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The Parasha progresses from slavery, to freedom, and to confrontation with Moses:
On that day G-d saved the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Israelites saw the Egyptians dead, on the seashore (14:30).
The Sforno explains that the Israelites were still slaves until that moment. Until the pursuing Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea. For runaway slaves remain the property of their masters until the masters are dead.
But slavery to freedom does not mean going from the master's severe restrictions to the behavior of the drunken sailor on his first night ashore. On the contrary, the ultimate charter of freedom is G-d's requirements as written on the Two Tablets of Stone (Ethics of the Fathers 6:2). Freedom is the opportunity to maximize one's progress in this life in serving the Creator and His creations. The Torah, initially revealed by the Tablets, sets the guidelines for how that is done. It is that freedom that makes it possible for a person to come closer to G-d, as a human partner in the Creation.
And the ultimate in serving G-d is revealed in final words of the Song of Moses and the Israelites:
G-d shall reign for ever and ever (15:18).
All humanity will see G-d as the source of all things. Not just the Israelites. As the Sforno explains, G-d will have no "competitors" in the eyes of the nations: "There will be no strange god with Him" (Deut. 32:12). As Sforno writes in Ohr Amim (Light to the Nations), when ultimately the nations call in the name of G-d and serve him as one, He will be called "G-d of the entire world". G-d alone shall reign.
Our Torah sources recognize that the ultimate task of the Chosen People is to lead humanity towards the universal recognition of G-d as the ultimate source of all things. First they were freed from slavery. They started out on the right foot by "believing in G-d and in Moses his servant" (14:31) and expressed their sincere gratitude through the Song (Rashi to 15:1). The good start continued by accepting the laws given very soon afterwards, when:
They came to Marah… There, He established a decree and ordinance, and there He tested them (15:23-25).
It is not clear what that test was. According to Sforno, the test was whether or not they would obey the "decree and ordinance" they were given at Marah, prior to revelation at Mount Sinai. The decree and ordinance refer to purity, Shabbat, and civil law (Sanhedrin 56b). They did accept those laws. And in that capacity, they passed the test.
The lesson is that spiritual progress is one step at a time. Our parasha shows the Israelites taking the first steps towards their ultimate spiritual destiny. They were given the freedom to follow G-d's guidelines. They recognized G-d and His communication through Moses. They obeyed the first installment of His laws at Marah. They were to accept unconditionally the Torah at Mount Sinai and follow it up by establishing a place for His most intense presence in the Tabernacle and later on the Temple. Their way of life was to inspire other faiths. We have endured many elations and disasters en route. But the ultimate steps towards our destiny, via being a "light to the nations" (Isaiah 49:6), is to enable the finale of the Shira (Song of Moses) "G-d shall reign for ever and ever". As Zachariah puts it: "G-d will be the King of all the World", recognized by everyone as the Source of All Things. "On that day, G-d will be one and His name will be One" (Zac. 14:9).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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