Posted on March 23, 2011
by David Helfand
February 7, 2009 / 13 Shevat 5769
This weeks Parasha is a favorite of mine and a classic among all of the Parshiyot in the Torah. Parashat Beshalach features the famous song, Az Yashir. The Parasha opens with Bnai Yisrael journeying into the desert after leaving Egypt. After hundreds of thousands of Egyptians died in the Plague of the Death of the First Born, Pharaoh finally budged and let the Jew go. The Midrash says that not only did Pharaoh dismiss the Jews with kind words, but he even personally escorted them out of the country. However it was just a short time after the Jews left that Pharaoh realizes that he is in trouble and has no one to serve him.
The Jews were being led in two groups: the men by Moshe and Aaron and the women by Miriam. The Jews traveled to the promise land on a non-direct path to avoid any contact with the Philistines. The Jews approach the Red Sea and prepare for Kriyat Yam Suf, the splitting of the Red Sea, but realize they have a slight problem. The Egyptians were gaining up on them. Now this was a large problem for the Jews. What were they to do?
Because Moshe was a being guided by God, he knew what needed to be done. He made some progress into the sea and then raised his staff and said, “In Hashem’s name, split!!!” According to Midrash, the sea doesn’t split and Moshe does as God commands once again, and still no change. The Shekhinah, Devine Presence of God, appears and God lectures the sea and miraculously the sea splits. Moral of that story: always do as God commands. As the Jews pass through the sea they are surrounded on both sides by the water and they just walk right through towards the other side.
According to the Mechilta, the Midrash on the Sefer Shemot, there were ten miracles performed at Yam Suf by God. They were:
- The water splitting.
- A roof-like protection was made above the Jews heads.
- The water was split into 12 different passage ways, one for each tribe.
- The ground was perfectly dry between the Jews.
- It was like clay under the feet of the Egyptians as they were chasing the Jews, which symbolizes the enslavement of the Jews and the brick making.
- The water becoming hard as a rock which harmed the Egyptians who were after the Jews.
- The solidified water formed decorative mosaic walls.
- The walls were transparent, allowing each tribe to see each other cross, which provided a sense of security.
- If a Jew, while crossing, became thirsty, they only had to stretch out his hand and the wall melted and provided sweet drinking water.
- As soon as the Jewish person had quenched their thirst, the wall became a solid mass again.
Once all of Bnai Yisrael had made it successfully to the other side of the sea, Moshe was commanded to close the sea. He did as God commanded and completely washed away all of the trailing Egyptians.
Parashat Beshalach is also the home of the famous song that we say everyday during the morning service, Az Yashir. This song is full of amazing phrases that show a dedication to God for amazing acts that have been preformed on behalf of the Jews. This song also houses one of the most famous lines in all of Judaism: Mi cha-mocha ba’eyleem hashem, me kamocha nedar bakodesh – Who is like You, mighty in holiness, too awesome for praises, Doer of Wonders! (15:11).
The Mechilta once again comments on this famous pasuk. It says, “these words were exclaimed not only by the Jews but by the other nations who denounced their idols after witnessing the divine miracles and the downfall of the Egyptian army. It is said that even Pharaoh himself said it and he began to do Teshuvah, repentance for all that he caused the Jews. It concludes by saying that the Wonders that God performs when the Moshiach comes will be far greater then Yetziat Metzrayim, the Exodus of Egypt.
The Parasha continues with several famous stories: The Song of Miriam, the complaining of the Jews for bread, water, and meat, the Mann/heavenly bread, Datan and Aviram disregarding Moshe’s warning, and an attack from Amalek. Parashat Beshalach is filled with amazing stories that foreshadow the difficulties that the Jews will face in the years to come until they enter the eretz za-ahavat chalav u’devash, the Land Flowing with Milk and Honey.
May this Shabbat bring you much joy with song and prayer and may you all have a Shabbat Shalom.