Weekly Torah Portion: Beshalach


Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is parashat B’shalach. And this Shabbat, when the Torah portion is
read, is known as Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. Our parasha features the seminal event of
the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds, known in Hebrew as Kriyat Yam Suf. Led by Moshe, the people of Israel burst into
song. Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea, has so many
levels of meaning. This wasn’t just the suspension of reality
– it was the suspension of illusion. It was an insight into the true nature of
reality. The miracle of the entire nation of Israel
walking through the sea on dry land; it was a prophetic experience that provided Israel,
including all her subsequent generations, with a taste of the World to Come. It provided a realization of G-d’s salvation,
not only in that time, but for every generation. Thus traditionally, Jewish congregations recite
the Song of Sea each day as part of the morning prayer service, and our sages state, ‘Whoever
recites the Song of the Sea daily, with joy, will merit to recite it in the Coming World.’ That song, and that experience, is in a Jew’s
DNA, and spans the generations. On the backdrop of wintry rainy weather here
in Jerusalem, bringing us, we pray, the blessing of water, I find myself reflecting upon the
fact that water is a recurrent theme in this week’s parasha: of course, beginning with
the game changer of all history, the splitting of the sea. And right after the splitting of the sea,
the children of Israel…can’t find water! ‘…and they complained against Moshe saying,
what shall we drink’…afterwards they are surprised to find so much water! ‘And they came to Elim and there, where
were 12 wells of water….and after chapter 16 which deals with the manna, the children
of Israel journey to Rephidim where once again they complain that there is no water, and
here, Hashem instructs Moshe to strike a rock, and bring forth water for all this people,
and Moshe called this place Ma’asa U’meribah, meaning ‘test and contention’, as the
verse states, ‘because of the contention of the children of Israel and because of their
test of Hashem, saying, ‘Is Hashem among us or not?’ So what is the significance of leaving Egypt
and having to walk through the water? Water is the most basic element of creation. In fact, in a way – as our sages teach – it
seems to predate creation – water is so ancient that it testifies to creation itself. This is connected to the secret of why water
is an instrument of purification as well as retribution: it is synonymous with belief
in Hashem. But that is another story, for another time. In the beginning of the Book of Bereshith,
Genesis, in the second verse, we find that water was present in the world before the
process of creation began……‘and the Divine Presence hovered over the surface of
the water.’ Two of the six days of creation are taken
up with water… on the second day, ‘and He divided between the waters below the firmament
and the waters above the firmament’…and on the third day, ‘let the waters gather
together under the heavens to one place’… and after the ordering of the waters, on that
very day all the plants and trees emerged. Next, one of the main descriptors of the Garden
of Eden is the river which flows out from Eden to water the garden that becomes four
headwaters…next, ten generations from Adam to Noah, we find that water is employed as
the element of destruction, flooding the entire world while Noah in his ark floats atop the
water’s surface. And there are many more instances of the role
of water in the lives of our forefathers. Water also figures prominently in the saga
of the exodus from Egypt. Pharaoh had decreed ‘every son you shall
throw into the river;’ and the infant Moshe floated upon the water in a little wicker
basket. The first of the ten plagues turned water
into blood. Water, water everywhere. There is a confluence of parashat Beshalach
with Tu B’Shevat, which always occurs in the proximity of this Torah reading. Next week we will be observing Tu B’Shevat,
the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat, the day called by our sages ‘the Rosh HaShana,
the New Year of Trees’. Although a minor holiday, ostensibly with
little practical application, here in the land of Israel this day does not go by unnoticed…traditionally,
it is commemorated joyously by partaking of the fruits of the land…some even hold a
festive meal consisting of these fruits and eat them in a special order, in accordance
with mystical teachings…and many others mark the day with the planting of trees. Most people think that Tu B’Shevat is the
holiday of planting but the practice of planting trees on this day is a custom only established
fairly recently…say in the last hundred years or so. And it has a good basis: the Mishneh relates
that Tu B’Shevat begins a new year of marking time for fruit trees in regards to certain
halachic issues, such as tithing, orlah (the commandment which prohibits consuming the
fruit of trees within the first three years of their planting, Lev. 19:23) and netar revai
– the sanctified status of fruit in their fourth year. But Tu B’Shevat is actually not about planting
but about – water. What makes this day so special? The Talmud explains that Tu B’Shevat is
a watershed date in a natural process – that by this date, by the fifteenth day of the
month of Shevat, the majority of the year’s rains have already fallen. Rashi comments that the accumulation of the
rains has an effect on the trees which is activated on this date: He writes, ‘the
sap’ – meaning the life force – ‘in the trees starts to ascend, and the fruit
