Parashas Beshalach 5780 True Faith

This week Parasha starts with an intriguing Pasuk: It was when Pharaoh sent out the people, and Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for Hashem said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.” (Shemos 13:17) All the commentators are perplexed by this verse. Why does it say, “when Pharaoh sent out the people”? Surely the Torah ought to say, “when Hashem took the children of Israel out of Egypt.” Pharaoh was forced to succumb to the Divine will by the ten plagues. It wasn’t his idea to send out the Jewish Nation. Why does the verse imply that it was only because he sent us out that we left? The second part of the Pasuk is also difficult to understand. We were taught in previous Parashios that the main purpose of the exodus was “to become Hashem’s nation” by receiving the Torah on mount Sinai. We also know that the 50 days of the Omer, between Pesach and Shavuos, are reminiscent of the 50 days between the exodus to the receiving of the Torah. As in order to receive the Torah, the people of Israel were required to be on the fiftieth level of sanctity. Then it was impossible to take a three-day trip to Israel? Besides, in order to conquer the land of Israel they needed the Torah, as the Holy Ark led them to victory in all their wars. Additionally, the reason proposed by the Pasuk for not taking the shorter way is because Hashem “feared” that the people “will have a change of heart if they see war and return to Egypt”. Thus, the longer route had its share of wars, starting with the very difficult war with Amalek almost immediately after the crossing of Yam Suf, (Shemos 17:8). The second Pasuk is equally difficult as it describes antagonistic exoduses: “Hashem led the people by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds. And the Israelites went out with upraised arms out of the land of Egypt.” (Shemos 13:18). The first Pasuk above stated that the people of Israel came out armed ready for war, while this Pasuk states that they went out full of confidence, they considered themselves redeemed people, and they did not walk like slaves who ran away.
The Ramban explains the meaning “went out with raised arms”, that the People of Israel left with the full trappings of nationhood — banners flying etc. — showing that they left on their own steam not under Pharaoh’s terms. So, which of these two images represents the true Exodus? Furthermore, the Torah tells us (Shemos 14:30); “On that day Hashem delivered Israel from the hand of Egypt, and Israel saw the people dead on the seashore”. This Pasuk raises a difficulty; Did the exodus took place when they exited the land of Egypt or after the crossing of the sea? The Ibn Ezra notes the Torah’s emphasis that it was only on that day that the Jewish Nation was fully free of the yoke of the Egyptians. He explains that even after they left Egypt, they still felt a great sense of fear of Pharaoh and only became completely free of the Egyptian yoke once they saw the final destruction of the might of the Egyptians at the Yam Suf. Their feelings of subjugation to the Egyptians were not allayed by merely ‘escaping’. It was only when they saw the Egyptians destroyed that they were now able to be fully free of their self-image as ‘Pharaoh’s slaves’. The Haggadah’s description of the nature of the subjugation to the Egyptians teaches us a similar lesson to that of the Ibn Ezra. The Haggadah tell us: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; Hashem took us out from there with a strong Hand. And if Hashem had not taken our fathers out of Egypt, we, our children and grandchildren would be still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.” The obvious question on the Haggadah’s assertion is that it is very difficult indeed to imagine that had the Exodus not taken place, then we would all still be slaves to the Egyptians – indeed the Egyptian Empire disintegrated thousands of years ago! Besides, what’s the purpose of repeating twice, in the same segment, that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, mentioning either Pharaoh or Egypt would have sufficed? One answer given is that the Haggadah does not mean that we would be physically enslaved to Egypt, however there would remain an element of a psychological enslavement to Pharaoh and his people. We would have become physically free, but we would never have escaped from, and overcome, the Egyptian’s culture. Rather, we would have become free by default, and consequently, we would never have fully broken the self-image of ourselves as people who are controlled by another nation and not free to fully express ourselves. Therefore, states the Arizal that the festival is named Pesach, an acronym for Peh Sach, “the mouth speaks”. Hence, the Mitzva of Pesach is to recount with our mouth the miracles of the exodus, to further entrench in us our freedom from
