Dvar Torah Parshat BeShalach 5776 2016 – Shabbat Shalom!

Did you ever wonder why on a holiday the Kiddush made over wine ends with the words; מקדש ישראל והזמנים, “Hashem sanctifies Israel and the festivals”? On Shabbat we do not mention Israel but merely mention: מקדש השבת, “He sanctifies the Shabbat”. Why is Israel left out on Shabbat?

We read in this week’s Portion that the Shabbat was just given to Israel after the Exodus as a commandment to obey. רְאוּ כִּי יְקֹוָק נָתַן לָכֶם הַשַּׁבָּת, “See that Hashem has given you the Shabbat…”. (Ex.16,29) The Mitzvah of Shabbat was given even before the Torah was given. But notice it does not say that the Shabbat was sanctified at this time.

Shabbat was sanctified by Hashem during the days of Creation. There we read: וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ, “Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” (Gen.2,3) Hence we see that the sanctification of Shabbat did not depend on Israel. Hashem had sanctified it during Creation.

The Jewish holidays, on the other hand, depend of the proclamation of the Jewish Bet Din, the court that sets the day of the New Moon, and thus the days when the holidays occur. Therefore it is really the Jewish people who sanctify the holidays, hence we recite during Kiddush, that Hashem sanctifies Israel who in turn sanctifies the holidays.


Dvar Torah on Parshat BeShalach 5775 2015

There is an interesting discussion between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda in the Talmud. Rabbi Meir said that when the Children of Israel came to the Red Sea every tribe said we will go first into the sea. Rabbi Yehuda said it was not so. Rather every tribe said we will not go first into the sea.

A Chassidic Rabbi explained that this was not a real dispute between the two Rabbis. Rabbi Meir claimed when the people from afar approached the sea each tribe acted bravely and volunteered to jump in first. However, Rabbi Yehuda claimed that when they actually came close to the sea, then every tribe backed down and refused to be the first to jump in.

This is something that happens often in real life. We have all good intentions to do something but when the time comes close we renege and back down. Good commitments are not enough. Action must follow our intentions.

Dvar Torah Parshat BeShalach 5773 2013

Bnei Israel have finally left Egypt and are on their way to the land promised to them by their forefathers. The journey should have taken eleven days as we learn in the opening verses of Deuteronomy. (Deut. 1,2) That was not to be. Instead we read in this week’s Portion that Hashem led them on a long journey through the Wilderness. Why so?

The Torah gives us the answer to this question. The opening verse in this Portion states that Hashem did not lead them through the short route:
כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא, “…because it was near, for Hashem said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt’.” (Ex. 13,17)

The “Sefat Emet”, written in the early 19th century, has a unique interpretation of this passage. The usual understanding of its meaning is that since it was near and if they would encounter a war they will want to return to Egypt. He explains that the fact that it is near is the reason Hashem did not want them to go in that direction. If they would have gone straight to the Promised Land they would not have been prepared to live there.

Living in Israel is not easy. Chazal said: Eretz Israel is acquired through hardship. Anyone who has made Aliya knows that while it is great coming and living in Israel, one must be prepared to undergo numerous unpleasant experiences.

While this is true for individuals it is also true for the nation as a whole. Since its founding Israel has had to contend with its neighbors and also now with the world at large. Hashem led the Jews through the Wilderness to prepare them for what was needed to obtain and to live in the Promised Land.

Dvar Torah Parshat Beshalach 5772 2012

There are two types of people. There are the doers. They see a task that needs to be done and they do not hesitate to step forward and tackle the task. At times it may even entail dire consequences. The undertaking may even result in serious harm or cost to the individuals. They know, however, that it must be done and they do not consider the detrimental outcome that may result. Such persons must be commended.

On the other hand, there are people who will never volunteer or lift a finger to try something that may be dangerous. They will wait until others have paved the way and only then will they venture to step in and participate.

When the Bnei Yisrael were encamped at the Red Sea and the Egyptians were in hot pursuit, they had only one choice. They could not turn back. They could only go forward into the sea. The Torah says: VAYAVO’U VENEI YISRAEL BETOCH HAYAM BAYABASHA, “The Children of Israel came within the sea on dry land…” (Ex. 14,22)

A few verses later we read: UVENEI YISRAEL HALCHU VAYABASHA BETOCH HAYAM, “The Children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea…”. (Ex. 14,29) In the first verse quoted we read first they went into the sea and then it mentions on dry land. In the second verse the sequence is reversed. First it says on dry land and then it mentions the sea.

