Weekly Reading Insights:
Beshalach 5779

Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Beshalach, Shabbat Shira, 13 Shvat 5779/Jan. 19

Torah: Exodus 13:17-17:16; Haftorah: Judges 4:4-5:31 (Song of Devorah / Song by the Sea)

Beshalach is the 4th Reading out of 11 in Exodus and it contains 6423 letters, in 1681 words, in 116 verses

Beshalach opens with the Jews taking Yosef's remains with them upon leaving Egypt. G-d split the Red Sea for the Jews to pass through, but the waters fell on the Egyptians drowning them. Moshe and the Jews sang a song of praise to G-d for this miracle. Also, Miriam and the women sang and played music. In the desert, the Jews reached a place where the waters were too bitter to drink. G-d showed Moshe a tree which sweetened the water. The Jews complained that they didn't have meat to eat. G-d gave the Jews quail and manna to eat. The manna could not last overnight and on Shabbat it did not fall; instead Friday's portion for each Jew was double. An urn was filled with manna which would last for all generations. Again, the Jews complained about lack of water. G-d told Moshe to hit a certain rock with his staff, and it would bring forth water. The Amalekite nation attacked the Jews. Yehoshua fought them, and as long as Moshe's arms were raised, the Jews victory was assured. With G-d's help, the Jews are required to obliterate Amalek.

An essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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This week's portion, Beshalach, relates what happened immediately after the Exodus from Egypt. Standing on the shore of the Red Sea, the Egyptians in pursuit, the Jewish people did not know where to turn. Moshe reassures them - do not worry, G-d will fight for you. Suddenly, at the height of the drama, G-d speaks to Moshe (Shmot 14:15) "Mah tizak elay?" ("Why do you cry out to Me. Speak to the Jewish people and let them move on.") Rashi informs us that the verses of the Torah do not give us all the details. After his encouraging words to the people, Moshe began to pray to G-d. In the midst of his prayer, G-d responds "The Jewish people are suffering - this is not the time to pray."

There is a very important question here. Why does G-d open with the negative - what Moshe should not be doing (stop praying) - rather than telling him what he should be doing (tell the Jewish people to proceed, raise your staff, etc.). (Shmot 14:15-16).

Many of the Chassidic commentaries (from Lavas Aish, quoted in the Torah Supplement of the Hamodia) use an alternative understanding of the first word of the verse "Mah tizak elay?" "Mah" actually means "what" not "why". G-d is saying to Moshe, your "what" is shouting at me! The Jewish people are struggling and you are showing your humility by praying? You are making a mistake - act! Tell them to get moving! The word "what" is a hint to Moshe's great humility (see Bamidbar 12:3). Later in this parsha, in connection with the manna, Moshe demonstrates his humility when he says to the Jewish people "What are we?".

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos 25, page 42, summarized in DvarMalchus) takes a different approach. One of Moshe's greatest strengths was his power of prayer. Many times his prayers saved the Jewish people. Yet, when the Jewish people were in danger from an outside force and needed to be saved, Moshe should have stopped praying. When the task at hand is to save the Jewish people, there are no compromises. You have to focus fully and use all of your power. If Moshe would have continued to pray and also "speak to the Jewish people" and "raise your staff", his physical actions would not have had the total commitment necessary to accomplish the desired result.

The Torah is teaching us, through G-d's instructions to Moshe, that when a Jew has to be saved not only do we have to stop praying and act with all of our ability and strength, this act is so crucially important that G-d had to emphasize this point by saying, "Why do you cry out to me?".

What is the lesson for each of us? Moshe, our greatest leader and prophet was given this instruction in his role as leader of all the Jewish nation. Therefore, this is guidance for each Jew in his/her personal life. Saving a Jew from a physical threat, and similarly from a spiritual one, is so important that every other activity, even a related activity, even something that is clearly important and timely, has to be halted. What is demanded is that we put ourselves in that person's place and do whatever is needed to save them and draw them closer.

A prolific lecturer on Chasidism once visited the Rebbe to discuss a personal struggle. "Rebbe", he said, "I don't know if I have enough "ahavat Yisrael" (love of my fellow Jew) to be doing what I do. Teaching something makes me feel superior to my audiences and I feel like my ego has become inflated as a result of my lectures. Perhaps others are better suited for this work?".
"Do not hesitate because of these feelings", the Rebbe responded. "When it comes to doing good, action is what's most important."
"Though your donation may lack sincerity, I can assure you, the poor man eats with sincerity." (Words of the Alter Rebbe to a disciple).

(Story and quote from Mendel Kalmanson, Seeds of Wisdom vol 2.)

Shabbat shalom, Shaul.

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


Specifically, for an overview of the recommended articles in the columns:
Holy Zohar, Holy Ari, Mystic Classics, Chasidic Masters, Contemporary Kabbalists, and more,
click to Beshalach

one sample:

The Holy Ari
Conversation with a Soul

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

The Ari discusses how the powers of the evil inclination set out to chase the soul in order to harm it when the soul leaves the body. This is because the evil inclination is also the accusing angel. After taking the soul from the body, it pursues it in order to harm it and take vengeance on it.

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