the Egyptian’s culture and way of life and to reinforce our dedication to Hashem’s Mitzvos. These 2 stages of the exodus are stressed in this Parasha because they are found in every aspect of a person’s life. The Rambam [Laws of Teshuva ch.2 h.2] in his discussion of different levels of Teshuva (repentance) alludes to these two stages. He writes that complete Teshuva can only be attained when a person is thrust into the exact same situation that he previously failed in, and now he overcomes his yetzer hara. A lower level of Teshuva is when a person goes through the four stages that are required to repent, but he still may not be at the level where he would overcome his yetzer hara were he to be forced into the same situation. It seems that the lower level is the stage of escaping his yetzer hara, whereas the second stage of fully overcoming it is the complete Teshuva. Similarly, with regards to faith in Hashem. The Pasuk says “Moshe and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, “In the evening you shall know that Hashem took you out of the land of Egypt. And in the morning, you will see the glory of God…” (Exodus 16:6-7). The Ramban explains this Pasuk according to the Talmud (Yuma, 75b). The Jewish people complained about the lack of bread and meat. Hashem sent both miraculously, the manna and the birds, but the meat came at night and was not delivered to them with joy, as the person can survive without meat, so they should not have asked for it. The manna was provided joyfully as man cannot live without bread. In either case, both started only on the 15th day of Iyar, a full thirty days after the Exodus. Until all the supplies they took out of Egypt were totally exhausted, Hashem provided nothing. As Hashem listened to fears of starvation only after all their supplies were totally exhausted. Given the human anxiety and need of security for the next day, they surely prayed prior to exhausting their supplies, why weren’t they heard? The Ramban explains; that this was the very point of the manna, and of the entire desert experience as stated in the Pasuk: Behold! I shall rain down for you, food from heaven; let the people go out and pick each day’s portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow my teaching or not. (Exodus 16:4). The word “test” used consists of the subjection of the Jewish people to an ongoing existential conflict between their innate feelings of anxiety arising out of the human need to feel that one’s future is safe and in control of one’s own hands and their willingness to entrust their lives in Hashem’s hands. This indeed was the spiritual essence of the Exodus experience, the willingness to face the fact that the only sense of security that a Jew can have in this world comes from the cheerful
acceptance of the fact that his fate and his future are in the best possible hands — Hashem’s. Now, we understand the meaning of the Pasuk: “Hashem is near to all who call Him, to those calling Him with sincerity.” (Tehilim 145:18). Only the person that truly feels that everything he owns belongs to Hashem and He can take it back anytime, will beseech Hashem sincerely as a person with no livelihood, despite his wealth. Hashem will respond to such prayer. Therefore, when Pharaoh pursued the Bnei Yisrael and trapped them on the shores of Yam Suf, it says “The children of Israel raised their eyes” (Exodus 14:10), and they were immediately answered “Have no fear! Stand by and witness the deliverance which Hashem will provide you today; the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see them again.” (Exodus, 14:13). Hashem responds to sincerity! The Talmud [Eruvin 53b] tells the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania who asked a young man sitting at a crossroad, “Which is the way to the town?” The young man pointed to one of the paths and said, “This way is short but long. The other way is long but short.” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hanania set out on the first path, quickly arrived at the vicinity of town, but found his way blocked by gardens and orchards. He then returned to the young man and said, “Didn’t you tell me that this path was short?” “I did,” said the young man, “but I also warned you that it was long.” Better to take the long road that eventually gets you to your destination than the short one that doesn’t even though it looks as if it does. In life we’re usually presented with a choice: a short but long way, and a long but short way. Human nature is short sighted and therefore its tendency is to always prefer the shortcut. However, Hashem stayed away from the shortcut, as it would’ve turned to be a much longer road. It’s to convey that very message that the Pasuk uses a dual meaning word; “chamushim”, which can mean “armed” or “one fifth” and Chazal chose the latter meaning. Rashi says; The other four fifth refused to leave as the lacked faith and died in the days of darkness. It is not that they entertained doubts about Hashem’s existence. They simply could not face the life of total insecurity that Moshe was asking them to undertake in the name of Hashem. Faith in Hashem must be all the way or we’re only fooling ourselves!

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach

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