensely about you. Do not give up. God will not turn His Face from you.
To those people who said, “Let us return to Egypt,” Moses answered, “You have seen Egypt this day; you shall not see them again forever.”
Even pain has a purpose. Hidden deep in the folds of our anguish are seeds of opportunity. There is no pain that does not open up a possibility that would otherwise remain closed. That is not to say that we should welcome pain. Yet, when it comes to our door do not move backward toward the restrictive Egypt that once held us in its vise-like grip. Since we cannot change what has already happened use the experience as a tool for growth.
To those who said, “Let us wage war against them,” Moses said, “God shall fight for you.”
Do not lose sight of your morals. At all costs, do not lose your integrity. It is what makes you a holy vessel. Remain true to yourself; remain true to your God. Perhaps the greatest victory of evil would be to claim their victim as their own.
And to those who said, “Let us cry out to God,” he said: “And you shall be silent.”
As Psalms indicates, Leckha dumyah tehilla “to You silence is praise.” 1 Sometimes a wellspring of strength emerges from the darkness in the form of quiet. In the maelstrom of pain, when the tears have subsided, it is time to sit silently with God. From that place may issue the strongest prayer ever uttered.
Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach
From the Lubavitcher Rebbe
 Speak to the Israelites and let them journey forth: According to the Midrash,29 the sea had not yet split when God told the Jews to enter it. The people hesitated, until the prince of the tribe of Judah, Nachshon ben Aminadav (Aaron’s brother-in-law) jumped in. Only then did God tell Moses to raise his hand and split the sea.
Nachshon knew that God had instructed the people to travel to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. He was therefore singularly unimpressed with the obstacles that stood in the way. The fact that a sea stood between the people and their final goal did not faze him. If he had to jump into the sea and keep going until he would reach Mount Sinai, so be it.
Nachshon did not enter into any of the discussions mentioned above, nor was he impressed with any of the four factions’ plans, since none of them led to Mount Sinai. He did what was to him the only logical thing: to jump into the sea and move one step closer to Mount Sinai. In his merit, the sea split.30
[15-16] Let them journey forth…take up your staff and raise your arm over the sea: The splitting of the Sea of Reeds is generally viewed as the archetype of a miraculous and supernatural event. Yet even in this case, there had to be a natural action to catalyze the miracle: God instructed the people to journey forward and Moses to lift his staff over the water. God always demands some human act first and only then does He perform miracles.
Simply stated, this is because events that occur without our involvement do not truly affect us; we may adjust to the changes, but we are not internally affected. Only when we expend some effort do we truly appreciate and assimilate the miracle.
The same applies in all areas of life. Asking for God’s blessings is not sufficient; we must do something that can serve as a conduit for the blessing. Whether it is a visit to the doctor or performing an extra good deed, the blessing requires an expenditure of effort on our part.31
 There was cloud and darkness, but [the pillar of fire] lit up the night: The literal translation of the verse is: “there was cloud and darkness and it [i.e., the cloud and darkness] lit up the night,” implying that the darkness itself became a source of illumination.32 This revelation was a precursor to the Splitting of the Sea, where the concealment of the sea would also be “peeled back” to disclose the great treasures hidden within.
Darkness—the apparent absence of Divine revelation and clarity—is only such from our limited perspective. From God’s perspective, “Darkness does not obscure anything for You; night is as bright as day, and darkness as light.”33 Darkness is a challenge we are meant to overcome and thereby reap the benefits that are to be had by overcoming it.
We can approach this challenge in two ways. One is to repel the darkness by taking whatever light we do have and forging ahead with it. Ignoring the darkness and focusing on the light will dispel the darkness, even if the darkness is seemingly much greater than the little light we possess. This strategy is certainly better than succumbing to the depression and despair of darkness, and will even suffice, in most cases, to carry us through the dark periods of life.
But the ultimate objective is not merely to dispel the darkness but to transform it into light by turning its negativity into a positive force in our lives. When we succeed in this, the resultant light is infinitely brighter than the light that was shining as such all along.34
 And God drove back the sea with a powerful east wind throughout the night: In other words, God had to keep the wind constantly blowing in order to keep the walls of water erect. Had God let the wind stop, these walls would have collapsed and the sea would have reverted to its natural level.
When God created the world, He also acted against the “natural” state of things: He created existence out of non-existence. Analogous to the Splitting of the Sea, God has to keep His creative force constantly “blowing” into reality in order to keep it from reverting back to its original, default state of non-existence. Reality is therefore not something that exists on its own, nor is it even something that exists by virtue of the property of existence with which God imbued it when He first created it. It exists solely because God is actively and continuously infusing it with His creative force.
The implications of this truth are both profound and far-reaching. If God is constantly recreating the world, then the world right now is, in a very real sense, an entirely different one than the world that existed a moment ago. It is a fresh, new world, and we are brand new people, not necessarily straitjacketed by any cause-and-effect relationship with the past. We have complete freedom to choose between good and evil at any given moment, unencumbered by precedent or habit.35
 On dry land: It is related in the Midrash that God caused fruit trees to instantaneously grow in the middle of the sea and bear fruit; the children plucked the fruit of these trees and fed them to the birds, which then joined the Jews in their song of praise to God. Although God is generally loath to tamper with nature, He caused trees to grow miraculously to teach the fledgling Jewish nation an important lesson: whenever there is an opportunity to utilize some part of creation in fulfilling God’s purpose, it should be taken advantage of. Thus God caused the seabed—which for the brief time during the Jew’s passage was capable of producing trees—to give forth fruit. These fruits in turn enhanced the people’s song to their Creator. The miraculous trees teach us that even the most fleeting opportunity can and should be used to a Godly end.40
On a deeper level, God caused fruit trees to grow and bear fruit because this was an integral part of the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. The Splitting of the Sea was the revelation of reality’s hidden side, its potential to express the Divinity pulsing within it. This revelation had to occur at all levels of creation: in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, as well as in humanity.
The earth possesses the potential to sustain plant life, so when the sea split, the earth manifested this potential. Plant life has the potential to sustain animal life, so the trees that sprouted from the seabed bore fruit. Animal life has the potential to sustain and enhance human life, so the birds ate from the miraculously-produced fruit and thus were enabled to join the Jews in the Song at the Sea.
As we will explain shortly,41 the sea would not have split unless the Jews first revealed their hidden Divine potential; the seabed revealed its potential to produce fruit-bearing trees because the people revealed their inner Divine potential.