begins to form from this point.’ Interestingly, in the Jerusalem Talmud a spiritual,
inner reason is provided, rather than an external, physical explanation: in that source our sages
state that until Tu B’Shevat, the trees are living from last year’s rains, and from
this point they are living from the coming year’s rains. Whichever the case, the theme here is about
life and growth, and it’s clear that the time of significance, the time of reckoning
for the trees is dependent upon water, the source of all life and growth. Which – as we mentioned – testifies to
G-d’s creation. And everybody knows that we have a deep connection
to Tu B’Shevat, because the Torah metaphorically – albeit rhetorically – compares man to
a tree – Deut. 20:19, ‘Is man the tree of a field?’ Water is life itself, the Divine shefa – meaning
the abundance, the profusion of power and potential emanating from the Holy One, blessed
be He Himself…His desire for life to exist, prosper, and grow…thus before the departmentalization
of creation, the first thing that appears was water… it is literally the stuff of
life…so open up your hearts in the deepest way…because the purpose of creation was
to contain the water – the massive, exuberant abundance of Hashem’s blessing – within
boundaries, within borders…to divide the waters, to organize them; because if creation
doesn’t succeed to give water its proper place, this Divine shefa will come and flood
and destroy the world. The waters can rage; they can be destructive. ‘More than the roars of many waters, mightier
than the waves of the sea, You are mighty on high, Hashem.’ (Psalms 93:4). Water is life. The power of life is not limited because it
is the shefa, the abundant blessing of Hashem itself, thus mayim, water, and chaim, life,
are words that always appear in the plural… How do we contain it properly, in proper measure,
that is our challenge; to create the vessels to hold it, to cross the sea, to navigate
its paths, this is in every generation, we must channel the roaring waters into the life-giving
sustenance. This is why we are taught that “the simplest
handmaiden that was present at the splitting of the sea had greater prophetic insight than
Ezekial.” This is why, state our sages, even nursing
infants and even the as-of-yet unborn in their mother’s wombs also sang the song, also
prophesized. This is why the Song of the Sea, the bridge
between every generation, is recited every day. Prophecy means to see things as they really
are. Not as our mind thinks they are. Thus for the people of Israel, Kriyat Yam
Suf, the splitting of the sea is the apex of all prophetic experience, because it was
the ultimate clarification on a soul level that it is Hashem who is life, who gives life
and who rules over life. Our sages teach that at the moment the sea
opened, every body of water, every gathering of water in the world, split open. From the rivers to the lakes to the water
in somebody’s teapot or saucepan. All the water, which brings life, pointed
to the source of all life, who is eternal life. It wasn’t for nothing that it was established
to say this song every day The Song of the Sea represents our ability not just to observe
the word of Hashem, but to live it, to sing it, to dance it. And right after the Splitting of the Sea,
Israel journeyed through the Wilderness of Shur, and they came to a place called Marah,
but they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter. G-d showed Moshe how to sweeten the water,
and it was there that Israel received some of the first ordinances of the Torah, as the
verse states, ‘There He established for the nation a decree and an ordinance.’ Israel began to receive Torah at Marah and
thus succeeded in sweetening the waters, enabling them for drinking…and this is the purpose
of Torah in Israel’s life, to give tools for life, to sweeten and temper the raging
waters, to give the waters boundaries and borders. After the Exodus, Israel, like water, became
a vessel for testifying that there is a Creator: (Is. 43:21) ‘This people that I fashioned for
Myself, that they may declare My praise.’ Also in the future, at the time of the redemption,
the prophet Isaiah (12:3) assures us that ‘you shall draw water in joy from the wellsprings
of salvation’ And Zech. 14:8 tells us that ‘…on that day living
waters will flow forth from Jerusalem..’ That is the promise of the source of living
waters, Hashem Himself, causing His Presence to be felt in all the world, flowing like
water from Jerusalem.

21 thoughts on “Weekly Torah Portion: Beshalach

  1. Thank you❤️❤️. I’m confused. I thought you left? Nice to see you ❤️

  2. Thank you for continuing to help us gain understanding with the "Weekly Torah Portion"! I love it! Baruch HaShem!

  3. Thank you Rabbi for your wisdom and deep insights into the Torah. I learn so much from your weekly Parshah commentaries. I am so glad you are back!

  4. "BH" Dineo Jeanette Chaka Kutumela with Tebogo Mpholo Kutumela and Thato Mpho Jamilla Kutumela:)

  5. I think there was water on Mars until one of the astronauts mistakenly drank it or was that just a Super Bowl commercial? Nevertheless I really enjoyed your presentation Rav.

  6. Do you think that it would make sense the two prophets in zechariah 4 would be appointed on tu bishvat

  7. So happy to see you still on the youtube channel. Love you Rebbe hope you stay on youtube!

  8. Thank you for continuing with the parshat reflection!

  9. Very glad to see you on here Rabbi. Your announcement last week that you wouldn't be on YouTube anymore. Was shocking. Was that a mistake? Will you be on here going forward? Thank you and shalom.

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