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Parashat Beshalach

In honor of my wife, Barbara.

The best wife, mother, and grandmother.

By Aaron Regev

Parashat Beshalach

The Exodus

At the end of last week’s parasha, after Pharaoh reluctantly sent B’nei Yisrael out of Egypt, Moshe instructed the people, “And it shall be when your son will ask you at some future time, ‘What is this?’ You shall say to him, ‘With a strong hand Hashem removed us from Egypt from the house of bondage.’ (13:14)” For the last 3,000 years, every mitzvah we do and every holiday we celebrate serves as a reminder of Hashem saving us from Pharaoh’s grip and redeeming us from slavery with a strong hand!

Every day we read in the Shema, “Ani Hashem Elokechem asher hotzeti etchem me’eretz Mitzrayim leheyot lachem le’Elokim—I am Hashem, your G-d who redeemed you from the land of Egypt to be your G-d.” This text reminds us that we must pass the story of our redemption from generation to generation up until this very day.

The Waters of Israel

This parasha discusses the parting of the Red Sea. There is an interesting feature about Israel’s bodies of water. The Sea of Galilee—also called the Kineret—and the Dead Sea are two seas, or rather lakes, that could not be more different. The Kineret is teeming with life. It is home to 24 species of fish, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Its shores have many birds and are lush with vegetation. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, contains no life at all; it’s extremely salty, to the point where it’s toxic and bitter. Yet both are fed from the same source, the Jordan River.

How could two bodies of water that are fed from a single source be so different? The Sea of Galilee receives water from one end and gives out water from the other, while the Dead Sea takes water, but has no outlet. Life is all about give-and-take. If a person just constantly takes but does not give to anyone, that person withers into something salty and bitter. Yet if one concentrates on not only receiving, but also giving, he will be full of life!

A Leap of Faith

As B’nei Yisrael left Egypt, Hashem sent them on a detour to bypass the land of the Philistines. This led them to the shores of the Yam Suf. When they realized that Pharaoh’s army was pursuing them and they were trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army, they began to lose faith that Hashem would not save them again.

They cried out to Hashem, Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?” Hashem responded to Moshe, “Ma tizak Elai — Why do you cry out to Me?” The Ohr Hachaim asks, Who should they cry out to, if not to Hashem?”

Hashem instructed Moshe, “Speak to B’nei Yisrael and tell them to move forward!” The Ohr Hachaim explains that sometimes tefillah is not enough and we need to take a leap of faith to show our emunah in Hashem! According to the midrash, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a prince of the tribe of Judah, was the first one to take that leap of faith and literally jumped into the Yam Suf.

Rabbenu Bachiya explains that the water didn’t split all at once, and therefore they were not able to see across to the other side. Rather, there was a wall of water in front of them, but with each step that they took, the sea split a bit more. Similarly, we move forward step by step, and as we go through the trials and tribulations of our lives, we overcome our challenges one at a time. It’s only much later in our lives that we can look back and see with clarity how our lives progressed and how we have grown to the point where we are today. We must constantly have emunah and bitachon that Hashem will be there for us and guide us through our lives — if we continue to follow in the derech of Hashem — even though we can’t possibly see what lies ahead of us.

Hashem says to us, “ma tizak Elai—why are you crying out to Me?” Just take that leap of faith and have complete confidence that I am always with you! The splitting of the sea has been compared to shidduchim and parnasah—livelihood. Those things are as difficult as Keriyat Yam SufSplitting of the Sea but in retrospect, they seem so obvious and simple!

Rabbi Wallerstein, ZT’L, told a story about how Hashem ‘split the sea’ and made a shidduch for a young man who took a leap of faith like Nachshon ben Aminadav. Rabbi Wallerstein used to teach the eighth grade in Crown Heights Yeshiva. During his years of teaching, a younger boy in a different grade, Howie, was unfortunately expelled from school due to his disruptive behavior. Years later, Rabbi Wallerstein was attending the wedding of one of his former students. The rabbi found his table number and recognized Howie seated next to him, along with his girlfriend, who wasn’t Jewish. Howie was Rabbi Wallerstein’s former student’s brother.