Similarly, when we repeat the experience of the Splitting of the Sea in our daily lives by revealing our hidden Divine potential, we affect the very fabric of reality. Since we are still in exile, we do not always see the effects of our actions, but eventually, when the unseen changes in reality reach a critical mass, they will usher in the messianic redemption. Then, even the inanimate kingdom will openly reveal its hidden, Divine potential.42
…Because they tested G-d, saying: “Is G-d among us, or not?” Then came Amalek, and waged war with Israel in Rephidim (17:7-8)
After all that they had seen G-d do on their behalf — the Ten Plagues brought upon Egypt to free them, the splitting of the sea, the “bread from heaven” that descended each morning to nourish them — how could the people of Israel possibly question, “Is G-d amongst us or not”?
But such is the nature of doubt. There is doubt that is based on a rational query. There is doubt that rises from the doubter’s subjective motives and desires. But then there is doubt pure and simple: doubt that neutralizes the most compelling evidence and the most inspiring experience with nothing more than a cynical shrug.
Amalek is the essence of doubt, of irrational challenge to truth. (Thus the Hebrew word Amalek has a numerical value of 240 — the same as the word safek, “doubt”). Because the people of Israel had succumbed to the Amalek within their own souls, they became vulnerable to attack by Amalek the nation.
(The Chassidic Masters)
From Reb Zalman Legacy Project
Moshe Rabbeinu: Regal Compassion, ObligationDancing and Sorting
The following text by Reb Zalman is from this week’s Torah portion, Shabbos Beshalach. (Click here for Hebrew/English version). [Notes by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]:
“And Miriam answered them.” (Exodus 15:21).
[NOTE: The traditional interpretation of this text is that Miriam and the women respond with another song. Here, Reb Zalman reads the Hebrew literally as a mamash answer to a question.]
What question did she answer? It was the question: “How are they reaching for that inspired song and giving of thanks, for thanking Hashem regarding the miracle of the splitting of the waters?”
Ah! The answer is spoken through the feet, in dance. (And working it through the dances, they can sort out much (Jeremiah 15:19) to bring forth “worthy, not worthless” words, for regarding the laws of Shabbos, ham’raked / one sifts through them.)
[NOTE: A secondary meaning of reish-kuf-daled, רקד, to dance, is “to sift”. So we can sometimes dance out our prayers. And we can also dance with the laws of Shabbos as we sort things out.
This emphasizes praying on all the levels, not just the intellectual one. The prayer will be raised to a higher place if the body is engaged. (Oy, there was some great praying at the last Aleph Kallah with Rabbis and dancers Diane Elliot, Shefa Gold, Julie Leavitt and Nadya Gross!)]
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
from Yishmiru Daat (2009 revision),
“Parashat Shemot,” p. 32
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Week’s Energy for Parshas Beshalach
Rav DovBer Pinson
Stepping Into Your Dream
This week Torah reading opens with the people of Israel leaving Egypt,
“It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go” (13:17)
The Israelites leave Egypt in great haste, and then, unexpectantly, and anticlimactically come upon the raging waters of the sea. Being chased this final time by their oppressors and facing the waters of the raging sea, a spirit of hopelessness enters them and they cry out to the Creator of the universe.
The message they receive is; “Why do you cry out to Me?…journey forward.” (14:15)
The message is- the time for crying out is over. You have done your work, take a real step now towards your dream. When they do indeed take that first step forward into the raging sea, the sea miraculously parts and they begin their journey to the promised land.
This is the fourth and final stage in obtaining freedom and redemption. Initially there is the need to reject your negative story, whatever it may be.
Secondly, there is the need to believe in the possibility of change and accept the possibility of the miraculous.
The third step is to actually visualize this new reality and creatively imagine ourselves already in that new state of being.
Now comes the fourth, and crucial stage, taking initiative, making that first move. This is the actual leaving of “Egypt,” our own personal place of constriction. Even if faced with an obstacle that seems insurmountable, take the first step towards your destination and the ‘waters will part’, doors will open and the path towards your freedom will be paved for you.
The Energy of the Week:
Stepping into Your Dream
This week’s energy is Action. This week’s Torah reading imbues us with the energy to take the first step forward into our dream. We need to begin living our dream in actuality, as if it is already a reality and that creates the vessel for it to actualize.
This forward movement mentality allows us to transcend seemingly insurmountable issues. Rather than looking for ways around the situation – take a step forward and go right through it.
For example, if your dream is to be wealthy, take a first step towards that reality. If your dream is to have a child, take a forward step towards making it real. Part of this step is actually living as though the dream has already been actualized. Rather than thinking, “when i will be wealthy . . .,” think, “i am already wealthy . ..” Not, “if, or when i will get pregnant,” rather, “i need to take steps to be prepared for pregnancy, and having a child in my life.”
Take that first step forward and watch your dreams become your reality.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
“And Moses said to them, ‘That is the bread which God has given you to eat. This is what God has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat.'” —Exodus 16:13
It’s hard to trust that there will be enough.
What if we run out of food
and when it’s gone we go hungry
unloved and unsatisfied?
What if we haven’t learned everything
and someone in the hospital asks for a prayer
we don’t know by heart? What if
we forget something that matters?
But this is the promise: the manna
never runs out, the wellspring of Torah
never runs dry. Tomorrow
our hills will again be graced with dew.
Taste the sweetness of our teachers’ words
like coriander seed, like wafers in honey.
And the more we share this Torah
the more there is to eat.
Take what you need.
Eat, and bless, and be satisfied.
Trust that we can handle whatever’s coming.
Manna lies all around. Open your eyes and see.
Wendy’s Comment: This poem was written for Rabbi Rachel’s recent ordination.
Torah Reading for Week of January 9 – January 15, 2011
“The Daily Practice of Collecting Manna”
by Robin Hoffman, AJRCA Third Year Rabbinic Student
The children of Israel, unsuited in many ways for their new experience of freedom, found themselves still dependant upon the aid of those more powerful than themselves. Therefore, they pleaded with Moses and G-d for food and drink while they sojourned in the wilderness. While G-d was displeased over their complaining and grumblings, He nevertheless granted them their wishes and sustained them with water and manna. Manna was a mysterious white substance that fell from the heavens and became food for the Israelites. But, the manna came with rules and restrictions which the infantile Israelites had to learn and obey each and every day.
