Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
Sh'mot (Exodus)
I publish a weekly D'var Torah on the Parsha of the week.  They are archived here.  
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1. Parsha Details
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some Observations
4. Looking far ahead -- Deut 32:51
5. Exercises
1. Parsha details: Ex 13:17-17:16 (tri 14:26-17:16) [Haftorah Judges 4:4-5:31 Seph 5:1-31] 
2. Questions and a few observations

Summary: The Children of Israel go the long way out of Mitzrayim to the Sea and are pursued by the Egyptians.  Moshe parts the sea, everyone goes to cross it, but the Egyptians get bogged down in its midst and end up being drown as the sea returns to its normal state.  They sing the famous song by the sea and then go on into the wilderness.  Within three days the realities of the harsh life in the wilderness occurs to them and they start to whine -- first about water and then about food.  Both are supplied, food in the form of 'manna'.  They experience the first Shabbat.  And the fighting with Amalek occurs.

Talk about emotional highs and lows -- this Parsha is a roller coster ride for the new free people of Israel. Out of Mitzrayim (up), pursued by Pharaoh (down), Sea is parted (up) Egyptians follow (down), Waters return and Egyptians drown (major up - birth of nation) no water (bitter water) (down), sweet water and well water (up) and then no food (down), Manna (up) and then no water (down), water from rock (up) and Amalek attacks (down), Israel wins (up).  Are you seasick? (sorry about the pun....)

There is the overall image of a birth through this Parsha -- Mitzrayim, the narrow place, the water, the joy of life.  And immediately the new child is thirsty and hungry -- and food and water are provided -- they do no work to get it.  The Fire accompanies them by night and the Cloud by day -- children are not left unattended.  And they will have Moshe to teach them.

Or one can look at what it would take to turn a nation of slaves into a free nation, a nation that can claim the land promised to the seed of Avraham.  Torah sets up a scenario where they cannot go back to Mitzrayim -- no how, no way.  If there had been no destruction at Yam Suf (the Sea), maybe they could have gone back when the going gets tough.  If there had not been the politicking between Moshe and Pharaoh, they could surely have gone back -- and slaves, you see, have food and clothing and housing and a permanent job.  Some of us are 'slaves' right now to jobs we hate but we do them because they pay the bills.  

That is not the stuff that makes nations.  That is not the hallmark of greatness.  We are  not told much about life in Goshen -- there are only a few hints.  There are still people tending sheep, cattle, etc.  There are obviously laborers/slaves.  One gets the sense that they are existing, but not living.  There is no obvious passion to anyone except Moshe and Aaron -- there were probably some, but not a passionate nation.  There is some form of kinda governing, because there are heads of families -- but only some of them go with Moshe and Aaron before Pharaoh.

The utter state of the children of Israel is shown in the famous first sentence of this Parsha where God explains (to Moshe?  or to a later people who would ask why we didn't take the shortest route -- hard to get 40 years into a short route....) that the people are not up to a face-to-face conflict with the Philistines, even though they are armed (armed slaves?  Sunday School Bible Stories leave out so much....).  Faced with this potential war, they are likely to return to Mitzrayim.  So a final push is made to see to it that they will indeed go into the wilderness.

And Moshe carries up Joseph's bones -- guess we did live up to that promise at the end of B'reyshit....  

So Israel camps by the Sea and looks back toward Mitzrayim and what's there, but Pharaoh and all of his men and all of his horses and all of his chariots.  Must have been a sight.  Can you see CNN panning the scene?

So why did Pharaoh come storming after Israel?  An easy answer, of course, is because God hardened his heart and 'made him' do it.  Another view is that Moshe had told Pharaoh that all Israel wanted to do was go about three days into the wilderness and do a sacrifice ritual.  And now they are camped by the Sea, not sacrificing, not working and not coming back....  Plus Goshen must have looked like they weren't coming back.  In that context, it would not be hard to see the Egyptians coming after them to drag them back.

But then we have the personal thing between Pharaoh and Moshe -- this is the kind of personal feud we sometimes see between leaders today when their own personalities get into the mix -- and for Pharaoh, this turned out to be his undoing.  He personally led this mission -- Torah is very clear about that.  And so they charge after Israel.

