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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Beshalach

Pharaoh approached; the Bnei Yisrael raised up their eyes and behold - Egypt was journeying after them. (14:10)

Rashi notes that the word "nosea," journeying, is written in the singular. It should be written as "nosim", in the plural, which would be the appropriate term for describing an entire army. He explains that the Egyptians were all united in heart and mind, committed to pursuing and destroying the Jews. Everyone amassed into a united front with the singular goal of destruction. The Avnei Nezer notes a similar syntax for describing the Jewish camp at Har Sinai immediately preceding the Giving of the Torah. The Torah states (Shemos 19:2), "Vayichan ha'am neged ha'har," "and the nation camped before the mountain." The word "vayichan," and they camped, is singular -- as opposed to "vayachanu". In response, Rashi notes that Klal Yisrael lived in total harmony, united like "one person, with one mind." Why does Rashi change the sequence describing their achdus, unity? Regarding the Egyptian unity he says, "of one mind, like one person." In contrast, referring to the Jews, he says, "one person with one mind."

The Avnei Nezer teaches us a timely lesson in his explanation for the disparity between these two types of unity. Uniting against a common enemy is not only commonplace, it is practical. How else is one to survive? This occurs not only among intelligent humans, it is a common phenomenon among all creations, even animals. For example, we note that a herd unites against a common enemy. The common denominator in this form of unity is the "one mind," the shared objective for survival that melds the group into one unit. Hence, the "one mind" precedes the "one person."

With Klal Yisrael, however, the common denominator was ideological unity, their commitment to receive the Torah, to observe its mitzvos and to serve the Almighty. No one threatened them; no enemy was breathing down their necks, dedicated to destroying them. They were united as "one person and, therefore, one mind."

The Jewish People have united under specific situations. Regrettably, the motivation for this shared unity was tzaros, persecution, affliction, anti-semitism. Rarely was it ideological in nature. If our unity is to be binding, it has to be the type of togetherness that we experienced at Har Sinai, an awareness that "Yisrael, v'oraisa, u'Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu" -- "Yisrael, and the Torah, and Hashem Yisborach are One."

Moshe said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem...for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again...Hashem shall do battle for you, and you shall remain silent. Hashem said to Moshe, "Why do you cry out to Me?" (14:13, 14,15)

Chazal teach us that four distinct groups confronted Moshe. The first group were the fatalists, who felt the end was near, no vestige of hope remained. They might as well walk into the sea and die, rather than fall into Pharaoh's hands. The second group consisted of the pacifists, who felt that the only way out of their present predicament was to return to Egypt and adopt the Egyptian culture. Their motto was: If you cannot fight them - join them. These people were scared of their own shadow, submitting before they ever had a chance to fight. The third group were the warriors who would fight to their last drop of blood for the preservation of their freedom. Either it was to be a life of freedom or it was to be death. There were no gray areas. Last was the group that protested - and protested. They challenged the Egyptians politically. How could the Egyptians dare to chase after them and retract their freedom? Just a few days previously they had let them leave Egypt. What justification did they have for reneging on their word.

Horav Y.A. Hirshovitz, zl, notes that times have not changed. We are still plagued by these four types who, each in his own way, feels he knows it all. Each group has its own way of responding to crisis, regardless of how it might affect the rest of the community. We tell all of them what Moshe told their predecessors: To the fatalists, who were passively ready to accept their future, Moshe said, "Do not fear, stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem." The only way out of this challenge is through yeshuas Hashem, salvation from the Almighty. Trust in Him and you will see His redemption. To the pacifists, who were prepared to discard their religion, to cower and assimilate, to return to Egypt, Moshe said, "You shall not see them ever again." You cannot return to Egypt and become one of them. Once you leave - you are gone. Moshe told the warriors, who were willing to fight to the end, "Hashem will battle for you." Do you think that you could triumph in battle without Hashem? He fights for you. Let Him fight for you - but you must turn to Him in prayer and implore His salvation. Last, to the group that thought that the solution was protest, Moshe said, "And you shall remain silent." Screaming at the Egyptians, protesting with outrage, is an exercise in futility. You will get nowhere by raising your fist at the enemy. If you raise your voice, raise it to Hashem. Pray to Him to save you.

