This week’s parasha is entitled, B’Shalach, which means “when he let go” and covers Exodus 13:17 – 17:16. When he let go refers to pharaoh letting the Israelis depart from Egypt after the 10th plague, the death of the first born.
After their release, the Lord does not lead the Israelis in a direct route towards their final destination as that would have taken them through the land of the Philistines and the Lord knew that a battle at this time would cause a change of heart and a longing to return to Egypt. The Lord’s viewpoint was to be proven correct even at a later time, when the spies came back with their report about the Promised Land and the people desired a return to Egypt. Unfortunately, time and time again during the wilderness journey, the people’s memory of the magnificent saving grace of the Lord would be short-lived as they faced wilderness hardships and their memories of the hardships of Egypt would turn into a longing for the supposed good times they had there.
In Chapter 14, the Lord tells Moses to camp at Pi-hahiroth, which makes it seem like they are wandering aimlessly and are hemmed in by the desert land, and that pharaoh’s heart will be hardened one last time and he will pursue the Israelis to recapture them and return them to slavery in Egypt. The Lord tells Moses that He will do this so that the Glory of the Lord will be demonstrated and that all people, even the Egyptians, will know of the True God.
Pharoah does indeed pursue the wandering Israelis with his army and 600 chariots and catches up to them near the Red Sea. The people tremble as they see the Egyptian army approach. The Lord instructs Moses to raise his staff and the mighty Red Sea divides. As the people go across on dry land, the pillar of cloud that had been leading the people forward moves to the rear to hover between the Egyptians and the Jewish people so that the army cannot approach. As the last of the Israelis cross, the Egyptian army is allowed to pursue and they rush into the Red Sea to cross on the dry land, like the Israelis did. However, the Lord throws the army into confusion and also makes it so that it is difficult for the chariot wheels to travel. Thus, the Egyptian army struggles to cross and as they are trapped, the Lord tells Moses to stretch his arm over the water once again and the water flows back, trapping and obliterating the Egyptians.
This demonstration of the mighty power of the Lord causes Yurat Adonai, the fear of the Lord, which Rabbi Loren discussed extensively in his drasha on December 29, to come upon the people in chapter 14:31 and safe on the other side of the Red Sea, the people sing what is known as the Song of Moses. This song can be summarized in the following two great truths:
- The God of Israel is the only God.
- Man cannot save himself. Salvation comes from God.
The Song of Moses also contains the great Mi Chamocha prayer, which we often pray at Shema, in 15:11, and begins with: “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord?”
As the people continue their journey, in chapter 16, we find that it is the 15th day of the second month after their departure from Egypt. Again, their collective memory fails as their hunger in the wilderness causes them to think back to all the pots of meat and bread that they ate to the full back in Egypt. For those of us who can look back on the time of the Egyptian bondage with more clarity, we know that the rations for those in bondage were meager at best. Time and again this will happen to the Israelis. A hardship, like lack of water or food or an approaching enemy causes them to lose trust in the Living God and think back to their time of Egyptian bondage with fond and pleasant memories.
The Lord provides for the people, sending manna in the morning and quail for meat in the evening. In a way, chapter 16 can be compared to the idyllic setting in the Garden of Eden, before the arrival of the serpent. In a safe setting, away from other peoples, the Lord provides a sanctuary where he cares for the Israelis. This will be a momentary respite before they continue on in their journey. The Lord uses this time to again show loving-kindness towards His people and His expectations for the kind of worship and observance He expects from them. For example, in 16:22, the people are given the command to observe the Sabbath for the first time. On the 6th day, a double portion of food will be provided and gathered, but no food is to be gathered on the 7th day. Despite this command to rest on the 7th day, there are people that are out trying to gather food, none of which is available, causing the Lord to state in verse 28: “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?”
After more grumbling in chapter 17, due to a lack of water, and the Lord once again providing, the Israelis come to their first real test in the wilderness journey, a battle with the Amalekites. This time, the people engage in the fight and as long as Moses’ arms are raised, the Israelis are victorious, but when Moses’ arms gets tired, and his arms drop, the Amalekites gain the upper hand. Finally, Aaron and Hur support Moses’s arms in the raised position and Joshua and the Israeli’s are victorious. Due to this attack by Amalek, the leader of the Amalekites on Israel, just after leaving Egypt, and per Deuteronomy Chapter 25, because they attacked at the rear of the Jewish people where the young and old with less strength were situated, the Lord proclaims that Amalek, his descendants and their memory must be blotted out, a command that will not be followed by King Saul, in 1st Samuel 15, and this failure will begin Saul’s downfall and eventual replacement by King David.
What does Parasha B’Shalach teach us?
We can see the parallels that we have in our own lives in terms of the trust that the Jewish people had in the Lord. They see great miracles, are provided with amazing sustenance and still grumble that their past slavery would be better. I know I see this in my own life where I have these lapses of fully trusting the Lord. I am thankful for this reminder in today’s parasha.
There is only one man in history who took upon the hardships and difficulties of this world without complaint and fully trusted in our God. That is Messiah Yeshua, who took upon Himself the greatest challenge of all: Overcoming sin and death to allow a path towards restoration and reconciliation with Adonai, Himself. If you are here today and have not put your trust in Messiah, I pray that this would be the day that you do that so that your wilderness journey of this world will not always remain in the wilderness, but have a final destination point which is the Promised Land of the New Jerusalem in heaven.