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In the text of the Haftara, Deborah castigates the tribes that did not take part in battle:
"Why did the tribes of Reuben stay behind with the sheep?
In her song of joy and praise to G-d for the Israelite victory over Jabin the King of Cannan, the Prophetess Deborah heavily reprimands the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, and Gad for not joining in the war effort against the Canaanites. At the same time she praises the tribes that did participate - namely Zebulun, Issachar, Naftali, Ephraim, and Manasseh.
However a simple glance at the map would excuse those who failed to turn up. The sites of the battle are Mt. Tabor, and Tannach, on the waters of Megiddo. Without exception, the participating tribes were neighbors. The absent tribes were geographically far away. And in any case the war was won without their help. So why did Deborah condemn them?
One insight may be found later in the song:
'For they did not come "le-ezrat Hashem" - which may be simply rendered into 'to the aid of G-d… with the victors' (ibid. 5:23).
G-d can fight His own battles. Deborah and Barak were the ones that needed the help. So why does the verse not say 'they did not come to the aid of Deborah and Barak' instead?
The answer is as follows. G-d does not only help people in their daily lives. But through that help, he gives people the chance to see His guidance, and that He is the source of all blessings. The success against the technologically overwhelming Canaanite threat made a deep impression on all who were part of it. They saw, what the Parasha calls 'the strong hand of G-d's deeds' (Ex. 14:31). When the Israelites witnessed the miraculous Divine intervention in their favor 'they believed in G-d and Moses his servant'. That would have not taken place so readily if they had not actually been there at the time. Knowing by hearsay is not the same as knowing by actual experience.
The absent tribes only learnt about the miracles of Deborah and Barak in battle by report. Had they been present, there would have been the unity throughout the northern part of Israel of all being present at a faith creating event - resulting in total abandonment of idolatry. As it was, a golden opportunity was lost to unite the Israelites, and they continued their tribal existence until going through the slow process of unification starting with the patient efforts of Samuel.
That is the meaning of le-ezrat Hashem" - to the place where G-d can be their aid - to let Him bring them to faith: namely to participate and gain lasting faith in the miracles He wrought for the Israelites in the area of Mt. Tabor.
In short, Deborah criticized the more distant tribes for not having participated in a golden spiritual opportunity to come close to G-d, and to create the spiritual unity that the Israelites needed for survival and success in the Holy Land.
Implied in Deborah's rebuke is the idea that those who wish to come close to G-d must endeavor to become closely involved with the needs of their community, and make the personal effort to help their own people even if they are not actually on their doorstep.
QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT BESHALACH
Who said to whom, and under what circumstances?
(a) The wilderness has locked them in.
(b) Do not fear! Stand fast, and see the salvation of G-d.
(c) For G-d is waging a war for them against Egypt.
(d) G-d shall reign for ever and ever.
(e) Sing to G-d, for he is exalted above the arrogant, having hurled horse with its rider into the sea.
(f) As we sat by the flesh-pots of Egypt, as we ate bread to satisfaction.
(g) This is what G-d has spoken: tomorrow is a rest day, a Holy Sabbath to G-d.
(h) How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?
(i) Is G-d amongst us or not?
(j) The war of G-d against Amalek shall be from generation to generation.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF PARASHAT BESHALACH
(a) G-d to Moses - about His tempting Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites by changing their route, giving him the impression that the Israelites were stranded in the desert. (14:3)
(b) Moses to the Israelites - as they saw the Egyptians in pursuit. (14:13)
(c) The Egyptians to each other - realizing the power of G-d as He gave them a rough ride in their chasing the Israelites though the parted Red Sea. (14:25)
(d) Moses to the Israelites - as a conclusion to the Song of Moses in thanksgiving for the miracles of the Red Sea. (15:18)
(e) Miriam, to the women, in leading them in the Song of Miriam, sung in thanksgiving for the miracles at the Red Sea. (15:21)
(f) The Israelites, to Moses and Aaron. They were complaining about the food in the desert, looking at the past in Egypt with rose-colored spectacles. (16:3)
(g) Moses to the Israelite princes, when they reported the double portion they received on the sixth day of the week. (16:23)
(h) G-d to Moses - following the disobedience of certain Israelites who went out to gather the manna on the seventh day. (See the commentaries section for further explanation of this verse.) (16:28)
(i) Moses - in calling the place of the Israelite protest Masa U-Meriva (strife and quarrel). He records that they were 'testing' G-d, as they had contended 'Is G-d amongst us or not?' (17:7)
(j) According to the simple context of the verse, it is Moses declaring that war of G-d against Amalek shall be from generation to generation. Amalek is the permanent enemy of His people. (17:16)
QUESTIONS ON RASHI TO PARASHAT BESHALACH
From where, within Rashi's commentary, may the following values / rules be found?