While these four groups were taking turns negotiating the right course of action for Klal Yisrael, what was the majority of Klal Yisrael doing? All of Klal Yisrael were not included in these four groups. Not everybody acquiesced to their line of thinking. Horav Hirshovitz claims that others took the appropriate action:. They prayed to Hashem. They shut their ears to the warriors and to the spineless, to the assimilationists and the politicians. When Moshe turned to Hashem and asked Him what to do, Hashem said, "Why do you cry out to Me? Klal Yisrael has already cried out to Me." The majority of Klal Yisrael knows what to do. Hopefully, this concept has not changed even though, regrettably, the four divisive groups still exist in our midst.

Then Moshe and Bnei Yisrael chose to sing this song to Hashem. (15:1)

Klal Yisrael praised Hashem for the miracle of Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea, through a shirah, a song of praise. This rare, sublime expression of gratitude to Hashem is unique in its form and meaning. We should address a pressing question regarding the shirah. Krias Yam Suf was not the first miracle that Klal Yisrael had experienced. Many miraculous occurrences had preceded it. There were the Ten Plagues that befell Egypt. Were they so "natural" that they paled in comparison to the splitting of the Red Sea? Why did Klal Yisrael wait so long to sing shirah to Hashem?

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, distinguishes between the miracle of Krias Yam Suf and the other miracles. The miracles of the Ten Plagues and their accompanying miracles were all the handiwork of Hashem - with no accompanying participation from Klal Yisrael. Hashem performed, and Klal Yisrael were the fortunate recipients of His beneficience. Krias Yam Suf was a different phenomenom. There, Klal Yisrael engaged in prayer and mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, which earned them the splitting of the sea. They acted, and Hashem responded to their action. Their actions and belief in the Almighty sustained the miracle. This is the underlying motif behind the phrase, "Zeh Keili v'anveihu," "This is my G-d, and I will beautify Him." This is my G-d whom I have sanctified in the world. I am an active participant in the miracle.

Horav Alpert applies this idea to explain the noted Midrash that relates that the angels sought to sing shirah. Hashem told them, "My handiwork/creations are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing shirah!" Why did Klal Yisrael say shirah? If it was inappropriate for the angels, should it not also have been inappropriate for Klal Yisrael? According to the above thesis, we can understand the distinction. The angels did nothing to efficate the miracles - neither in Egypt nor at the Red Sea. The only difference between the miracles that occurred in Egypt and those which occurred at the Red Sea is in their definitiveness and finality - the Egyptians died.

Consequently, the shirah which the angels would have sung would have been in praise of Hashem for killing the Egyptians. That would be callous. Klal Yisrael, however, were expressing their gratitude at being able to withstand the trials of the Egyptian bondage. They were declaring their willingness to give up their lives for the sake of the Almighty.

With this in mind, we can also understand why we do not recite the complete Hallel on the seventh day of Pesach. In reality, the miracle of Krias Yam Suf should have occurred immediately when Klal Yisrael left Egypt. It was dependent only upon Klal Yisrael's withstanding the test of emunah, belief in the Almighty, when they "believed in Hashem" - "va'yaaminu b'Hashem u'v'Moshe avdo." For rising to the challenge of faith, one does not say Hallel; for everything is in the "hands of Heaven, except for yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven." We are given the opportunity to "make it" on our own. The miracles of the Exodus, on the other hand, were all clearly initiated by Shomayim. Consequently, we recite Hallel in gratitude.

According to the above, we postulate that Hallel is said only when the miracle that is commemorated is one that was initiated and engendered entirely by Hashem, exclusive of Klal Yisrael's participation. This is why the miracle of Chanukah, which is commemorated through Hallel, only became worthy of Hallel after they found the flask of oil that had miraculously burnt for eight days. That portion of the miracle was initiated by Hashem. Their triumph in battle over the forces of evil, in which "rabim," "many," fell into the hands of "me'atim," "few", however, was a miracle initiated by mesiras nefesh, personal sacrifice, in battle and prayer. Thus, this miracle does not warrant Hallel. This thesis gives us the opportunity to analyze the concept of which miracles warrant the recitation of Hallel by Klal Yisrael.

