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Parshas Beshalach - Vol.
4, Issue 16
Compiled by Oizer Alport
This week’s issue is dedicated l’zecher nishmas my grandmother Devorah bas Yosef a”h who passed away this week at the age of 92. She was a very special and unique woman, known and loved by all for her contagious warmth, optimism, and commitment to family. Some of you may recall that I wrote a D’var Torah about her last year. Realizing that the D’var Torah was written for Parshas Beshalach, I saw it as a fitting tribute to rerun it this week in her honor. T'hei nishmasa tzurah b'tzrur ha'chaim, vi'yehi zichra boruch. U'bila ha'maves lanetzach u'macha Hashem Elokim dimah me'al kol panim.
Uv’nei Yisroel halchu bayabasha b’soch hayam v’hamayim lahem chomah miy’minam u’mismolam (14:29)
The Medrash teaches (Yalkut Shimoni 234) that when the Jewish people were crossing the Red Sea, the prosecuting angel argued that it was inappropriate for Hashem to perform miracles on their behalf since they had worshipped idolatry in Egypt. This argument is difficult to understand. If their idolatrous practices represented a reason that Hashem shouldn’t perform miracles on their behalf, why did he wait until this point to make this argument instead of pressing his claim during the entire year that Hashem was performing the ten plagues on their behalf?
The Meshech Chochmah answers by pointing out a curious apparent contradiction. With regard to commandments which are violated through actions, such as idolatry and forbidden relationships, the Torah prescribes an appropriate punishment, such as death, lashes, and kares (spiritual excision), for each transgression. On the other hand, no such punishment is given in conjunction with mitzvos that are transgressed through corrupt character traits, such as forbidden gossip or hating another Jew.
However, this dichotomy applies only to sins committed by an individual. Regarding communal sins, the rule is reversed. The Yerushalmi teaches (Peah 1:1) that the generation of Dovid HaMelech was righteous, yet they still fell in battle because they spread rumors about one another. The generation of Achav was full of wicked idolaters, yet they emerged successful and unscathed from their battles because they didn’t gossip about one another. He explains that if the nation is corrupt in idolatry or adultery, Hashem still dwells among them in the midst of their spiritual impurity, but if they are stricken with bad character traits, He metaphorically abandons them to return to the Heavens.
Because of the communal severity of interpersonal sins, the first Temple was destroyed for the cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and forbidden relationships, yet it was rebuilt relatively quickly. The second Temple was destroyed for the sin of gossip and baseless hatred, and has yet to be rebuilt (Yoma 9b). Similarly, Hashem forgave the Jewish people for the sin of idolatrously worshipping the golden calf, but He didn’t forgive them for the sin of the spies, which involved negative speech and a lack of gratitude, and decreed that they would die in the wilderness as a result.
With this introduction, the Meshech Chochmah explains that in Egypt, the Jewish people were steeped in the 49th level of spiritual impurity and worshipped idolatry just like the Egyptians. Still, they had one saving grace, in that they dwelled peacefully and didn’t gossip about one another (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5). As a result, Hashem forgave their other communal sins and miraculously performed the plagues to bring about their salvation, and the prosecuting angel had grounds for his argument.
When they were trapped at the Red Sea by the pursuing Egyptians, the Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni 233) teaches that they divided into 4 groups who fought about the appropriate strategy. Only at this time, when the nation lacked unity, was the prosecuting angel able to argue that they should be judged for their individual sins, such as idolatry, and Hashem should not perform further miracles on their behalf. In these difficult times for our nation, let us strengthen ourselves in our pursuit of unity and love for our fellow Jews. In that merit, Hashem should perform miracles for us just as He did for our ancestors in Egypt.
Vatikach Miriam ha’neviah achos Aharon es ha’tof b’yadah vateitzenah kol hanashim achareha b’tupim uvim’cholos (15:20)
Some call it unquenchable optimism. Others call it a deep-seated trust in Hashem’s goodness. We all know somebody like this, a person who radiates joy and an eternal confidence that no matter how bleak things may seem, life has a curious way of working out for the best. It’s not that these people have the good fortune of enjoying easy lives, for they have faced many of the same curveballs with which we grapple. Rather, they actively choose to lead happy lives, turning the proverbial lemons into lemonade.
I recently returned from a trip to my hometown of Kansas City to celebrate the 90th birthday of such a person, my Grandma Dorothy (yes, Dorothy is still alive and well in Kansas!). Anybody who has ever come into contact with her can’t help but feel fortunate to bask in the warmth of her contagious enthusiasm. When her husband passed away nine years ago just after their 60th wedding anniversary, she refused to be destroyed by the loss, declaring with her infectious smile that “life is for the living!”