(a) One ought not to demand the impossible from one's children.
(b) G-d makes Himself known to humanity as He enables good to triumph over evil.
(c) There is a time for prayer, and there is a time for action. The two should not be confused with each other.
(d) G-d punishes the wicked according to their degree of evil.
(e) G-d does not only bring distress to those who actually harass Israel, but to those far away who support the harassment.
(f) When a person complains and protests, he should do it in a decent manner.
(g) A person should ask for what he needs in whatever he is doing, not for luxuries.
(h) It is forbidden for a person to travel a substantial distance from his own settlement into an uninhabited area on Shabbat.
(i) G-d has His ways of supporting those who study Torah.
(j) It is important for a leader to give his people the benefit of the doubt.
(k) One should respect one's students as one respects oneself.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON RASHI TO PARASHAT BESHALACH
(a) The text recalls that Joseph adjured his descendants that his final resting place should be in the Holy Land, and that his remains should be transferred there when the Israelites finally leave the country. Unlike his father Jacob, he did not command his children to bury him in the Holy Land immediately after his death. For Jacob had a son - Joseph the Viceroy of Egypt - with enough authority to carry it out: Joseph himself did not. (13:19)
(b) The text states that after Pharaoh pursues the Israelites, G-d 'will be honored though Pharaoh' - through the miracles forming His judgement over him. (14:4)
(c) As the Egyptians approached the fleeing Israelites, G-d told Moses not to stand in prayer, but to direct the Israelites to travel forward. (14:15)
(d) The text of the Song of Moses states that some of the Egyptians drowned 'like stone' (v.5), others 'like straw' (v.7) and yet others 'like lead' (v.10). This shows that each Egyptian was treated according to what he deserved. The worst were tossed about like weightless straw - incessantly thrown around - suffering the most. The best of the group sank like lead - a quick death, and those in the middle sank a little slower - like stone. (15:5)
(e) The text states that the 'princes of Edom will panic, the powers of Moab will tremble'. (15:15) Even though these people did not actually oppress the Israelites, they are made to suffer deep unease and fear. This is because the power they had faith in and supported against the Israelites was hurled into the abyss in such a spectacular manner. (15:15)
(f) We may learn the importance of asking for essentials in a respectful manner in Rashi's comment to 15:25 - where he states that the Israelites should have asked Moses to pray to G-d to send them water, rather than merely grumble to Moses and Aaron (15:24) about the lack of water.
(g) The Israelites complained about the lack of bread and meat in the desert. Bread is an essential - therefore the 'bread from heaven' fell at the convenient hour in the morning. Meat is a relative luxury - and in any case they still had cattle from the spoils of Egypt - therefore G-d showed His displeasure in bringing the quails at inconvenient evening hours. (16:8)
(h) G-d's telling Moses that on the seventh day 'everyone should remain in his place: let no person leave his place on the Sabbath day' (16:29), is used as a source by the Talmud as a basis for the Rabbinical rule that a person may not travel more than two thousand cubits into uninhabited territory, and if he does, he may not travel more than four cubits until Shabbat is over.
(i) The text states that a small amount of Manna was to be set aside in a suitable container as a reminder to future generations that, as in the desert, G-d has His ways and means of looking after His people who serve Him (16:32-33).