And Israel cries to Moshe and what does Moshe do?  He tells them to sit still and God will fight their battle.  And when this is not evidently happening, Moshe cries to God, who responds "Why do you cry to me? Speak to the people of Israel, that they go forward;"  Can you see the look on Moshe's face -- forward, where, into the Sea?  And in fact, God continues and explains how he is to split the Sea for Israel to walk on dry land.

Moshe missed a key point of this Parsha -- God will help, but the first step must always be ours.  If we prepare to move forward and take the first step, the Seas WILL part -- and if we walk forward, on that path of balance -- not too far to one side or the other, the waters will be held off and our worst fears will drown behind us.  Fortunately, Moshe has a very personal relationship with God and God is very patient with Moshe and explains things many times and in great detail.

And the pillar of cloud, the Presence -- a beacon to those who seek Her -- confusion to others.  Leader to the front when needed there, guardian to the rear when needed there.  She does what we need, whether we see it or not.  "and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore."  And so they believe in Yah and Moshe -- at least for a while.

And they sing -- we sing that song now in our services: Mi chamocha ba'eylim YHVH, mi camocha ne'dar bakodesh nora t'hilot, 'oseh fele ( Who is like you among gods, YHVH? Who is like you glorious in holiness, awesome in radiance, doing wonders.).  

And Miryam takes up the beat and leads them in singing and dancing.  And these, too, are prayer of thanksgiving.  And so they march into the wilderness.  And the glow of what happened lasts three days -- until the water is bitter.  And they cry.  Yep, this is definitely a people that would have turned back -- did they think they were the only people to ever find bitter water in the dessert?  How about taking that first step forward?  Not yet -- we cry to Moshe -- and he cries to God.  Again.

And Patience, again, explains to Moshe what to do.  Moshe still has some growing to do to lead this nation.  But God explains, teaches, guides.  And remembers -- but that comes later.

It is now 45 days after Israel left Mitzrayim and they are again crying -- this time about food.  Provisions from 'home' have probably run out about now -- and what are they going to do?  And belief starts to wane -- quickly.  Couldn't this be the pattern of so many lives, even today?

And so God provides Manna, that wondrous substance -- so marvelous that Moshe jars some up for later generations to know about it.  And we get our first Shabbat!  But the people do NOT all believe Moshe -- some try to store the Manna, some try to gather it on Shabbat --  And God notices that the most -- he gives us the Shabbat but we do not believe that we do not have to go out and work to bring in the food on that day as well.  Then it was easy to see that no Manna was available on Shabbat -- today it is not so obvious.  God provides enough in the six days to handle the seventh if you gather the extra and set it aside....  "So the people rested on the seventh day."

Then there is another bout with no water and Moses is at his wits end.  And God again tells him what to do.  But we'll talk about this more in a bit.

The people who would have likely run from battle with the Philistines get their first taste from Amalek.  This attack earns them the complete ire of God -- He is NOT subtle about his response to their action.  Later in Torah we learn that this was not a fair contest, Amalek was preying on the weak, the back end of Israel as they moved on.

3. Some Observations

Powerful Parsha -- not very distinctive in appearance -- unless of course you talk about the Song.  If you have never seen this incredible piece of Torah, look at it.  If you cannot get to a Torah, look at a Tikun (a study guide with Torah script on the left and siddur script with vowels and notes on the right).  Most Chumashim and Bibles make it obvious that this part is poetry and different, but you really must look at the Song itself in the Torah display to get the full impact.

It is so distinctive that it is a key landmark in the scroll and Torah rollers cannot help but mention it as they go past it when a Torah is rolled to a certain spot and the Song is seen en route.

Scholars tell us that when we see VERY distinctive spacing that is maintained like this, it indicates VERY ancient material.  As a quick point of interest, the letters in the Torah were not always written in the script that they are written in today (STAM, it's called by the way).  If you look at one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, you will see the precursor of today's script -- but you will see the YHVH in an even older font.  (Thanks to today's technology, you can see this on the web  http://metalab.unc.edu/expo/deadsea.crolls.exhibit/full-images/psalm-b.gif is a site that shows the script in one of the scrolls of Psalms)

This Parsha is most powerful for the insights, though, that it gives to the character of the children of Israel.  Tradition tells us that they are not yet free from the 'yoke' of slavery -- and this refers to their attitudes -- we see this over and over in the way they act.  They cried about conditions in Mitzrayim, but they were unwilling to do anything about it.  They are brought out 'by a strong hand' to make sure they stay out, because they are not yet the least bit ready to take control of their own lives.  They are very much children needing very strong guidance and leadership -- and even with Moshe they continue to slide back and away at almost every turn.