According to Ibn Ezra, the miracle of the manna was the greatest miracle of all as it lasted 40 years and was not just a one-time event. But furthermore, Ibn Ezra explains, the miracle of the manna was really ten miracles wrapped into one: 1) the manna fell; 2) it fell only around the Israelite camp; 3) the fall of manna traveled along with the Israelites; 4) the manna they did not gather melted in the sun, but the manna they gathered did not; 5) no matter how much they gathered, everyone had the same amount; 6) a double amount fell on Fridays; 7) what fell on Friday did not spoil for an extra night and day; 8) and 9) the two miraculous tastes, like wafers with honey before it was cooked and like rich cream afterward; and 10) the jar of it kept throughout the ages did not spoil.
The rabbis wondered about this daily miracle of manna. Why did G-d rain down the manna each and every day instead of giving it to the Israelites one day to last for a week? The Midrash explains:
There were good reasons for not exceeding a day’s ration in the daily downpour of manna. First, that they might be spared the need of carrying it on their wanderings; secondly, that they might daily receive it hot; and, lastly, that they might day by day depend upon G-d’s aid, and in this way exercise themselves in faith.
(Legend of the Jews, p. 365)
Perhaps then, the greatest miracle and lesson of the manna was that it was a daily experience. Each and every day, the Israelites had to make it their ritual, their practice, to go out and collect for themselves and for their families. Surely this was a matter of survival and it may have felt to the newly freed Israelite slaves as if they were being enslaved by G-d by having to collect the manna each day. But this was also the beginning of G-d’s teaching the Israelites that their faith was to be a daily practice. They weren’t just being told what to do for the benefit of the one in charge, but rather it was for them – a practice that helped their own lives become better lives. The manna was a gift for which they could feel grateful. It is here, with the daily collection of manna, that we understand that our Judaism is a gift and for it to be truly meaningful, our practice of prayer and mitzvot must happen each and every day. Manna is still falling from heaven every day and every day is an opportunity to express our gratitude for the miraculous blessings of our own lives.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
When Sent: Part One
January 10th, 2011
After the Sea of Reeds
for the first time in a long time
the Egyptians are no longer a threat.
Ahead of us, the Wilderness,
many hurdles to cross
and on the way to the mountain –
four more crises.
Three days into the wilderness of Shur
no water. [15:22 ff.]
We came to Marah, cannot drink the water, bitter.
Ma Nishteh — what do we drink?
Moses turned around and cried out
God showed him a piece of wood
it is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it.
Moses threw the piece of wood into the water
and the water turned sweet.
God reminded us
I am Hashem, your healer –
January 11th, 2011 For DF
In the Shirah [song at the sea Ex.15:1ff.]
There is more white fire than black fire
More space than words
In the black –
In the white –
More can be expressed that way.
Words [on the other hand]
Grow legs and
Launching off rooftops
Their little legs
Running and returning.
Set against this –
Above our heads
In the great emptiness
Mourning into the spaces now –
A song a
Every poem a
Launched by Birds and mice.
And melodies –
When Sent part 4
January 14th, 2011
Last problem: Amalek.
Ah, an enemy.
Our problems are both inner and outer.
The first, the Egyptians and the last, Amalek.
We will come to wish all our problems were so outer.
In the interior — ourselves, the water, the food, the attitude,
we have met the inner enemy, it is us.
Our problems are lucky to have us.
Our devotion to them is endless.
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
On the Essence of Leadership
Moses is Israel and Israel is Moses.… For the leader of the generation is as the entire generation, for the leader embodies them all
Rashi, Numbers 21:21
What is leadership?
We expect our leaders to be wise: to be able to discern right from wrong and make the proper decisions on issues that affect our lives. To provide us with a vision of where we stand and where we are headed, and guide us toward the realization of our goals.
We expect our leaders to be caring and committed: to empathize with our needs and aspirations and devote themselves to their fulfillment.
We expect our leaders to be strong: calm and decisive in times of crisis, capable warriors and diplomats in the furtherance of our aims.
We expect our leaders to be individuals of high moral character and integrity, bearers of an ethical standard for young and old to emulate.
But the most important (and probably the most overlooked) function of the leader is to unite us: to knit diverse individuals into a single people and to inspire diverse–and often conflicting–wills to coalesce into a common destiny.
A Chorus in Three Versions
One of the first things we did together as a people was sing.
The nation of Israel was born on the 15th of Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 bce)–the day that G-d “extracted a nation from the bowels of a nation,” freeing the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Seven days later, the Israelites witnessed the destruction of their former enslavers when the Red Sea split, to allow them passage and drowned the pursuing Egyptians. The Torah relates how, upon beholding the great miracle,
Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to G-d, saying:
I shall sing to G-d for He is most exalted;
Horse and rider He cast in the sea.
G-d is my strength and song; He is my salvation
This is my G-d, and I shall glorify Him
The G-d of my fathers, and I shall exalt Him…
This song, known as Shirat HaYam–“Song at the Sea,”–goes on to describe the great miracles that G-d performed for His people, G-d’s promise to bring them to the Holy Land and reveal His presence among them in the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, and Israel’s goal to implement G-d’s eternal sovereignty in the world. Its forty-four verses express the gist of our relationship with G-d and our mission in life, and thus occupy a most important place in the Torah and in Jewish life.
Our sages also focus on the prefatory line to the Song at the Sea, in which the Torah introduces it as a song sung by “Moses and the children of Israel.” Moses was obviously one of the “children of Israel,” so the fact that the Torah singles him out implies that Moses took a leading role in the composition and delivery of this song. Indeed, the nature of Moses’ role is a point of much discussion by our sages: the Talmud relates no fewer than three different opinions on exactly how Moses led his people in their song of praise and thanksgiving to G-d.
According to Rabbi Akiva, it was Moses who composed and sang the Shirat HaYam, while the people of Israel merely responded to each verse with the refrain “I shall sing to G-d.” Moses sang, “For He is most exalted,” and they answered, “I shall sing to G-d”; Moses sang, “Horse and rider He cast in the sea,” and they answered, “I shall sing to G-d”; and so on with all forty-four verses of the song. Rabbi Eliezer, however, is of the opinion that the people repeated each verse after Moses: Moses sang, “I shall sing to G-d for He is most exalted,” and they repeated, “I shall sing to G-d for He is most exalted”; Moses sang “Horse and rider He cast in the sea,” and they repeated, “Horse and rider He cast in the sea,” and so on. A third opinion is that of Rabbi Nechemiah: according to him, Moses simply pronounced the opening words of the song, following which the people of Israel all sang the entire song together. In other words, each of them, on their own, composed the entire–and very same–forty-four verses!
