Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 24   No. 16

This issue is sponsored anonymously

Parshas Beshalach

G-d Controls Everything

It is true that G-d is reluctant to interfere with man's free will and choice. In most cases, man is free to come and go as he pleases, meaning that he will not be disturbed in his plans to go East, to go West, to leave or to remain. And this is generally the case both as regards spiritual matters, where he has a free hand to sin if it so pleases him - though he must know that he will suffer the consequences - and as regards the physical acts, that man has the permission to turn in any direction that he chooses, without Divine interference.

However, all this is not because G-d is unable to interfere with man's actions, but because He chooses not to. He is quite happy to interfere with still-life, plants and animals, but when it comes to manipulating man, G-d, having bestowed upon him the right to choose, is loath to encroach upon that freedom of choice. "Olom keminhogo noheg" - "the world must take its natural course".

It is therefore all the more striking when we are confronted with an extreme case of Divine intervention in the affairs of a man (such as G-d's manipulation of Par'oh's reaction to the last five plagues), and both breathtaking and awe-inspiring when we behold its implementation on an entire nation.

Following the ten plagues, with the death and devastation that followed in their wake, there was little cause to suspect that Par'oh would be foolhardy enought to chase after the Jewish people. One would rather have expected him to breathe a sigh of relief at their departure and that he would now set about rebuilding his ravaged country. Yet barely half a week after the Jews had left Egypt, here we have him and his army doing precisely what he should not have done!

G-d "dangled a variety of carrots" before Par'oh to induce him to do so:

1. their money (that the B'nei Yisroel had taken out);

2. conveying the impression that the Jews were lost, by ordering them to go back in the direction of Egypt;

3. to encamp directly in front of Ba'al Tz'fon, the only idol that He left intact after "Makas Bechoros".And so convincing was the bait, that they all swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

Ostensibly they chased after the B'nei Yisroel to recapture their slaves and to re-obtain their "borrowed" money. Little did they realise however, that, in truth, they were racing to their own death. No amount of human planning could have timed it better. Such precision timing bears the hallmark of the Divine Hand, which is capable of controlling the hearts and the minds of nations no less than those of individuals, as if they were puppets. ("The heart of king lies in the hands of Hashem, He bends it in whichever direction He pleases." - Mishlei 21:1)

Par'oh believed initially that, if G-d existed at all, He lived in Heaven, and that, as far as this world was concerned, He had relinquished control totally. By now, he must have realised that in fact, G-d controls everything.

Par'oh had believed that he could drown the Jewish babies with impunity; after all, had not G-d promised that He would never flood the world again, so He would not be able to punish them in return? He did not contend with the possibility that, if G-d could not bring water to the people, He could certainly lead the people to water, and that He would do just that! In fact, not only would be bring the horse to water - but He would bring the rider there too.

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Parshah Pearls

The Two Levels

The Torah appears to repeat itself when it writes in Possuk 22, "And the B'nei Yisrael came into the sea on dry land," and again in Possuk 29, it writes "And the B'nei Yisrael went on dry land in the middle of the sea". And it seems to repeat itself again, when it writes in both places "And the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left".

The G'ro explains the apparent repetition by referring to the two groups in Yisrael. There were those who, like Nachshon ben Aminodov, had full faith in Hashem's salvation; so they jumped into the sea even before it turned into dry land - they proceeded to cross when it was still sea.

But there were those whose faith was not so strong. They waited until the water had turned to dry land before making any move.

Now the pesukim are clear. The first possuk speaks of the former group. That is why the Torah writes "And they came into the Sea (they jumped into the water when it was still sea) (which was now) on dry land. And the water was a wall for them" etc.

Whereas by the latter group the pasuk changes the order, "And the B'nei Yisroel went (not "came into" like the first possuk) on dry land, in the middle of (what was previously) the sea. And the water was a wall for them" etc. But this time the wall - "chomoh" - is written without a vov, to read "cheimoh" - anger (because G-d was angry with this second group who did not match the level of bitochon of their brothers, who had jumped into the sea immediately).


The Image of Michoh

The Gro adds another explanation. The Medrash says that already at that early stage, they had the image of Michoh with them, and it actually crossed the Sea when they did. In fact, according to the Medrash, that is what caused Hashem's anger, and that explains the missing Vov in the second Chomoh, as we explained earlier.

It appears that Yisroel were not all in the sea at the same time, but as the last group entered the sea, the first left it.

So we can now explain the pesukim like this: "And the B'nei Yisroel went in the midst of the sea" refers to the front section of Yisroel, who had already entered; "on dry land" speaks of those at the back, including the tribe of Don, who drew up the rear, as Rashi explains in Ba'midbor - and they were the ones who had the image, as is well-known. "And the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left".

But the second pasuk writes "And the B'nei Yisroel went on dry land" (that is again the front section of Yisroel who had already reached the far side of the sea and had come up on the other side) whereas "in the middle of the sea" refers to the rear-end of Yisroel, including the tribe of Don with the image of Michoh - and that is why the pasuk continues, "And the water was a wall for them" etc. - "chomoh" without a "vov" - anger because of the image. There was a terrible accusation levelled at those still in the sea, whether they should not perhaps be drowned together with the Egyptians who were about to enter the sea-bed behind them.


The Clever Water

"And with the wind of Your nostrils the water piled up (Ne'ermu mayim)." (15:8)

Unklus translates this not as "piled up" but as "was clever". Yes, the water was clever!


The G'ro explains the connection between the wind of Hashem's nostrils and the wisdom of the water by referring to the creation of man, where the Torah writes. "And He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul." (Bereishis 2:7) So we see, explains the G'ro, that by breathing from Himself into Odom, Hashem filled him with wisdom and the power of reasoning (from the word armumis - cunning).

So too, with the water here. Hashem breathed from Himself into the water, and the water became filled with knowledge and the power of reasoning.


Chazal tell us that when the waves came crashing down on the Egyptians, they tried to run away, but the water chased them and caught them as if it was alive.

In addition, Rashi describes in possuk 5, how different segments of the Egyptian army suffered progressively, according to their level of evil, the worst like straw, etc. So how did the water know how to make such distinctions, unless Hashem had breathed into it wisdom and the power of reasoning?

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