Torah Portion: Beshalach Exodus 13:17-17:16 HafTorah: Judges 4:4-5:31

 1.The people complain four times in this portion. The second time is at the bitter waters of Marah. Do you remember where you have heard this word Marah before? 

Ruth’s Mother in law said to call her Marah after her husband and sons had died. Ruth 1:19-20

2.What in your opinion was the most important lesson from the story of manna in this Torah portion? 

Let’s back up a little

  • The Israelites had the great exodus event, coming out of Egypt.
  • Then they saw how G-d destroyed Pharaoh and his mighty army in the Reed Sea.
  • Moses and Miriam started singing with joy.
  • This song is followed by a tambourine dance.

Can life get better than this? Everything is on a high; singing, dancing.

They are moving from a highpoint in life, a point where everything seems to be going right. These people are following G-d. Now flash forward three days. In Exodus 15:22-23 it says, “they find no water.” It is interesting that it does not say they were thirsty or even looking for water. It just says they could not drink the water.

Exodus 15:25 “Then Moses cried out to the L-RD, and the L-RD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”

Then they grumbled to Moses, “What are we to drink?”.  Moses prayed to G-d and G-d showed him a tree. Moses then threw it into the water and it became sweet. (Exodus 15:25) Notice here G-d gave Moses direction to a tree that would solve the problem but Moses had to take action to solve the problem of bitter water. When we are going through difficulties we can partner with G-d to find solutions to issues in our life.

They, like us, were expected to move on in their spiritual understanding of the Father. The journey of life gives us those opportunities to grow and to move on. The point of all our experiences is to grow closer to Him and so it was with the children of Israel.

Then again in chapter 16 they were grumbling again because there was no bread. They were remembering the good food of Egypt. They were not yet able to hold on to the fact that  G-d was their provider, their security when things were not going well.

G-d provides for us our daily bread. We need to have our priorities straight. G-d provides. This will take much of the pressure off of us. G-d was teaching Israel that He is the ultimate source of their daily bread. Yeshua,  in Matthew 6:11 is getting the same idea over to us. He teaches us to not hoard but to share with the needy and to do so generously with a glad heart. On a spiritual level, in John 6:41, Yeshua compares Himself to manna/bread. We must feed on Him each day. So both from the story of bitter water and manna we learn to keep our perspective G-d centered and take time each day to eat the manna/bread of life. Without that we can become thirsty and bitter people.

One more lesson here in these verses, the people were complaining. 

Illustration of complaining: A monk joined a monastery. The rule of the monastery was that for the first 30 years they had to be silent without talking a single word to become a priest. However, they could talk a maximum of 2 words after completing every 10 years. After the first 10 years the chief priest called him and gave the monk an opportunity to speak and asked, “Do you have anything to speak?” The monk said, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the priest again called the monk and said, “Do you have anything to speak?” The monk said, “bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and it was time for the priest to anoint this monk and the priest said you have 2 words to speak. The monk said, “I quit.” The priest said, “It does not surprise me a bit, you’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.

First the Israelites complained about what they didn’t have.                                                          

Secondly they complained about what they used to have in Egypt.                                   

 Later in Numbers 11:6 they complained about what they did have – only manna.

Moses did not join the complaining group. Moses did the only thing that he could, he cried out and pray to the L-rd. When things are going from bad to worse, when you have no control over your circumstances stop complaining and worrying about your circumstances, and cry out to the L-rd.

They were complaining to Moses but actually they were complaining to their provider – to G-d.(Ex 16:8)Complaining implies we don’t trust G-d. Philippians 2:14-15 says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of G-d.” We are to give G-d an opportunity to work on our behalf by trusting Him instead of complaining.

3.Israel set out from Egypt. In Exodus 14 it says, “Then the L-rd said to Moses, Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Why do you think G-d gave the Israelites this specific command?

Sometimes G-d gives us specific direction in our life to put us in a place where He can teach us something, for us to grow and develop our faith. But it is always our choice of whether to be obedient or not to His leading. I encourage all of us to always be alert and obedient to His direction. The children of Israel were to camp near the sea to witness G-d perform His miracles of destroying Pharaoh and his army and provide salvation to Israel.  

Also, they indeed camped at Pi Hahiroth across from Ba’al Zephon. The name Pi Hahiroth means mouth of freedom and Ba’al Zephon means “lord of the north,” an Egyptian deity. So, quickly Israel found itself at a cross roads, either go through the Mouth of Freedom or back to Egypt. With some fear (Exodus 14:10) they chose to cross the Sea of Reeds. We are often faced with this choice, continue on through freedom or return to life before redemption.

4. In Sh’mot 13:17, in Hebrew, it is written that Pharaoh sent the people out, in Sh’mot 14:5 he is told that the people have fled and finally in Sh’mot 14:8 it says the people went out with an up raised arm. Three different scenarios. So which is true?

The answer lies in the fact that Torah is speaking of two Exoduses – one is physical and one is spiritual. Two different events but related. Physically the Jews indeed left on their own with up raised arms but spiritually it was another story. That Exodus could be likened to a divorce, messy and involved.

For Israel, to leave Egypt, it was like jumping off a cliff. They left Egypt where life was not wonderful but was secure and predictable. To go out into a desert where there was no food, water or shelter was scary. People who had been slaves for hundreds of years now had to rely totally on a G-d they could not see or feel for everything.