(j) When the Israelites suffered thirst at Rephidim and they complained vociferously to Moses, he cried out to G-d with 'what can I do for these people - they are about to stone me'! (17:4) Although the people did not protest in the most polite way, they did not personally threaten Moses. In G-d telling Moses to 'pass before the people' he was demonstrating to him that he should see for himself that the Israelites did not have violent intentions towards him even in the most extreme circumstances, and that he should have given them the benefit of the doubt.
(k) Moses is recorded to have told Joshua to 'choose men for us' (17:9) to go into battle against the Amalekites. Joshua was Moses' student, yet he treated him as an equal...
QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT BESHALACH
(a) Why, according to Ibn Ezra, did Moses tell the Israelites to wait for Divine Intervention against the pursuing Egyptians, rather than urge them to physically go into battle, as he did later with the Amlekites?
(b) Why, according to the Ohr Hachayim, did G-d tell Moses not to stand in prayer as the pursuing Egyptians approached, but to order the Israelites to go forward - into the Red Sea?
(c) What, according to the Ramban, is the relevance of 'G-d shall reign for ever and ever' (15:18) to the content of the Song of Moses?
(d) G-d declared that He would give a daily supply of food to the Israelites, so that He 'would test them - whether they would follow... (the) Torah or not'. (16:4) What was that actual test according to Rashi, the Ramban, and the Ohr Hachayim?
(e) On Shabbat, some people went out to gather Manna and found none. For that, the text states, G-d said to Moses: 'How long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings?' (16:28) Why was that rebuke directed at Moses instead of at the errant Israelites? - according to Rashi, and Ibn Ezra.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON OTHER COMMENTARIES TO PARASHAT BESHALACH
(a) Ibn Ezra suggests that the Israelites were incapable of fighting without miraculous Divine intervention, because generations of being slaves to the Egyptians had destroyed the necessary initiative and fighting acumen. That is why only Moses' prayers enabled them to later overcome the Amalekites.
(b) The Ohr Hachayim states that this was not the time of prayer for the following reason. The Israelites had to have the merit of showing faith in G-d in order that they might be saved through Divine intervention. That was that they should 'journey forth' (14:15) - and demonstrate that faith by entering the Red Sea when it was in full flow... It would be that act of faith - not the prayers of Moses and Aaron - that would make them worthy of G-d's salvation at the Red Sea.
(c) According to the Ramban, these words link the miracle of the Red Sea to G-d's salvation in the future. Just as He destroyed the might of Egypt, so may He reign forever, saving His faithful from those who seek their harm.
(d) The test connected with the Manna was, according to Rashi, whether they would keep the intricate laws of Shabbat associated with it or not. The Ramban prefers a simpler interpretation - would the Israelites follow Me even though they do not have food for the next day? The Ohr Hachayim places the emphasis on 'Torati' (16:4) - now all their needs are taken care of, would they employ their free time to Torah study and service of G-d?
(e) According to Rashi, the rebuke was directed at Moses as he had failed to impress on the people that they were to receive a double portion on the sixth day for Shabbat. Ibn Ezra, however, argues that although the rebuke was directed at Moses, he was not its object - he was the spokesman to convey that message to those who were actually guilty.
ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION ON PARASHAT BESHALACH
1. G-d declared that supplying the Israelites with Manna in the desert would come under the word 'anasenu'. (16:4) What is the real meaning of the word 'anasenu' - which is generally translated in the sense of 'testing'? A similar word is used to describe G-d's test of Abraham - 'nisa et Avraham' (Gen. 22:1) - when He commanded Abraham to prepare Isaac for a sacrifice. Why should His providing His people with their basic needs be a test?
2. We read in the Hagadda shel Pesach that 'in every generation they rise against us to destroy us, but the Holy One... saves us from their hands'. Of all our enemies why is the nation of Amalek - who was the grandson of Esau - singled out as the worst of all our attackers? as reflected in the Mitzva of 'you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens'. (Deut. 25:19).
*Please note - My own attempts to deal with the issues related in #1 and #2 may be found in the archives for 5762 and 5761 respectively in Shema Yisrael - on Parashat Beshalach
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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