Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@widomaker.com

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Parshat B'shalach

There are five episodes in this week's Parsha that all come to teach us one fundamental lesson, B'itachon - trust in Hashem.

The first episode (Shemot 13:17- 15:21) is the crossing of the Reed Sea by the Israelites. After the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, Pharaoh's heart is again hardened and he attempts to recapture the newly released slaves who were encamped on the banks of the Sea. the B'nai Yisrael (the Israelites) despair and panic at their inevitable demise. Hashem parts the Reed Sea for them and brings them to safety while destroying Pharaoh's armies. Israel appropriately responds with songs (or poetry) of thanks.

The second episode (15:22-27) takes place while resting in Marah, the place of bitter waters, three days after crossing the Reed Sea. Again, the Israelites despair when the only available water is bitter and undrinkable. Hashem provides Moshe with an antidote to bitterness and again Israel experiences Hashem's salvation.

The third episode (16:1-36) deals with the Manna (a heavenly food that fell daily [except on Shabbat]) from heaven. A month after the Exodus the Israelites again find themselves without provisions and panic when faced with a long journey in the desert with no visible means of sustenance.

Our tradition teaches us that the Manna had a number of distinguishing features:
1. It took on the taste of any food one desired.
2. It gauged the righteousness of the nation by falling in proximity to one's tent: the more righteous an individual was, the closer it fell to his/her doorstep.
3. It had no waste material - 100% of the Manna was absorbed into the body.
4. Regardless of how much Manna one gathered, only the amount one needed for that day remained edible, the rest quickly decomposed.
5. On Fridays a double portion fell (for Friday and Shabbat) and the excess remained fresh (for this reason tradition instructs us to use two Challah breads at each Sabbath and Holiday meal, in remembrance of the double Manna portion).

In the fourth episode (17:1-7) Moshe strikes a rock and brings forth water. Again, the Israelites are without provisions. Each time that this had happened and Moshe requested Hashem's help, He provided for their needs. This time when they arrived at Refidim which had no water supply, they began complaining immediately (even before their existing water was used up) but only when they actually thirsted did Moshe ask Hashem to intervene.

Finally, the fifth episode (17:8-16) tells of the attack of Amalek (whose ancestor was a grandson of Eisav [Esau]), Israel's arch enemy. Amalek's hatred of Israel knows no bounds. Their raison d'etre is the destruction of Israel at any cost. Again, panic strikes the camp of Israel. This time Moshe instructs Joshua:

"...tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of G-d in my hand...and it happened that when Moshe raised his hand Israel was stronger, and when he lowered his hand Amalek was stronger." The Mishna (Oral transmission of Torah) in Rosh Hashanah 3:8 states:

"Was it Moshe's hands that won or lost the battle? Rather, [the Torah] teaches you: As long as Israel looked heavenward and subjected their hearts to the Father in Heaven - they would prevail But when they did not - they would fail."

As stated above, the objective of this Parsha is to teach us B'itachon - trust in Hashem. The whole purpose of the Book of B'rayshit (Genesis) was to teach us that Hashem directs the world, and that all that happens is by Hashem's direct design. However, Hashem's "guiding hand" is most often detectable only after the fact, after His Will has been set in motion. Therefore, we must always understand that whether in biblical times or in modern times, these same rules apply.

The Israelites who came out of Egypt with "signs and wonders" knew this information. They were aware of a 430 year prophesy that foretold their enslavement and freedom. They experienced a night of liberation when G-d passed over their homes and brought destruction to every Egyptian household. By this point in their history, the Israelites should have known that "Hakol B'yadei Shamayim, Chutz M'yirat Shamayim (all is in the hands of heaven, except for the fear of heaven). Everything leading up to the Exodus only confirmed that Hashem is always in control but we must acknowledge this with B'itachon - trust in Hashem. And that can best be done by calling out to Him.

Therefore, while only seven days had passed since the Exodus, the Israelites showed a lack of faith when placed between the Egyptian armies and the Reed Sea. Instead of complaining and displaying a lack of faith, they should have called out to Hashem to reveal His glory. This lesson was learned by the Israelites when they crossed between the water-walls of the Reed Sea. After they emerged safe, and the tumbling waters destroyed the remnants of Egypt, they SANG out to Hashem.

An important point arising from this recognition is that the terminology used (15:1) was "Az Yashir Moshe U'vinay Yisrael (then Moshe and Israel SANG)". But the words actually mean "then Moshe and Israel WILL SING." The difference in tense between present (sing) and future (will sing) directs us to continually give Hashem prayers of thanksgiving, even when His divine intervention is not so clear. For in truth, we should always sing, for Hashem IS always guiding our lives according to His will.

But we often forget and go to Marah - a bitter place. And we cry out in anger and despair: "What shall we drink" (15:24). How will we get out of this one? The answer is as it always was, Hashem provides and that fact alone deserves our songs.

We have difficulty remembering this Jewish fact of life - that G-d provides. So when we once more found ourselves without provisions, again we cried out in bitterness:

"If only we had died by the hand of Hashem in the land of Egypt when we sat at the flesh-pots, when we ate bread to satiety..." (16:3). Hashem again answered our despair:

"Hashem said to Moshe, 'Behold - I shall rain down for you food from heaven; let the people go and pick each day's portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow My Torah or not' " (16:4).

His response is the dilemma of Judaism. When our stomachs are empty we have an excuse for complaints. But what about when our stomachs are full? Do we then have reason not to follow His precepts? B'itachon - trust in Hashem is the major factor of Jewish existence throughout the ages. This is the most difficult of Mitvot (commandments), for we are forced to exist on a very high plane - that of pure trust.

But as our Parsha points out three previous times, we seem to fall back into a slave mentality. After all the assistance we previously received when we again thirsted for water, now, Israel again paniced until Hashem instructed Moshe to strike a rock and bring forth water. And again, when we were attacked by our vicious enemy Amalek, we were forced to look upwards for our salvation.

Five times does this week's Parsha repeat the dilemma of Jewish existence - how do we as a people exist in a reality that seems to go against human nature? The only answer that ever made sense is B'itachon - trust in Hashem.

Bitachon is a big factor in my family's life. My father credits it with his surviving Auschwitz. The doctor's prognosis for my wife's cancer is so depressing that we cling to "Bitachon" to help us and her. I thank you all (as always) for your continued prayers and support. We "trust" that all will be well as long as we look heavenward.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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