These three versions of how Moses led Israel in song express three different perspectives on unity, particularly the unity achieved when a people rally under the leadership of their leader. 
Rabbi Akiva describes an ideal in which a people completely abnegate their individuality to the collective identity embodied by the leader. Moses alone sang the nation’s gratitude to G-d, their experience of redemption, and their vision of their future as G-d’s people. The people had nothing further to say as individuals, except to affirm their unanimous assent to what Moses was expressing.
At first glance, this seems the ultimate in unity: more than two million hearts and minds yielding to a single program and vision. Rabbi Eliezer, however, argues that this is but a superficial unity–an externally imposed unity of the moment, rather than an inner, enduring unity. When people set aside their own thoughts and feelings to accept what is dictated to them by a higher authority, they are united only in word and deed; their inner selves remain different and distinct. Such a unity is inevitably short-lived: sooner or later their intrinsic differences and counter-aims will assert themselves, and fissures will appear also in their unanimous exterior.
Thus, says Rabbi Eliezer, if the people of Israel achieved true unity under the leadership of Moses at the Red Sea, then it must have happened this way: that the people of Israel repeated each verse that issued from Moses’ lips. Yes, they all submitted to the leadership of Moses and saw in him the embodiment of their collective will and goals, but they did not suffice with a “blind” affirmation of his articulation of Israel’s song. Rather, they repeated it after him, running it through the sieve of their own understanding and feelings, finding the roots for an identical declaration in their own personality and experience. Thus, the very same words assumed two million nuances of meaning, as they were absorbed by two million minds and articulated by two million mouths.
This, maintains Rabbi Eliezer, is the ultimate unity. When each repeats the verses uttered by Moses on his own, relating to them in his individual way, the singular vision of Moses has penetrated each individual’s being, uniting them both in word and in essence.
… and Unity
Rabbi Nechemiah, however, is still not satisfied. If Israel repeated these verses after Moses, argues Rabbi Nechemiah, this would imply that their song did not stem from the very deepest part of themselves. For if the people were truly one with Moses and his articulation of the quintessence of Israel, why would they need to hear their song from his lips before they could sing it themselves?
No, says Rabbi Nechemiah, the way it happened was that Moses pronounced the opening words of the song, following which each and every Jew, including “the infant at his mother’s breast and the fetus in the womb,” sang the entire song themselves. Indeed, it was Moses who achieved the unity of Israel, as evidenced by the fact that their song could not begin until he sang its opening words. Were it not for his leadership, they could not have risen above the selfishness that mars the surface of every character. Had not the people of Israel abnegated their will to his, they could not have uncovered the singular core of their souls. But once they made that commitment, once they unequivocally responded to Moses’ opening words, each independently conceived and articulated the very same experience of the historic moment in which they stood.
Each and every individual Jew, from the octogenarian sage to the unborn infant, expressed his deepest feelings and aspirations with the very same 187 words. For in Moses they had a leader in whom the soul of Israel was one.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Beshalach, Shevat 11, 5748 (January 30, 1988)
From Melissa Carpenter
Beshellach: Pillar of Cloud and Fire
And God went before them; by day, a pillar of cloud to lead them down the road, and by night, a pillar of fire to give light for them, for walking by day and night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night will not withdraw from before the people. (Exodus/Shemot 13:21-22)
And the messenger of God pulled out, the one going before the camp of Israel, and it went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud pulled out from before them, and it stood behind them. Thus it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and it was the cloud and the darkness, and it lit up the night, so that this did not come near to this, all the night. (Exodus/Shemot 14:19-20)
And it was in the last night watch when God looked down on the camp of Egypt in a pillar of fire and cloud, and it put the camp of Egypt into an uproar. (Exodus/Shemot 14:24)
amud = pillar, column, upright support; from the verb “to stand, to take a stand”
Humans often hear God’s voice in the Torah, but there are only two verses where humans might be seeing God: when the elders climb Mount Sinai and behold God’s feet in Exodus 24:10, and when God lets Moses see his back in Exodus 33:23. The rest of the time, God becomes manifest through messengers (also called angels) who look like human beings; and through unnatural fires. Fires of God appear in a covenant with Abraham; in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and later Korach; in Moses’ burning bush; on Mount Sinai; in the portable sanctuary or Tent of Meeting; and in the pillar of cloud and fire that leads the Israelites from the border of Egypt to the border of the promised land at the Jordan River.
This pillar first appears in this week’s Torah portion, Beshallach (“when he sent out”). Pharaoh finally sends the Israelites out of Egypt, after the tenth plague. When they reach the edge of the wilderness, the Torah says God “went before them”, and it describes the pillar.
The commentary is divided on whether there is one pillar or two. But if the pillar of cloud is replaced by a separate pillar of fire for the night, what does the changing of the guard look like? The Torah never describes it. And in the third quote translated above, the Torah says that at dawn God was in “a pillar of fire and cloud”, which sounds like one pillar containing both elements. So I picture one pillar that looks like a column of fog in the daylight, but as it gets dark, people see sparks of fire in the cloud, and at night only the fire is visible.
The pillar of cloud and fire has several purposes. When the Israelites are traveling, rather than camping, the pillar is a guide showing them which way to go. It is also a reminder that God is with them—that God is “taking a stand” for them, and they must “take a stand” for their god.
The pillar can only be divine. A whirlwind can form a temporary pillar of cloud, a bonfire can make a pillar of flame and sparks, and an erupting volcano can do both, but a continuously moving pillar of cloud and fire is a miracle.
Furthermore, fire is already associated with the god of the Israelites, and it naturally inspires awe and fear. A cloud, on the other hand, is usually made of fog. In the desert, moisture is a welcome caress on the skin, a gentle gift, a reminder of God’s kindness. God’s kindness is confirmed later in the story by the fact that even after the Israelites do things that enrage both Moses and God, even after they make the Golden Calf, the pillar of cloud and fire returns to lead them.
