WEEKLY SCRIPTURE READING
Torah Portion: Parashat Beshalach (“and he sent away”)
Shabbat: Feb. 4, 2023 / Shevat 13, 5783
Torah: Exod. 13:17-17:16
Prophets: Judg. 4:4-5:31
New Covenant: John 6:15-71; 1Cor. 10:1-5
TODAY’S PRAYER OF AGREEMENT
Paul’s prayer in Colossians
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins”. Colossians 1:9-14 Exactly one year after Moses first encountered God at the burning bush at Sinai, the children of Israel left Egypt. Instead of leading Israel along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, the Torah states that God directed them south, into the desert, in order to avoid war with the Philistines (Exod. 13:17). The sages note that God chose "the way of the desert" (דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר) so that the people would learn to depend on Him alone to meet their needs (Deut. 8:3). The excursion into the desert also marked a period of "betrothal" or courtship, where Israel would learn the character of her Beloved more fully. The prophet Jeremiah later recalls Israel's passion for God during this time: "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the desert, to a land not sown (Jer. 2:2). Over two million people - men, women, and children - journeyed to "a land unsown" for sake of the Promise of God (for more on this, see "Love Story Exodus").
At the outset of their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites first traveled south from Raamses to the city of Sukkot, an Egyptian city near the eastern border. After this they went further south toward Etham, at the "edge of the desert," where the Shekhinah Glory appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day (עַמּוּד עָנָן) and as a Pillar of Fire by night (עַמּוּד אֵשׁ) to lead them on their way (Exod. 13:20-22). According to Rashi, when one pillar would leave, the other would appear, providing them protection from the elements. The pillar of cloud would protect them from the heat of the sun of the desert; the pillar of fire would keep them warm and provide light at night. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were camped at Etham, he thought they had lost their way and were hemmed in by the desert. The LORD then instructed Moses to lead the people back to encamp at a pagan sacred place named "Baal-Zephon" (בַּעַל צְפן), near the shore, so that they would appear to be trapped, in order to entice Pharaoh to pursue them. God intended to "lure" Pharaoh back for a final power encounter and to destroy the last vestiges of his idolatry: "And I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD" (Exod. 14:1-4). Three days after the Exodus (i.e., on Nisan 18) Pharaoh mobilized his army and pursued the Jews to bring them back. Perhaps Pharaoh felt "justified" in doing so, since by now he realized that the "three-day feast to the LORD" was really a permanent escape from his clutches (see Exod. 3:18; 5:3; 7:16; 10:24). After two days (i.e., on Nisan 20), Pharaoh and his army reached the Israelites while they were encamped before Baal-Zephon beside the sea (Exod. 14:9). "When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out (וַיִּצְעֲקוּ) to the LORD" (Exod. 14:10). In their panic the people then turned on Moses and blamed him for their predicament: "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Exod. 14:11-12; cp. Exod. 5:21). Moses then reassured the people that the LORD would deliver them, despite their terrifying circumstances: "The LORD will fight for you; [so] quit complaining!" (Exod. 14:14). Moses then apparently began pleading for God's intervention, but the LORD said to him, "Why are you crying out to me (מַה־תִּצְעַק אֵלָי)? Tell the children of Israel to move forward!" (Exod. 14:15). There is a time for prayer, and a time for action, and this was a time for action! Moses needed to move the people closer to the shoreline and prepare them for God's deliverance. The LORD then explained to Moses how he would lift up his staff over the sea and divide it so that the Israelites could cross through on dry ground, but when the Egyptians would attempt to follow they would be swallowed up by the returning sea (Exod. 14:16-18). The Angel of God (and the pillar of cloud) then moved to the back of the camp, coming between the army of Egypt and the Israelites. That night the Egyptians were enshrouded in darkness while the Israelites had light (Exod. 14:19-20). "Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided" (Exod. 14:21). According to midrash, when Moses lifted his staff to divide the sea, at first nothing happened. The people waited anxiously at the seashore, wondering what to do. Finally, Nachshon ben Aminadav, a descendant of Judah (Num. 1:7), took action by stepping into the water and the winds began blowing to divide the waters (Shemot Rabbah). The miracle of kriat yam suf - the splitting of the sea - therefore resulted because someone took a step of faith before God revealed His power. "And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall (חוֹמָה) to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exod. 14:22). They marched across the sea all that night (i.e., Nisan 21), under the light of the Shekhinah Glory...
Another midrash states that after the waters were divided, the tribes began arguing among themselves as to which should go first. The tribe of Reuven argued that it should go first because it was first in birth order; the tribe of Ephraim argued it should go first because of the blessing of Jacob, and so on... While everyone was arguing, the tribe of Judah simply marched into the midst of the sea... Just before dawn, the dark pillar of cloud that enshrouded the Egyptian army lifted and the soldiers immediately rushed after the Israelites into pathway of the sea. The LORD looked down upon them "through the pillar of fire and cloud" (בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ וְעָנָן), however, and threw them into a panic, causing the wheels of their chariots to fall off and hindering their progress. God then told Moses to lift his staff again so that the waters would return to normal, thereby overwhelming the Egyptians with their chariots and horsemen. By the time dawn arrived, the Israelites saw the dead bodies of Pharaoh's army lining the seashore (Exod. 14:28-30). "Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses." Moses and Miriam then composed the famous "Song of the Sea" (shirat hayam) and all Israel sang (and danced) together: "... The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.... Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? ... The LORD will reign forever and ever" (Exod. 15:1-21).
"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, glorious in holiness,
awesome in praises, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them.
You have led in your steadfast love the people you redeemed;
you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.