Weekly Reading Insights:
Beshalach 5780


Overview of the Weekly Reading

To be read on Shabbat Beshalach, Shabbat Shira, 13 Shvat 5780/Feb. 8

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, when we will read the Torah portion Beshalach, we noted the auspicious date of the 10th of Shvat (this year, the 16th of January). This was the date, in 1950, that the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (also known as the "Frierdiker ["previous" in Yiddish]Rebbe". 1880-1950) passed on. A year later, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, took over the leadership of Lubavitch/Chabad. We will share a Torah idea from the Rebbe Rayatz (acronym for Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak) that is very indicative of his style.

In the beginning of the portion, the verse says (Bereshit 13:18), "They [the Jewish people] left the land of Egypt, chamushim (literally 'fived')". There are different opinions about the meaning of the word chamushim. Rashi teaches that they left Egypt armed. Traveling through the desert, the Jewish people needed to be able to protect themselves. Rashi explains that chamushim, from the Hebrew root for the word "five" (chamesh), refers to the standard five weapons that are mentioned in the Mishnah (Shabbat chapter 6). They are: the sword, the spear, the bow, the shield and the club. Each Jewish person is supposed to see himself as though each day he or she, personally, came out of Egypt. We stopped being slaves to Pharaoh and became servants of the Almighty. Just like our forefathers were armed in order to protect themselves, we must also be armed. What is the spiritual significance of the five different weapons that will protect us today?

A sword (cherev) is used for cutting. One of the Hebrew words that means to cut is lezamer. The word zamer is connected to the general name used for the Psalms (Tehillim) we say at the beginning of our daily prayers - the section called Pesukei d'Zimra. Pesukei d'Zimra can mean "verses of praise" but can also be translated as "verses that cut". Each morning when a person says these verses, he is not only praising G-d and meditating on His greatness as the Creator, he is also cutting away at his evil inclination and weakening it, while strengthening his connection to the Divine. There is a hint to this in the Psalms (#149) "The greatness of G-d is in their throats [and through this] a double-edged sword is in their hands".

A spear (romach) can also be spelled raish mem chet. The numerical value of these three letters is 248, the number of words in the Shema that we say in our prayers morning and evening. By saying the Shema as it should be, understanding the words and with full intention, we are able to eradicate all the evil lurking in and around us. The Shema is like a spear, keeping our perimeters protected.

The bow (keshet) is the power of the silent prayer, the Amidah prayer of eighteen blessings, the central and most important of our prayers. Just as with a bow, the more you pull it towards yourself, the farther the arrow goes, so too, the more we infuse ourselves with the words of the silent prayer, the further up in heaven our prayers are able to reach.

The shield (treese) also shields us. When we wear our tallis and tefillin at the same time that a person invests his energy and concentration in prayer (this means not to just say the words but to connect to them in a personal way), one's evil inclination often comes and tries to disturb, confuse and distract us with inappropriate thoughts. The tallis and tefillin shield us from these bombardments. (For women this can be their modest clothing. Clothing is also a shield, both physically and spiritually. Editor/translator).

Finally, the club (alah). A club is used for hitting things that are close by. What is the additional advantage of a club? Spiritually, when a person is involved in his personal routine of serving G-d, there are some situations where bad habits slow us down and interfere with our Divine connection. Chassidim say that when you slap your evil inclination it thinks you are petting or stroking it. If we are easy on ourselves, we will lose the game. Sometimes we have to really tell ourselves the truth, be tough, relentless and demand correct behaviour even if it is not easy. The Talmud expresses this (Brachot page 5) by teaching that a person must always "enrage" his positive inclination against his evil inclination. Soft talk will not influence our dark side.

On a more subtle level, when dealing with ourselves, sometimes the weapons we need are the sword and the spear. These are to eradicate the evil completely. Sometimes it is enough to use the club, which is just to hit or beat something. What is the rule? When we are drawn to things forbidden you need to use the sword and spear. There is no place in our lives for what the Torah forbids. When dealing with desires for things that, although permissible, are inappropriate, it is much more effective just to "beat up" our negative inclination.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe. Sefer HaMa'amrim : Chassidic Discourses. 1944

A chassid from Poland realized his lifelong dream and moved to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, he was not able to acclimate himself to the difficult conditions of the Holy Land of 200 years ago. He decided to make the long journey back home. Before leaving he went to Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Varkey who was living then in Jerusalem, to take leave of him. During the visit the chassid explained the reason for his decision to leave the Holy Land.

The tzadik sighed deeply from the depths of his heart and said, "I feel very bad for you. It seems that you have not found grace in the eyes of Jerusalem. If you had found grace in its eyes, then Jerusalem would have also found grace in yours…"

These words entered the heart of the chassid. He changed his mind and decided to stay.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Tu b'Shvat - New Year for Trees - begins Sunday night (& Monday). We celebrate by eating various fruits. How-to information for a spiritually sumptuous Tu b'Shvat seder:


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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 Zohar

Leaders of People and of Time

From the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; translation and commentary by Shmuel-Simcha Treister, based on Metok MiDevash

The Zohar teaches that the spiritual leader of the Jewish people is the equivalent of the entire Israelite nation. If he is righteous and worthy as Moses was, then all the people are deemed worthy in his merit. However, if he is not worthy, then the entire people are punished.

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