In this week’s Torah portion, the pillar of cloud and fire is not only a guide and a reminder of God’s presence, but also a protection from the Egyptian army when it pursues the Israelites and catches up with them at the Reed Sea. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, a 16th-century Italian commentator, wrote that the angel, the pillar of cloud, and the pillar of fire were three separate things, and the angel came down to direct the two pillars, which both circled around to stand behind the Israelites, between their camp and the camp of the Egyptian army.
But since the word malach means both angel and messenger, I think the pillar of cloud and fire is God’s messenger. The message for both camps is that God stands up for the Israelites, protecting them from the Egyptians.
Nevertheless, in the morning, when the Sea of Reeds splits and the pillar presumably moves along with the Israelites across the dry seabed, the Egyptians foolishly follow them. And once the Israelites are safe on the shore, God looks down from the pillar of cloud and fire, and puts the Egyptian army in an uproar by making their chariot wheels get stuck or fall off. Only then, when it is too late, do the Egyptians recognize that God is waging war on them, and decide to flee.
It’s a replay of Pharaoh’s refusal to take the miraculous plagues seriously. No matter how visible the reminder of God’s presence in our world, people will ignore it if they are fixated on destroying something. When we are determined to solve a problem by eliminating it, we override any inner qualms, whether they appear as cloud, the heart-softening temptation of kindness, or as fire, the nagging fear that we are playing god or doing something wrong.
But if we try to be holy people, metaphorically taking a stand with God, we can recognize both kindness and awe as manifestations of the divine, inspiring us to take the right path. We have a better chance of noticing when we are fixated on killing a problem. We can look around for other solutions, other ways of dealing with the problem, even other ways of working with problematic people.
Instead of getting stuck in the muck and drowning, we can continue on our journey, guided by the pillar of cloud and fire within.
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies Podcast Page
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
Walking in God’s Joy
UNIVERSAL TORAH: BESHALACH
By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Torah Reading: Exodus 13:17-17:16
Haftara: Judges 4:4-5:31 (Sephardi ritual: Judges 5:1-31).
INTO THE WILDERNESS
Fairy tales may end happily ever after, but the Torah is an encounter with reality, in which progress and breakthroughs are frequently accompanied by reverses and obstacles.
The climactic drama of the Exodus, related in last week’s parshah of BO, was followed by the entry of the Children of Israel into the Wilderness, the MIDBAR, a place that “speaks” — MEDABER — teaching day by day. The MIDBAR is a super-reality, a stark no-man’s land where the ultimate existential reality of our lives, wanderers in this often inhospitable world, is writ large. It was fitting that the Torah was given in the Wilderness, a place to which no one can lay claim, a place where no one can take credit. In the wilderness, no one provides hospitality except G-d.
The main event of the “Giving of the Torah” at Sinai is recounted in next week’s parshah of YISRO (and also in the ensuing parshah of MISHPATIM, as well as partially in VA-ESCHANAN, the second parshah of Deuteronomy). However, the lessons learned by the Children of Israel in ALL their wanderings in the Wilderness are integral parts of this same Torah, as in this week’s parshah of BESHALACH, which begins to relate their encounter with the harsh reality of the Wilderness after the exuberance of the Exodus.
Directly after the triumphant march of the Children of Israel out of Egypt “with a high hand”, they appear to go into retreat, and their former masters come racing after them to recapture them. Directly after they depart from the Red Sea after witnessing the greatest ever freak event in the natural order, they find themselves three days into the Wilderness with no water to drink. They go further, and they have nothing to eat. They find food today, but will they have food tomorrow? They go further — and again there is nothing to drink. Suddenly, their deadliest enemies, the Amalekites attack.
The promise is that at the end of the journey lies the “happy ending” — the Land flowing with milk and honey. But unlike in fairy tales, the path through the speaking, teaching Wilderness of reality is long and arduous, twisting and turning in frightening ways. Each twist and turn in the journey comes to teach a new aspect of faith in G-d: faith in the miracles that take place in and through the workings of nature (“and they BELIEVED in HaShem and in Moses his servant”, Ex. 14:31); faith in the miracles through which we receive our livelihood (the root of MANNA is the same as EMUNAH, faith); faith in G-d’s miraculous power to heal through our keeping the Torah (“I, HaShem am your healer” Ex. 15:26); faith in G-d’s power to conquer the forces of evil (“and his hands were faith” Ex. 17:12).
Faith is the sustenance needed to survive in the wilderness of this world and to reach the promised “inhabited land” (Ex. 16:35) that surely lies at the end of the road. The very twists and turns in the road are trials sent to bring us nearer to this sustaining faith. For that reason, it is not written (Ex. 14:10) that “Pharaoh drew near” (KARAV, Pa’al verbal form) to the Children of Israel, but rather, Pharaoh HIKRIV, Hif’il verbal form — “Pharaoh BROUGHT closer” (see Rashi ad loc.). I.e. Pharaoh brought the Children of Israel closer: his very onslaught and the fear it caused brought them closer to G-d, forcing them to turn to Him in prayer and faith.
From Maggidah Melissa Carpenter
Bo, Beshallach: Clouds and East Wind
January 30, 2012
This is the d’var Torah I delivered as part of my graduation as a maggidah:
Blood. Frogs. Lice. Beasts. Livestock disease. Boils. Hail. Locusts. Darkness. Death of the Firstborn.
Today’s Torah portion picks up with the plague of locusts, goes into darkness, and brings death to the firstborn. Then, finally, Pharaoh releases the children of Israel.
Why locusts? One morning when I was in college in California, I stepped outside and—crunch! The ground was blanketed with crickets. They covered the lawns, the sidewalks, the flowerbeds. Their bodies were so close together, you couldn’t see the ground. Every time somebody opened a door, crickets jumped inside the building.
Those crickets on campus didn’t eat a lot of vegetation before they died. They were a wonder, but not a plague. They were amateurs compared to the locusts in Egypt. The Torah says:
And Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and God guided a an east wind into the land, all that day and all the night … (Exodus/Shemot, Bo, 10:13)
And the locust-swarm went up over the whole land of Egypt … (Bo, 10:14)
It covered the sight of all the land, and the land went dark. It devoured all the vegetation … and all the fruit … that remained after the hail. And there was no green left, in the trees or in the field, in all the land of Egypt. (Bo, 10:15)
Now that’s a plague.
