Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)
Pharaoh has a change of heart very soon after the Children of Israel leave Egypt. He gathers his forces and chases them into the desert. We are told that HaShem “led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near; for G-d said: Lest the people change their mind when they see war, and they return to Egypt .” Yet it was not their closeness to Egypt that was their problem since G-d led them around and closer to Egypt . A great lesson is being taught about solutions and destinations being too close and not allowing for the growth of the journey to impact their lives. It would be an eternal lesson. The Children of Israel now find themselves in a situation wherein the Egyptians are closing in from the back , the desert is closing in on the sides and the sea stands before them.
It is then that they turn to G-d for the first time.
Pharaoh drew near. The children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, Egypt marched after them. They were very much afraid; and the children of Israel cried out to G-d.
Others amongst the people reacted differently with moaning and complaints.
Then Moshe declares:
“Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G-d, which He will show you today. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again any more forever.G-d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent.”
A very powerful declaration but nowhere near as powerful as the next verse:
G-d said to Moshe: “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel , that they go forward.’ Another eternal lesson!
As the children of Israel march forward, the divine cloud moves to the rear as a block between the Egyptians and the Israelites. Then mysteriously the splitting of the sea does not happen until the next morning. Again they are being taught the great power of waiting in faith.
In the morning the sea splits and the Israelites pass through, and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Then the verse tells us an important fact.
On that day HaShem saved Israel from the hand of Egypt , and Israel saw Egypt dying on the seashore (Exodus 14:30).
It was not only the Egyptians who died that day. It was Egypt .
Moshe and the Children of Israel the break into the powerful song of praise and gratitude to G-d, a song filled with great joy and pregnant with prophecy. It is here HaShem alludes for the first time the building of His house on Mount Moriah:
“You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O HaShem; the sanctuary, O HaShem, [which] Your hands founded (Exodus 14:17).
The Children of Israel begin to learn the lessons of the wilderness, all things come from G-d. They suffer thirst and hunger and complain to Moshe and Aaron. Then HaShem sweetens the bitter waters of Marah, and in a later time has Moshe bring forth water from a rock by striking it with his staff. Manna descends from the heavens in the morning and then quails to appear in the evening.
The Children of Israel are introduced to the Shabbat (of which they began to learn of in Marah) and are instructed to gather a double portion of manna on Friday to suffice for the Shabbat as well. Not everyone comprehends and attempts to test the faithfulness of G-d’s command. Aaron then places the manna are placed in a jar as an everlasting memorial.
Yet the Children of Israel are still mired in their insecurity and feelings of unworthiness and they again cry out for lack of water. But in their crying it is their feeling of being unworthy that cries out:
” He named the place Massah [testing] and Meribah [quarreling] because of the quarrel of the children of Israel and because of their testing the Lord, saying, Is the Lord in our midst or not? (ibid 17;7)
It is in the midst of this inner weakness that they are attacked by Amalek in a place called Rephidim, whose name denotes spiritual weakness. They succeeed against them by virtue of the prayers of Moshe and the army of Joshua.
Yet we are told that this will be an eternal battle:
And he said, For there is a hand on the throne of the Eternal, [that there shall be] a war for the Lord against Amalek from generation to generation.( ibid 17:16)
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