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The Baptism of Moses

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

The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5

 

Last week's Torah portion (parashat Bo) described how the Israelites were finally released from Egypt after God delivered the final plague during the time of Passover. In this week's portion (Beshalach), the Israelites began their journey home, after 430 years of exile. Instead of leading them along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, God directed them south, toward the desert, where the Glory of God appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day and as a Pillar of Fire by night to lead them on their way. When Pharaoh heard that the Israelites were at the border of the desert, however, he perversely decided to pursue them and bring them back to Egypt. God then redirected the Israelites to camp near the edge of the Sea of Reeds, where the Egyptian army finally caught up with them. Dramatically, the Israelites were caught between the sea on one side, and Pharaoh's army on the other...


The terrified people then began to blame Moses for their predicament. Moses reassured them of God's final deliverance and raised his staff to miraculously divide the waters of the sea. All that night the Shekhinah Glory enshrouded the Egyptian army but gave light to Israel as the people crossed through the sea on dry ground. Just before dawn, the dark pillar of cloud that veiled the Egyptian army lifted, and the soldiers immediately rushed after the Israelites into pathway of the sea. God then told Moses to lift his staff again so that the waters would overwhelm 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.


Moses and Miriam then led the people of Israel in a spontaneous hymn of thanks and praise to God for their complete deliverance from Pharaoh, which is often called the "Song of the Sea" (i.e., shirah hayam). The song begins, "The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation" / עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה (Exod. 15:2, cp. Isa. 12:2). For Orthodox Jews, singing Shirat Hayam every day is thought to fulfill the biblical commandment to "remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live" (Deut. 16:3). Note that Shirat Hayam is also sung on the 7th day of Passover, as a memorial of the deliverance by God through the waters of the Sea of Reeds.


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