You can watch a locust-swarm flying on YouTube. When the sun shines on it, millions of locust-wings glitter like a sea of sparks. And when the locusts swirl in front of the sun, they make a dark cloud, like a gigantic billow of smoke.
This reminds me of how God manifests as a pillar of cloud by day, and fire by night, in next week’s Torah portion. While the pillar of cloud and fire is leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army after them. They meet at the Red Sea. Then the pillar of cloud and fire circles back, to stand between the Israelites and the Egyptians. And, the Torah says,
Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and God made the sea move with a strong east wind, all the night … and split the waters. (Exodus/Shemot, Beshallach, 14:21)
Both times, God humbles the Egyptians and frees the Israelites with a moving, swirling cloud that sometimes glitters and sometimes darkens.
Both times, God also brings in a ruach-kadim. Ruach means wind—or spirit. Kedem means east—or the place of origin. So the “east wind” is also the “spirit of the beginning”.
The first east wind brings in a vast cloud of locusts that finishes off Egypt’s plant life, and dooms Pharaoh to rule over a dead land. This east wind is Pharaoh’s enemy because he cannot accept the “spirit of beginning”. He is unable to change his ways and make a fresh start.
The second east wind parts the sea so the Israelites can escape from the Egyptian army and live. The east wind is their ally because, once they get over their initial despair, they embrace the “spirit of beginning”. They leave Egypt, ready to make a fresh start.
I think the holy “spirit of beginning” touches our lives, too—whether we see the swirling cloud or not. When we are really stuck, unable to choose anything new, we risk being devoured by a cloud of locusts. But—we have the ability to cast aside that mood, and follow the pillar of cloud and fire instead.
May each one of us receive the strength to embrace the spirit of beginning, and make a fresh start
Congratulations to Maggidah Melissa
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
From Rabbi Mishael Zion
Leaving Egypt: The Long Path which is Short
From Rabbi David Ingber
Be Still and Get Going: A 5 Step Program for Facing Fear
Wendy’s Comment: Rabbi David quotes Rabbi Alan Lew
From the Maqam Project
From Rabbi Menachem Creditor
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
The Challenging Power of Similitude
A Teaching from Gershon…
I want to share with you a very important, yet much-overlooked, layer of Jewish Life Wisdom. It’s about the overwhelming and all-pervading power of the inclination to define what we see or experience in accordance with how it seems or how it appears, rather than with what it actually is and is not. In the Hebraic vernacular we know this tendency as the Ko’ach Ha’Me’da’meh, literally: “The Force of Similitude.”
What seems to be is not what is, and what is, is not necessarily what seems to be. A leaf, for example, appears to be just that, a leaf. But in essence it is a leaf only insofar as that is how you and I have come to know it, how you and I have come to define it, been acculturated, accustomed to recognizing it. The Ko’ach Ha’Me’da’meh tells us it is a leaf. But in fact, it is in essence not anything we are capable of fathoming, let alone defining. It is but a finite, physical embodiment of unfathomable mystery originating out of Nothing.
The appearance of a thing is but a temporal, limited garment of what it actually is, and thus what it actually is cannot be truly fathomed by way of its appearance alone. This explains why some people ate the mysterious undefineable indescribable manna daily without a complaint while others grew tired of it after a while (Numbers 11:6). The former engaged the manna without attempting to define it, to label it, to get caught up in the Power of Similitude, and so it became for them infinite possibility and its flavor became whatever they happened to imagine in the moment, and thus filled with variety. But for those who asked man hu? – What is it? (Exodus 16:15) – for those who became preoccupied with trying to attribute definition to that which had none, to focus on the finite appearance of that which was in essence infinite, it just tasted and looked the same every time, and so they grew tired of it.
This is the mystery of the Tree of Knowledge from which Adam and Eve ate. It wasn’t so much about them consuming the Forbidden Fruit as it was about the Forbidden Fruit consuming them. This explains the nature of the question God later asked them: “Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11) – or, said differently: “Who or what informed you that there was even such a notion as ‘Naked,’ to begin with? Did you get caught up in the web of deceit of the Power of Similitude? Did you become entangled in the snare of what seems and lose sight of what is? Have you now become more conscious of temporal, finite appearances than of the infinite mysteries enrobed therein? Have you become so preoccupied with the appearance of the Tree that you’ve all but forgotten the mystery of its roots? And of its seed? And of the Earth in which its seed is enwombed? And of the Divine Intent that conjured the existence of the Earth out the incomprehensible No-Thing?
So they walked for three days, our ancestors did, after crossing the Sea of Reeds, “and they did not find water” (Exodus 15:22). In other words, they were obviously looking for water, which is why they did not find water. I would have expected a narrative more like this: “And the people walked into the desert and they grew thirsty and water appeared for them.” After all, they had just emerged from a series of numerous miraculous events that had not only freed them from centuries of oppression and enslavement but had also flattened the once vast and almighty empire of Egypt and its god-like Pharaohs! They had just witnessed the miracle of receding waters and the emergence of dry land! They had seen things, the ancient rabbis tell us, which not even Ezekiel the Prophet got to see in his celestial vision of the Holy chariot, or Merkava! So, again, the ensuing narrative would then have been as follows: “And the people walked into the desert and they grew thirsty and water appeared for them.” Instead, we are told that they walked not one, not two, but three days into the desert, “and did not find water.” In other words, after witnessing firsthand all these miraculous happenings, they spent every one of those first three days in the desert looking for water, thrown right back into the clutches of the Force of Similitude. They fell right smack dab back from their encounter with the Infinite Mystery to the overwhelming power of the Temporal Finite – from what Is back to what Seems. This is why it took three days. Could God not have revealed to them a lake or a waterfall the first day? Why did it take three days? Because, their faith in the God of Miracles notwithstanding, they weren’t getting it yet. In other words, if their faith was solid and pure, they would not be looking for water, but would simply have the faith that it would be provided. This is why the water they finally got to on the third day was bitter and un-drinkable. Because their faith was flawed. It was a bitter faith of fear rather than a sweet one of love, as is written: “And the people feared God and they believed in God and in Moses his servant” (Exodus 14:31).