Similarly, after Hashem miraculously saved the Jewish people by splitting the Red Sea and drowning their Egyptian pursuers in it, the Jewish men sang a beautiful song to Hashem. The Jewish women, however, outdid them by accompanying their song with music and dancing. From where did the women obtain musical instruments in the middle of the desert? Rashi explains that the Jewish women in Egypt were convinced that they would merit further miracles and brought along instruments to play while singing praises to Hashem. In spite of the centuries of oppression and suffering in Egypt, they remained so optimistic that although they left in a hurry without time for their bread to rise, they still managed to pack instruments to celebrate the salvation they were sure was just around the corner.
More recently, there was a tremendous drought in Israel which threatened that year’s entire harvest. This would mean financial ruin for the farmers as well as possible starvation for those left with nothing to eat. Communal fast days and prayers passed unsuccessfully.
With little choice, the Rabbinic leaders ordered everybody to go to the Kosel (Western Wall) to pour out their hearts and plead for Divine mercy. After reciting several chapters of Tehillim and other appropriate prayers the clear sky suddenly grew dark and full of ominous clouds, which shortly gave way to a full-fledged torrential downpour. Those present were so overjoyed by the answering of their prayers that they didn’t even mind that they were getting soaked to the bone, all except for one elderly, wheelchair-bound Chassidic Rebbe who remained completely dry … because he brought an umbrella!
Life will surely send us many challenges in the areas of health, finances, marriage, and children. Although the tests that we receive are beyond our control, we can learn from the Jewish women in Egypt (and from Grandma Dorothy) that the choice to persevere through the trials and live each day with happiness and confidence is fully in our hands.
Vayomer ki yad al keis K-ah milchama l’Hashem b’Amalek midor dor (17:16)
After Amalek attacked the Jewish people in Refidim, Hashem swore that He would fight a battle against them in every generation until they are ultimately defeated and completely obliterated. However, in relating that He will place His hand upon His throne to take this oath, Rashi notes that the Torah writes the word “kisei” – throne – without the letter “aleph.” Similarly, Hashem refers to Himself using a shortened version of His Name, using the name “Yud-Hei” without the letters “Vov-hei” which comprise the end of His name.
The Avnei Shoham brilliantly uses Rashi’s comment to shed new light on words that we say every day in our prayers. According to Rashi, the three letters which are lacking from Hashem’s Name and throne are “Aleph,” “Vov,” and “Hei,” which can be rearranged to spell the word “Hu.” In other words, our verse teaches that Hashem has declared a war against Amalek in every generation. When this is finally won, the letters in the word “Hu” will be returned to their rightful places, at which time His name and throne will be restored to their complete glory and His kingship will be permanently established.
In the morning prayers, after the recitation of Shema, we say a paragraph which begins “Emes v’yatziv.” In this paragraph, we proclaim “L’dor vador hu kayam u’shemo kayam v’chiso nachon u’malchuso v’emunaso la’ad kayames.” This can be interpreted as a declaration that “L’dor vador” – after the war against Amalek which is waged in each generation is successfully completed – then “Hu kayam” – the letters in the word “Hu,” which have been lacking, will be returned to their rightful places. After these letters are restored, we will see that “Shemo kayam v’chiso nachon” – Hashem’s name and throne are established and lasting, and “Malchuso v’emunaso la’ad kayames” – His kingdom and faithfulness will be permanent and endure forever!
Our Sages teach that the Anshei K’nesses HaGedolah – Men of the Great Assembly – wrote the text of our prayers with Divine assistance. Unfortunately, because we are accustomed to say the words so frequently, we often fail to grasp the tremendous layers of meaning that they placed into each word and phrase. The recognition of the beautiful meaning latent in a phrase that many people say almost by rote should inspire us to seek out the hidden layers waiting to be uncovered in other areas of our daily prayers.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Although Hashem commanded Moshe (14:16) to lift up his staff and stretch out his arm over the Red Sea in order to split it for the Jewish people, the Torah relates (14:21) only that he stretched out his hand over the sea in order to do so. Did he also raise his staff as he was commanded, and if so, why is no mention made of it in the Torah, and if not, why did he deviate from Hashem’s instructions? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 2:21 14:21, Shemos Rabbah 21:9, Rashi 17:5, Rosh, Rabbeinu Bechaye, Tur HeAruch, Kli Yakar, HaEmek Davar, Ayeles HaShachar)
2) How were the Jews able to fulfill the mitzvah of giving tzedakah in the wilderness when there were no poor and needy Jews, as all of them received food and drink on a daily basis? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 16:21, Chiddushei HaRim, Ayeles HaShachar)
3) The Gemora in Yoma (75a) teaches that with the exception of 5 tastes, the Manna tasted like whatever one wanted it to taste like. Did the person eating it need to state the taste that he desired, or was it sufficient merely to think it? (Shemos Rabbah 25:3, Moshav Z’keinim Bamidbar 11:8)
4) The Mishnah in Avos (5:6) teaches that our ancestors tested Hashem ten times on their way to the Israel, six of which are mentioned in Parshas Beshalach. How many of them can you name?
© 2009 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to email@example.com
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