No wonder we need Torah to be a beacon, a light -- to help us come back because we still do this 'slip-sliding' today.  It truly is a gift to those who look into it and see what is there -- thousands of years ago the process of copying one scroll carefully from another started.  It is amazing how appropriate the words copied so carefully are for today's world.  There is still so much learning to be done there.  Wow.

4. Looking far ahead -- Deut 32:51 (almost the end of Deut)

This Parsha gives us some key insights into Moshe's character.  He has not yet grown into the full leadership role that he needs to take on.  Right now his pattern is that Israel complains, whines, mutters.  And he turn to God and cries.  Not the ideal image.  Is it okay to turn to YHVH for guidance or assistance -- Of course, but don't whine or cry at everything.  God is very open to Moshe, but even Moshe is less than a full step away from the panic and despair that grips Israel.  He is only slightly ahead of them in that area -- fortunately for everyone, he was, however, very receptive to God's input -- even if he didn't always get the full message.

And we know that is the case from MUCH later in Torah -- two chapters from the end, in fact.  D'varim (Deut) 32:51 explains that Moshe will NOT get to cross the Jordan with Israel "Because you acted unfaithfully toward me among the children of Yisrael at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because you did not sanctify me in the midst of the children of Yisrael."

Wow -- what a punishment.  There is much more here than Torah makes obvious in this week's Parsha.  How did Moshe fail to sanctify?  Tradition (Midrash) tells us that Moshe lost his temper and struck the rock in anger.  Well, we know that Moshe DID have a temper.  And even though he is in his eighties, he has certainly not lost it -- we will see him destroying the tablets soon, so that temper is still strong.  (Don't forget he killed an Egyptian with this temper in his youth).  I can see the scene now.  He takes the elders, as directed, and heads out to the rocks.  The people continue to complain to him to 'get on with it' before he takes the time to point out that the water will come at the will of God -- and to offer thanks to YHVH for the water.  And he loses that famous temper and says "Alright, have our water!" and strikes the rock.  And the waters flow.  The Source of all told him that She will stand before him on the rock -- now  God doesn't make a habit of this type of display -- and we can only guess that Moshe didn't pick up on the implicit expectations  -- and then there is his temper as well.

So let's go with this for a moment.  Moshe is human, after all.  He's allowed to have failings, true?  Ahhhh, but that's where the problem starts (and ends for Moshe, unfortunately).  We must own our failings and work on them.  Will we cure them? -- probably not, but we can work to improve them -- always.  We are told that Yah judges us AT THE MOMENT -- and even by the end of his life, looking over the Land, Moshe has still not learned this critical lesson.  He has not taken ownership for this failing, he has not repented, even at this point.

God does not always explain everything to the last detail, even to Moshe (much less to us) -- we are responsible for doing OUR part of the bargain -- that is the deal to being a part of the seed of Jacob -- listen to the Voice and hear -- and work on ourselves -- no matter what.  There is no such thing as "what can I do?" -- we can always do something, even if only to our own attitudes. 

5. Exercises

1. Listen: How do you listen, really listen?  We are told to Listen to the Voice.  Sh'ma.  Repeat the word -- let it roll around, weaving in and out.  Sh'ma.  Listen.  Do you hear?

2. Ownership: Find one thing in yourself that YOU can make better -- that you can take ownership of, that you can say "I will WORK on this."  Do not be afraid to ask for Her help -- but know that you still own it and real improvement must come from your own work.

3. Yah is my strength and song (azi v'zimrat Yah): What does that mean? How are strength and song related?  Why do we often say Yah in songs to God?  Why is this name so popular?  Hallelu Yah (Praise Yah!) 

There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available. 

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.



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