The rabbi asked Howie to dance with him and the groom during the first song. The rabbi pulled Howie close and said in his ear how sorry he was that the school had made such an unfortunate decision, and that Howie was loved and appreciated. Rabbi Wallerstein went to leave the wedding hall, and Howie trailed after him. He told him “Rabbi, I am a Buddhist now. I traveled to the Himalayas and that’s where I met my girlfriend.” Rabbi Wallerstein understood now why Howie’s head was fully shaved and he had large tattoos of the Buddha on both his arms. The rabbi offered Howie an opportunity, saying, “I don’t know much about the Buddhist religion, but please come and speak at my Tuesday night class. Perhaps we can all learn something.” Ecstatic, Howie accepted.

Howie came that Tuesday night and started discussing all the merits of Buddhism. Rabbi Wallerstein allowed him to speak freely, and when he was done, the rabbi made a joke, “If Buddha is a god, how come he can’t lose some weight?” and continued to get the class back on track. Howie and the rabbi stayed in touch, and Howie came to the Tuesday night class every week. Not long after, Howie and his Buddhist girlfriend broke up.

A few months later, Rabbi Wallerstein suggested Howie come with him to Israel to find a yeshivah that would be suited for him. Howie obliged, and sure enough, after two years at the Yeshivah, Howie became Chaim. He called Rabbi Wallerstein and asked him to find him a shidduch in America, as he was afraid no one in Israel would be okay with his tattoos. Rabbi Wallerstein knew Israel was the best environment for this young man, so he told him, “Give it a couple more months. Hashem will answer you and give you a shidduch. If not, you can come back to America.”

A month later, Chaim called the rabbi. “Rebbe, you wouldn’t believe it! One of the teachers here set me up, and I think she’s a good match! But she comes from a traditional family. I’m still very worried she won’t be so accepting when I tell her about my tattoos. They’re on my arms, neck, and chest. I wear a long-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way to my neck on the hottest summer days.” Rabbi Wallerstein told him not to worry, to have faith and emunah in Hashem’s hand. “Don’t tell her yet. Go out a few times, and if you see there is a future, Hashem will take care of it. Maybe she will understand, or maybe this is the path Hashem wants you to take to find your shidduch.”

A couple of months later, it was time for Chaim to tell her. He took his leap of faith. “I have to tell you something, but please don’t react right away.” The girl thought, “Oh, he must be proposing!!” She urged him to continue. Chaim proceeded to pull his arm out of his jacket sleeve, and she saw his tattoos. “That’s not the only one I have,” Chaim said. “There are more on my other arm and my chest and back. I understand if you don’t want to see me again. This was my past and it left its consequences.” The girl sat silently, taking everything in.

She took a breath and said, “I only see one tattoo. Hashem’s name has been imprinted on your soul. You are incredibly spiritual, and that is the most important thing. Don’t worry about anything else.” Chaim let out a sigh of relief, and asked, “By the way, will you marry me?” Today the couple lives in Bnei Brak with their beautiful children. Hashem split the sea for them, as Howie took a leap of faith to end up where he is today.

Sing a Song

After B’nei Yisrael had safely crossed to the other side of the Yam Suf as the Egyptian army pursued them, Hashem performed another miracle and caused the sea to come down on Pharaoh’s army, along with their horses and chariots.

Moshe’s sister Miriam gathered all the women on the shores of the Yam Suf to sing praises to Hashem in celebration of their rescue from Pharaoh and his army. Miriam leads the song, “Sing to Hashem for He is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea (15:21).”

Why were the horses punished along with the Egyptian soldiers? The midrash answers that just as the horses died because they helped the soldiers pursue B’nei Yisrael, so too will the women be rewarded for helping to encourage the men to learn Torah.

There’s a musical connection between Parashat Beshalach and its haftarah, which begins with the passuk, “On that day, Devorah, and Barak son of Abinoam sang, whether Hashem wreaks vengeance against Israel, or the people dedicate themselves to Him, bless Hashem!” This song goes on to praise Hashem for thirty one stanzas, ending with the line, “So may all Your enemies be destroyed, Hashem. And let those who love Him be like the powerfully rising sun.” These two songs from two great prophetesses, Miriam and Devorah, eloquently display our dedication and reverence to the Almighty Hashem.

May we all remember to give to others like the Sea of Galilee. May we have emunah in Hashem that He’s always with us throughout our lives, each step of the way, even though we may not yet be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. May we also emulate Nachshon ben Aminadav by having the courage to take that leap of faith! May we always continue to sing praises to Hashem as Miriam, Devorah, and so many other great women throughout our history have always done!

Discussion Point:

  • What leaps of faith have we taken in life, and what was the outcome?

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Etz Haim

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