Torah Tidbits

20 August 2014 / 24 Av 5774
Issue 1030
Shabbat Parshat B'Shalach
January 24, 2013

Guest Article

SHABBAT SHIRA - Symbol of Life's Paradox by Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher, Dean of Students, Diaspora Yeshiva

After Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea praising G-d (Sh’mot 15:1-18) has been sung, the nation - and the reader - are in a state of euphoria; thus, neither the nation nor the reader is prepared for the series of failures that Israel encounters in the second half of Parshat B’shalach: “And Moshe led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And they came to Mara and could not drink the water because they were bitter.” The Baal Shem Tov explains because the people were bitter, therefore, the water tasted bitter. And the people murmured against Moshe, saying: “What shall we drink?” (15:22-24).
The Children of Israel proclaim their demand for water, and after the problem of the shortage of water is solved, they again begin to complain, this time for food: “And the children of Israel said to them: ‘Better that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (16:3).
The People of Israel are refined and purified from the 49 levels of impurity, and of being Egypt’s slaves to a single entity that is born in, and then ejected from, Egypt, through the Red Sea, into the desert. Now, Israel reacts just like any newborn whose needs - the satisfaction of hunger and thirst - must be met. G-d fulfills the function of a parent, supplying the newborn with food and providing precise instructions regarding it: The manna will be given every day, and thus one must not try to save any manna for the next day. On the Sabbath no manna will be given and thus one must save some of the manna collected on Friday for the next day, which is the Sabbath.
Like any parent feeding his child, however, G-d gives more than food; He also teaches fundamental rules concerning how one must behave in this world. First of all, G-d teaches His child the natural order of time: Each day is allotted its daily portion of manna, so that every day is a new day, which is different from the previous one. Therefore, one must not save any manna from one day to the next.
The focus of the teaching is the prohibition of work on the Sabbath: “Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day is the Shabbat, in it there shall be none” (16:26). The nature of Shabbat is different from that of the other days in the week. It is a day on which nothing new must be created and on which the work carried out during the other days of the week must cease; that is why some of the manna collected on Friday must be saved for Shabbat. In B’reishit, the Torah concludes its description of the creation of the world with the words, “And the heaven and the earth were finished [vaychulu] , and all the host of them” (B’reishit 2:1). The word “vaychulu” has a violent connotation: The noun “klaya”, which is from the same root, means “destruction”. It is as if the text is telling us that the week must be thoroughly consumed, must be destroyed, in order to enable the new week to germinate from its ruins. Perhaps this is the principle that G-d wants to teach His children with the help of the manna: Destruction is necessary so that the world can continue to exist. A seed must rot in the earth in order to produce luscious fruit.
The Children of Israel have just left Egypt. They have undergone the supremely total experience of the victory of good over evil, a victory so total that it seems to have no contradictions. In fact, the Song of the Sea ends with the famous verse that affirms eternity: “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever” (15:18).
Through the instructions concerning the gathering of manna, G-d wishes to teach His children something about life being cyclical, about the fact that abundance is invariably replaced by scarcity. The fact that abundance invariably germinates from scarcity and about the fact that not everything is black and white, as seemed apparent only a moment before at the Red Sea. Perhaps this is the reason that B’shalach concludes with the Amalek terror attack. Amalek appears at Refidim and attacks Israel there; the Children of Israel conduct a war against Amalek, a war in which victory is uncertain: “And it came to pass, when Moshe held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed” (17:11). To a certain extent, the war against Amalek is a mirror image of the war against Par’o. But, whereas the latter ended in absolute victory, the victory over Amalek is not conclusive. As a direct continuation of the passage on the manna and G-d’s teaching concerning events being cyclical, the story of the war against Amalek shows how not every war against evil ends in total victory. How evil can terrorize weak and defenceless Israelites only days after the Song of the Sea, and can continue to exist even after it has been defeated. This world is like a rollercoaster with ups and downs, and the wild ride will only end in the Messianic Era. Until then we must hang on tight to our Torah and not waver in our Emunah in G-d.

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