Moshe caused Bnei Yisrael to journey from the Yam Suf...they went for a three day period in the wilderness, but they did not find water. (15:22)

Moshe had to force the people to leave the Yam Suf. Had it been up to Klal Yisrael, they would have remained there gathering up the immense spoils of the Egyptian army. Chazal tell us that the Egyptians, asssured of their impending victory over the Jews, bedecked their horses with every type of jewelry, gold and silver. After it was all over, the Jews had a "difficult" time coping with the enormous wealth that was now theirs for the taking. As a result, they refused to leave. Their behavior is mind-boggling! It is understandable that people seek wealth for a number of reasons. First, there is envy. It is difficult to tolerate your friends' wealth when you are just managing financially. Second, money gives one access to material pleasures that would otherwise be unattainable. No bills to pay, a beautiful home, a new car, expensive clothes and exotic trips, are but a few of the luxuries one can acquire with money. Certainly, this alone would be a reason for seeking wealth. While these reasons are not necessarily the Torah orientation, they at least give us some rationale for the behavior manifest by those that are driven towards material excess.

This brings us to Klal Yisrael at the shores of the Yam Suf. What provoked them to seek so much wealth? What drove them to resist leaving the area, to begin their ascent to Eretz Yisrael? Whom did they envy? All of them had come from the same place - with nothing. No individual was better off financially than the next one. Furthermore, what were they going to do with their money? Food came from Heaven, water from the well of Miriam; what would they have wanted to purchase in the desert? Their clothes remained the same for forty years. Why were they so obsessed with wealth?

Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, addresses these questions. He believes that there is no rationale for the behavior exhibited by Klal Yisrael. A willingness to denigrate oneself for the sake of money, especially when that money could not help them, did not apply at Krias Yam Suf. We must, therefore, suggest that there really is no rationalization that validates their behavior. A taavah, desire, for money under such circumstances is a form of machlas ha'nefesh, quasi-spiritual deficiency, that plagues people. It is irrational. Klal Yisrael's desire to gather riches transcended the rational. They had nothing to gain but money - which under their present conditions was totally superfluous. The fact that Moshe had to force Klal Yisrael to leave the area of the Yam Suf indicates how far this sickness had progressed.

After all is said and done, we derive from here that taavas ha'mamon, an irrational desire for money, is a sickness. This can explain the behavior of those who hoard their wealth, although they either have no one with whom to share it with, or an excess that will go around many times over. They literally refuse to benefit others. Only one who understands that our wordly goods do not leave with us -- that it is our good deeds that are our real possessions -- shares his wealth with those not as fortunate as he. Hopefully, this realization will come before it is too late.

1. What double oath did Yosef make with his brothers?

2. Which idol did Hashem leave untouched during makas bechoros?

3. From where did Pharaoh obtain horses in order to chase after Klal Yisrael?

4. When Klal Yisrael saw the Egyptians chasing after them, they saw something else that generated fear in them. What was this?

5. Which mitzvos did Klal Yisrael receive in Marah?

6. On what date did the manna begin to fall?

7. Was it more difficult to carry home the daily portion of manna on Erev Shabbos?


1. He made them swear that they would in turn make their children swear to take his "bones" out of Egypt and bury him in Eretz Yisrael.

2. Baal Tzefon

3. From the "decent" Egyptians, who listened to Hashem and took their animals inside during makas dever and barad.

4. They saw the saro shel mitzrayim, guardian angel of Egypt, coming to support the Egyptian army.

5. Shabbos, Dinim of monetary law, Parah Adumah.

6. The sixteenth of Nissan

7. No. Klal Yisrael gathered the usual amount. When they came home, they noticed that what they had gathered had a double portion.

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