The Kli Yakar, a very noted commentary of the Torah explains. The first verse refers to a limited group that first plunged into the sea. There was no dry land for them at that time. After their bold action Hashem parted the sea and the dry land was seen. Then the rest of the Bnei Yisrael marched in.

The first people were the doers. The ones who lead the way; the courageous ones. Then the others followed. They came when they knew it was safe.

Dvar Torah Parshat Beshalach 5771 2011

After leaving Egypt we find Bnei Israel camped at the sea and Pharaoh and his chariots are coming towards them. Frightened, they cry out to Hashem. They complain to Moshe and he too calls upon Hashem to help. Hashem’s answer to Moshe was: MAH TITZ’AK ELAI, “…why do you cry out to me…” (Ex. 14,15) Hashem tells Moshe to speak to the Israelites and let them go forth into the sea.

This is a strange objection that Hashem had against Moshe. Isn’t that the proper reaction? When a person is in trouble and can see no way out should he not cry to Hashem? That was exactly what Bnei Israel and Moshe were doing. They were praying to Hashem for help.

The answer Hashem gave to Moshe is very enlightening. Hashem said, in effect, if you want My help you cannot stand idly by but must also act. Tell the people to go forth. The divine help will come if the people do what they can on their own and then I will assist them.

We often find ourselves in difficult straights and become overwhelmed and lose complete ability to act. This is what the Children of Israel were told. Don’t stand by as if paralyzed. Act! Do what you can. Then, and only then, will My help come.

Dvar Torah Parshat Beshalach 5770 2010

The people came to a place called Marah and the drinking water there was bitter. They complained to Moshe and he was instructed by Hashem to take the wood of a specific tree found there and cast it into the water and it will become sweet. Moshe did so and the Israelites had water.

Then the Torah continues to tell us: SHAM SAHM LO CHOK UMISHPAT, “…there he gave them a statute and an ordinance…”. (Ex. 15,25) According to Chazal Moshe told them here the laws of Shabbat, the Red Heifer and the business laws.

Why did he give them these laws in this particular place? When you examine these laws you realize that they are very difficult to keep. The Shabbat is certainly difficult for most people at one time or another. The laws of the Red Heifer implied all the laws of purity and defilement. These are very strict and complex. Business laws calling for honesty and integrity are demanding.

This is what Moshe wanted to demonstrate to them at this very place. He showed them that at first the water was bitter but then it became sweet and beneficial. Similarly he pointed out that these Mitzvot may be difficult to abide by but eventually they prove to be worthwhile and offer a more enjoyable life.

Dvar Torah Parshat Beshalach 2009 5769 דבר תורה פרשת בשלח

Having sent the Israelites out of Egypt, Pharaoh suddenly had a change of heart and regretted having allowed them to leave. He said to his people what did we do KI SHILACHNU ET ISRAEL ME’OVDENU, “that we sent Israel away from serving us.” (Ex. 14,5) Did he already forget that he chased them out of Egypt because of the plagues visited upon him and his people?

A great Rabbi offered an explanation. When the Jews were first enslaved it was not for the monetary gains that the Egyptians would benefit. It was rather simply to oppress them as the Torah testifies: LEMA’AN ANOTO BESIVLOTAM, “in order to afflict them with their burden.” (Ex. 1,11) After having freed them they now first realized that there was a side benefit to the enslavement. There was also a financial gain by enslaving them. Hence they regretted having permitted them to leave.

History repeated itself many times in the Diaspora. Country after country saw the success of the Jew and how he managed to prosper even under the most adverse circumstances. What every country eventually did was to chase the Jews out of their land. Sooner or later each country realized that when the Jews lived there the country had prospered and now that they were gone the country did not thrive as it did before. Eventually they all invited the Jews to come back.

In a somewhat similar fashion the world today cannot accept the way Israel is prospering and they are trying every means of demonizing the country. They ignore the great inventions and discoveries that Israel is offering to the civilized world. It will not be long before they will realize that Israel offers a benefit to the civilized world and their attitude will change.