The Importance of Perspective

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A Rabbinic “take” on the reaction of many Jews to the miracle of the splitting of the sea.

In Sivan Rahav-Meir’s third essay for Parashat BeShalach, “Complaining During the Miracle” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, pp. 95-6), she cites a Midrash associated with a verse in the Parashat HaShavua:

Shemot 14:22

And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

Shemot Rabba 24:1

…And so it says: (Tehillim 106:7) “…but were rebellious at the sea, even at the Red Sea.” … How do we know (that they rebelled) in the midst of the sea? When they descended into (the place where) the sea had been, it was full of mud, since until this point, it had been covered with water, and therefore there was there mud, as it is said: (Chabakuk 3:15) “Thou hast Trodden the sea with Thy Horses, the foaming of rmighty waters.” Reuven would say to Shimon: In Egypt there was mud, and at the sea there is mud. In Egypt there was mortar and bricks, and at the sea mortar as a result of the great waters. Therefore, this can be described as “…but were rebellious at the sea, even at the Red Sea.” Even after all these miracles, you attribute to Me evil…

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Birthing a Nation

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In his brief 2017 posting for Parashat BeShalach, R. Binyamin Lau, following the birth of his own granddaughter, references a Rabbinic statement that compares the emergence of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, to the birth of a child:

Midrash Aggada (Buber) Parashat Tazria, 12:2

(VaYikra 12:2) “…If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child…”

Said R. Yehuda, son of R. Siman: The two thighs of a (delivering) woman are like two stones, in order that she have the strength to give birth. How do we know that this is so? It is written: (Shemot 1:16) “…When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, ye shall look upon the ‘Avanim’ (lit. the stones; fig. the birthstool) …”

Said R. Meir: the miracles that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, Does with this newborn is like the splitting of the Sea of Reeds… (the Sea that saved the Jews from the Egyptians pursuing them.)

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Manna as a Gloss of One’s Attitudes towards Personal Property

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In his Wednesday 2016 Devar Tora for Parashat BeShalach, R. David Silverberg presents a symbolic interpretation of one of the qualities of the Manna, that the Jewish people ate while wandering in the wilderness.

Shemot 16:13-27

13 … in the morning there was a layer of dew round about the camp. 14 And when the layer of dew was gone up, behold upon the face of the wilderness a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoar-frost on the ground. 15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another: What is it?–for they knew not what it was. And Moshe said unto them: It is the bread which the LORD hath Given you to eat.

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Juggling Tora Study with One’s Professional Pursuits

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A dichotomy that R. Lichtenstein objects to.   

In R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s 2001 Sicha, “Tora and Life”, he calls attention to those individuals who separate between the realms of Tora and life. To the minds of these people, Tora study is mere preparation for the practical, “serious” pursuits that will engage one’s attention when s/he leaves the walls of the Beit Midrash.

(I recall one set of parents of a day school student that I was teaching, who, much to my chagrine, thanked me for having taught their daughter in Honors Talmud, since it was good preparation for her AP History studies!).

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Parashat BeShalach (Shemot 13:17-17:16): Questions for Consideration and Discussion II


Rishon: (Ibid. 13:17-14:8)

(v. 18) What does the word “VeChamushim” mean?

See RaShI for an interpretation of this word. How is RaShI’s commentary reminiscent of what he writes on Shemot 15:20? See also Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Teruma #9.)

Sheini: (Ibid. 9-14)

(v. 10) If Pharoah and his cavalry were pursuing the Jewish people, why does the verse state that “Mitzrayim” in the singular (see the verb as well) was running after them?

See Hadar Zekeinim for a number of possibilities.

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Encouraging Children by Providing Them with Their Story

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Means for assuring a Jewish future.

In R. Jonathan Sacks 2016 Devar Tora for Parashat Bo, “The Spiritual Child”, he begins by quoting a line from Bruce Feiler’s book, The Secrets of Happy Families:

 …The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative…

According to Feiler, an Emory University study demonstrated that contributing to identity formation in this way results in:

…higher … self-esteem, and the more successfully they believe their family functions.

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Pharoah’s Assistants Serve as Foils for His Stubbornness

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Those who aided and abetted, at least for a time, Pharoah in his refusal to free the Jewish slaves.

In R. Amnon Bazak’s first Devar Tora for Parashat Bo, “Pharoah, HaChartumin, VeHaAvadim: Mi Yoteir Akshan?” (Nekudat Peticha: Iyunim Ketzarim BePeshuta Shel Parashat HaShavua, [revised and expanded], Yediot Acharonot, Rishon LeTziyon, 2018, pp. 143-4), he identifies two distinct groups who can be included in addition to Pharoah himself, in the process of not letting the Jews go free from Egypt until the final plague, Makat Bechorot (the plague of the Firstborn—Shemot 11:1 ff. 1) his magicians, and 2) his servants.

Pharoah is certainly the central character in the drama, but it would seem initially, he had the backing of at least some of the Egyptians that he ruled over.

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We Have To All Be In This Together

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While Pharoah is prepared to make some concessions, Moshe holds out for permission to take out the entire Jewish nation from Egypt.

In her first Devar Tora for Parashat Bo, “All or Nothing” (#Parasha: Weekly Insights for a Leading Israeli Journalist, trans. Chava Wilschanski, Menorah Books, Jerusalem, 2017, p. 85-6), Sivan Rahav-Meir discusses the negotiation between Pharoah and Moshe during the eighth of the ten Egyptian plagues, i.e., that of locusts. Pharoah appears to be softening his stand, but not as much as Moshe feels the Egyptian ruler needs to:

Shemot 10:8-11

8 And Moshe and Aharon were brought again unto Pharaoh; and he said unto them: Go, Serve the LORD your God; but who are they that shall go? 9 And Moshe said: We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds we will go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD. 10 And he said unto them: So Be the LORD with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones; see ye that evil is before your face. 11 Not so; go now ye that are men, and Serve the LORD; for that is what ye desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

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Life and Death

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The Jews had to stay inside their houses during Makat Bechorot.

In R. Binyamin Lau’s  2014 Devar Tora for Parashat Bo, he reflects upon what it must have been like in Egypt for Jews and Egyptians during the final plague, Makat Bechorot. Jews were given very specific instructions about confining their whereabouts to within their homes:

Shemot 12:22

And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop, and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two side-posts with the blood that is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.

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Fulfilling the obligation of Peter Chamor

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Accounting for how an esoteric requirement of Tora law is to be fulfilled.

In R. David Silverberg’s Wednesday 2016 Devar Tora for Parashat Bo, he discusses the relatively abstract and even in some cases “heartless” Mitzva of what is a Jew to do with a “Peter Chamor” (the first-born of a donkey):

Shemot 13:13

And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break its neck; and all the first-born of man among thy sons shalt thou redeem.

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