Think how this must have been, to abandon your entire sense of security, to lose the predictability of life and place yourself entirely in the hands of G-d. To put it in our world, consider living for 40 years with no savings, no house, no new clothes, no business, no job, not even food for the coming day, no physical way to meet your human need for security or that of your family. You would have zero control.

5. What is the opposite of doubt as far as our faith is concerned? 

Most might say that certainty is the opposite of doubt but I would like to go further than that.  Certainty can be a road to box G-d into only what our limited mind can comprehend. There is something higher than certainty and that is wonder or awe. Faith is built on the assurance that G-d has a solution but when I don’t see it the awe and wonder of G-d takes me to that place of not limiting the Father by my own ideas or limited knowledge.

I am attaching a very interesting article by the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I hope you take the time to read it.

The Power of Ruach In September 2010, BBC, Reuters, and other news agencies reported on a sensational scientific discovery. Researchers at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado were able to show – through computer simulation – how the division of the Red Sea may have taken place. 

Using sophisticated modelling, they demonstrated how a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon. The water would have been guided into the two waterways, and a land bridge would have opened at the bend, allowing people to walk across the exposed mudflats. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in. As the leader of the project said when the report was published, “The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus.” 

This is how the Cambridge University physicist Colin Humphreys puts it in his The Miracles of Exodus:

Wind tides are well known to oceanographers. For example, a strong wind blowing along Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, has produced water elevation differences of as much as sixteen feet between Toledo, Ohio, on the west, and Buffalo, New York, on the east… There are reports that Napoleon was almost killed by a “sudden high tide” while he was crossing shallow water near the head of the Gulf of Suez.

Colin Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus

To me, though, the real issue is what the biblical account actually is. Because it is right here that we have one of the most fascinating features of the way the Torah tells its stories. Here is the key passage: 

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind all night, turning it into dry land and dividing the water. So the Israelites walked through the sea on dry land. To their right and left, the water was like a wall.

Ex. 14:21-22

The passage can be read two ways. The first is that what happened was a suspension of the laws of nature. It was a supernatural event. The waters stood, literally, like two walls. 

The second is that what happened was miraculous, but not because the laws of nature were suspended. To the contrary, as the computer simulation shows, the exposure of dry land at a particular point in the Red Sea was a natural outcome of the strong east wind. What made it miraculous is that it happened just there, just then, when the Israelites seemed trapped, unable to go forward because of the sea, unable to turn back because of the Egyptian army pursuing them. 

There is a significant difference between these two interpretations. The first appeals to our sense of wonder. How extraordinary that the laws of nature should be suspended to allow an escaping people to go free. It is a story to appeal to the imagination of a child. 

But the naturalistic explanation is wondrous at another level entirely. Here the Torah is using the device of irony. What made the Egyptians of the time of Rameses so formidable was the fact that they possessed the latest and most powerful form of military technology, the horse-drawn chariot. It made them unbeatable in battle, and fearsome. 

What happens at the sea is poetic justice of the most exquisite kind. There is only one circumstance in which a group of people travelling by foot can escape a highly trained army of charioteers, namely when the route passes through a muddy seabed. The people can walk across, but the chariot wheels get stuck in the mud. The Egyptian army can neither advance nor retreat. The wind drops. The water returns. The powerful are now powerless, while the powerless have made their way to freedom. 

This second narrative has a moral depth that the first does not; and it resonates with the message of the book of Psalms: 

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,

Nor His delight in the legs of the warrior;

The Lord delights in those who fear Him,

Who put their hope in His unfailing love.

Psalm 147:10-11

In Bereishit Rabbah, it is indicated that the division of the sea was, as it were, programmed into Creation from the outset. It was less a suspension of nature than an event written into nature from the beginning, to be triggered at the appropriate moment in the unfolding of history.

Rabbi Jonathan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, made a condition with the sea [at the beginning of creation], that it should split asunder for the Israelites. That is the meaning of “the sea went back to its full flow” – [read not le-eitano but letenao], “the condition” that G-d had earlier stipulated.

Bereishit Rabbah 5:5

A miracle is not necessarily something that suspends natural law. It is, rather, an event for which there may be a natural explanation, but which – happening when, where, and how it did – evokes wonder, such that even the most hardened sceptic senses that G-d has intervened in history. The weak are saved; those in danger, delivered. More significant still is the moral message such an event conveys: that hubris is punished by nemesis; that the proud are humbled and the humble given pride; that there is justice in history, often hidden but sometimes gloriously revealed.

The elegantly simple way in which the division of the Red Sea is described in the Torah so that it can be read at two quite different levels, one as a supernatural miracle, the other as a moral tale about the limits of technology when it comes to the real strength of nations: that to me is what is most striking. It is a text quite deliberately written so that our understanding of it can deepen as we mature, and we are no longer so interested in the mechanics of miracles, and more interested in how freedom is won or lost. 

To be clear, it’s good to know how the division of the sea happened, but there remains a depth to the biblical story that can never be exhausted by computer simulations and other historical or scientific evidence and depends instead on being sensitive to its deliberate and delicate ambiguity.

Just as ruach, a physical wind, can part waters and expose land beneath, so too ruach, the human spirit, can expose, beneath the surface of a story, a deeper meaning beneath.