Fearing God belongs to the proverbial Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, whose fruit introduced fear: “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid…” (Genesis 3:10). The Forbidden Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge had overtaken Adam and Eve’s consciousness with the Ko’ach Ha’Me’da’meh, throwing them into a quandary of assumptions about things, a blind obeisance to the appearances of things. And so it appeared to them that they were now “naked” – something that never before existed (“And God said: “Who informed you that you were naked?”) – which in turn led them to assume that God was now upset with them since the voice that had warned them earlier not to eat of that tree now echoed loudly in their conscience – so loud, in fact, that they could not hear clearly the voice of God which now asked simply “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) and instead, in their confusion, heard it as “Why are you hiding?”
Thus, the beginning of Assumption and the consequence of Confusion that it brings. The story of the first human couple in the Garden of Eden is then not about the advent of Original Sin but of Original Guilt!
It is no wonder, then, that when the Israelites arrived at the lake, at that refreshing sight of abundant water, it turned out to be bitter. They were searching for water, which is why they were unable to find any. Their faith in God had the appearance of magnanimous faith (as dramatized in their having gone three days without water absent any complaining or whining!), but in essence was inspired by their fear of God. Seeing that they were still thinking in Tree of Knowledge mode –and through the filters of assumptions and “fear of God” that it inspired — God gifted them with a branch of the Tree of Life, by which they might transform the bitterness to sweetness (Exodus 15:25), by which they might shift their sense of fear to one of love, their sense of assumption to one of mystery.
Again, whatever a thing seems to be is not really all that it is. Even the greatest advances in Science cannot duplicate anything of Creation, not even so much as the single wing of a mosquito. They can graft, transplant, clone, synthesize, but they cannot create. They can only make things out of things that already exist, but cannot duplicate any being of Creation, because Creation was and is yesh mey’ayyin, “Something from out of Nothing.”
Therefore, all that we see, all that we encounter does not in essence exist. Only the finite physical embodiment of it exists, but its essence is non-extant for it originates in and emanates from the Nothing. And it is only by way of the Power of Similitude that we are capable of accessing the experience of it. However, at the same time that the Power of Similitude enables us to access – however limited — the experience of that which is, it also renders us vulnerable to the deceit of appearance to the point where what seems overrides what is. And it is then that we, in turn, forget that even what is, in essence is not.
This explains King Solomon’s baffling declaration of his bafflements: “Three are the things that baffle me, and four I know not – the way of an eagle in the skies, the way of a boat in the heart of the sea, and the way of snake slithering over rock. And the way of a man with a maiden.”
None of these happenings puzzle me. It simply is what it is. But for Solomon the Wise, they are all baffling mysteries, unfathomable even by the wisest man on Earth. Because Solomon in his wisdom understood that nothing is what it appears to be. It is much more, and it is none of it. It is but a fleeting drama of the finite embodiment of infinite mystery, a momentary glimpse of Divine Thought revealing itself from behind the Veil of Illusion, a transitory burp of the Nothing in the impermanent form of the Something. It is God responding to Its own question of “Where are you?” with Hee’nay’nee – “I Am Here!”
From Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer
Musical Sermon Given at Congregation Romemu
Song In the Middle of the Sea: Beshallach
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Beshallah
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson,
When Does Your Slavery End?
Torah Reading: Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
Haftarah Reading: Judges 4:4 – 5:31
Growing up in Israel meant that in my junior and senior years of high school “interfaith dialogue” translated into spending a few shabbats and holidays a year with a blended group of Israeli high – schoolers, who stood at every possible point on the “Jewish belief and observance spectrum.” These seminars were organized by Gesher, who saw (and continues to see) this form of dialogue as their mission. We believed that if we could learn together, and live together for these intense periods of time at Gesher’s dwelling in Tzfat, we would transform our country. While the Jewish identity of Israel continues to define and redefine itself, some of us, over thirty years later, are still walking together with deep love and conviction. It was there, in the midst of our intense ten day summer Midrasha / learning; introvert sixteen year – old Mimi, heard Prof. Nechama Leibowitz, of blessed memory, (1905 – 1997) ROAR at us: “Do you think that the Ten Commandments came down at Sinai with Rashi’s commentary on the bottom of the Tablets??? (Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 11th century French commentator on the Bible and Talmud) Keep your eyes on the top of the page and read the verses! Ask questions before you read the answers!” I confess, not only was “Nechama,” as she insisted everyone call her, a role model as a Torah scholar, divine teacher and modest woman of faith, she was also the most intimidating teacher of Torah that I ever had!
It is for this reason that I always feel guilty reading Rashi’s commentary when I haven’t earned the depth of his perspective with the quality of work Nechama would’ve demanded of me prior to seeing “what does Rashi say…” Again, I confess, this is the case when looking at verse 15 of chapter 14: “God said to Moshe, “What [MAH] are you crying out to me – Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey!”
To my defense I could claim that once you learn that the Chassidic Master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810), teaches that what God is saying is “All you have to do is call out to me… even if you don’t know how to pray or what to say, it is enough if you call out “what / MAH” and I will answer you, you will not stay stuck where you are” I find it hard to silence that specific teaching and look at the verse as if I’m seeing it for the first time. So yes, shamefully I admit, I read the verse and without thinking looked to see what Rashi had to say on the words “let them journey”:
“There is nothing for them to do but to travel, for the sea does not stand as a barrier before them.”
You must agree with me that Rashi does not seem too reasonable at that moment… How can he say that the ocean is not a barrier – Looking at it, was it anything but where they would all drown, considering the Egyptians on their heels – How could Rashi not see the ocean as a barrier??? When all the Children of Israel saw with their eyes was the ocean, what option did they really have at that moment –
Rashi then continues and quotes the Midrash: “The merit of their forefathers, and of themselves, and the faith they had in Me when they went out of Egypt are sufficient to split the sea for them.”
Now I have something to work with. Rashi is teaching me that there are levels and stages in exiting Egypt and claiming freedom. Physical redemption is only the first step in this journey that God is calling us to embark on. Physically leaving Egypt will only take us to the shore of the sea, but will not split it! To transcend the physical quality of freedom we need so much more. We need to be open to see beyond what our physical eyes see! We need to be able to believe in what was impossible for us to hold on to for the centuries we were enslaved in Egypt.
We need to be able to believe in the legacy that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs created for us, dreaming about us and our future. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to believe in our relationship with God. We need to believe that God loves us and is committed to us in a manner that transcends the one time act of physically setting us free from Egypt!
The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic tradition (1700 – 1760) in a very famous teaching sees Mitzrayim / Egypt and Yisrael / Israel as manifestations of states of consciousness. Mitzrayim being a state of contracted consciousness (meitzar translates as a “strait”, a narrow place) and Yisrael (in Hebrew the word Yisrael in configured by two words “li rosh” that translates as “my head”) signifies expanded consciousness. Not geographic locations, but rather states of being; states that we find ourselves falling back into, and breaking free into them again and again.
Often when my students ask me a question regarding my future I ask them what they are really asking. I challenge them by asking in return: “Why would you want to limit my future based on the limitations of my past, and the constraints of my current knowledge of myself and the information available to me?” I believe this is true for each and every one of us, when thinking about our futures, and where our lives can lead us.
I believe that Rashi is challenging us to claim our lives in ways that we could not imagine it to be as long as we were enslaved – whether physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually or intellectually. Rashi is challenging us to acknowledge the multi-faceted manifestations of our life that enslave us and to claim our legacy, our sense of self and our belief and trust in God. It is only when we can do so are we free.
I have heard it being said in the name of both (distinguishing between the living and the ‘living’) Natan Sheransky and Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) that only their bodies were incarcerated; their spirit was always free.
God is telling Moshe: “…What [MAH] are you crying out to me – Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey!” God is telling Moshe to tell us that the physical exodus was only the beginning of the journey. There is a redemptive journey that each and every one needs to claim for themselves. I believe that this is what God was praying on our behalf when we reached the Sea of Reeds. I believe that God was praying: “Don’t stop here… journey on… claim all that is yours… don’t limit your eyes to what you see in front of you… only with your physical eyes is there an ocean that holds you back, but if you have faith in your heritage, in yourself and in our relationship then even this sea can split open on your behalf!”
I truly believe that God holds us in this prayer every day of our lives, every time we feel stuck and enslaved to our thoughts, to our circumstances, to our vices.
May we merit to walk through the forty nine gates of freedom with faith and trust. May we be strong enough not embrace freedom ourselves, but help those we find stumbling on the way as well.
Shabbat shalom and may this Shabbat liberate us on all levels.
From Rabbi David Kasher
The One that Got Away- Parshat Beshalach
“Planning for the Future with Confidence”
By Dr. Joel Gereboff, AJRCA Professor of Bible and Rabbinics
“Hear what the Lord is saying, ‘My people, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.’” (Micah 6:1-4)
R, Yose b. R. Judah says, “Three good leaders had arisen for Israel—Moses, Aaron and Miriam, and for their sake three good things were given: the well, the clouds of glory and the manna. The first was given for the merits of Miriam, the second for those of Aaron, and the third for those of Moses.” (b. Ta. 9a)
Although we generally think of Moses as the leader who brought the children of Israel out from Egypt, the above biblical and rabbinic statements appear to assign equal importance to the actions of all three siblings, Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Here I would like to focus on the actions and character of Miriam for they reveal traits that we all should emulate.
The story of the Exodus is framed by Miriam standing by the water. The Exodus commences with Moses’ sister standing near the reeds (suf) by the edge of the river to see what would become of her brother Moses who had been placed in the river in a basket, and the Exodus culminates with Miriam inviting the women of Israel to join her in a song of gratitude for the deliverance at the Sea of Reeds (yam suf).
According to the narrative (Ex. 2:4-10), it would appear that Miriam in the scene by the river took the initiative to see what would become of her brother. The Torah does not state that she had been asked by her parents to undertake this task. Moreover, when she hears Pharaoh’s daughter who had opened the basket proclaim, “This must be a Hebrew child,” she leaps forward and suggests that she would go and fetch a Hebrew nursemaid to suckle the baby. And who does she bring? Her own and Moses’ mother. Miriam here displays leadership qualities of initiative and resourcefulness.
When we next meet Miriam (Ex. 15:20), she has picked up a hand-drum and with all the women goes forth to dance and to sing a song of praise for their having been delivered at the sea. But let us compare how the Torah describes the actions of Moses and Miriam upon their having safely crossed through the sea.
Moses is described as follows: “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said, ‘I will sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously…’” (Ex. 15:1). The report about Miriam differs somewhat. It reads: “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, picked up a hand-drum, and all the women went out after her in dance with hand-drums. And Miriam chanted for them, ’Sing to the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously…’” (Ex. 15:20-21). What strikes me is that while Moses and the men only use their voices to sing, thereby expressing their spirits, Miriam and the women offer a full- bodied celebration, singing and dancing. She and the women praise the Lord with their voices, their hands and their feet. As we would say, at the direction of Miriam, they put themselves fully into their actions.
A final lesson can be gleaned from a question and a comment of the early rabbis, on the above text, that appears in the Midrash on Exodus, Mekhilta. The rabbis ask, “Where did the Israelite women get hand-drums in the wilderness?” They answer this question by claiming, “These righteous women were confident and knew that G-d would perform miracles and mighty deeds when they left Egypt, so they prepared hand-drums.” (Mekhilta Shira 10). Unlike the men who doubt Moses and G-d even before they cross through the Sea (Ex. 13:11-14) and continue to do so throughout the journey through the wilderness even after having been delivered from Egypt and from the Sea, Miriam and the women while already in Egypt were confident of G-d’s protection throughout their upcoming travels, and on their own took the initiative to plan ahead. They left Egypt with their hand-drums, and when Miriam leads them, they join with her in full bodied celebration.
May we in the coming years have trust in G-d, confidence in ourselves, and take the initiative to be prepared and plan ahead as we journey forward in our lives.
From Rabbi Joel Glick
Manna: Food from Heaven
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
The Power of Ruach
From Brian Yosef Schacter- Brooks
Song of miriam rabbi ruth sohn
I, miriam, stand at the sea and turn to face the desert stretching endless and still. My eyes are dazzled —
The sky brilliant blue, sunburst sands unyielding white.
My hands turn to dove wings.
My arms reach for the sky and i want to sing the song rising inside me. My mouth open, i stop.
Where are the words?
Where the melody?
In a moment of panic my eyes go blind.
Can i take a step without knowing a destination?
Will i falter? Will i fall? Will the ground sink away from under me?
The song still unformed — how can i sing?
To take the first step — to sing a new song —
To close one’s eyes and dive into unknown waters. For a moment knowing nothing, risking all —
but then to discover the waters are friendly.
The ground is firm and the song rises again.
Out of my mouth come words lifting the wind,
and i hear for the first time the song that has been in my heart, silent, unknown, even to me.
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