Parshat Beshallach: Exodus 13:17-17:16; Judges 4:4-5:31.
This Torah portion covers the seven-week period between the departure of the Jews from Egypt and receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai.
This was a critical time, which included the splitting of the Red Sea. In fact, this Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song, which commemorates the “Az Yashir,” which was sung by the Jewish people when the sea engulfed the Egyptian army and obliterated them.
The text relates that at that moment the Jews “believed in God and in Moses His servant.” (Exodus 14:31). The Talmud explains that they reached an awareness of God that enabled them to point to and identify a particular lofty level of Divinity.
The Torah portion also reveals some weaknesses in their response to stressful situations. When the Egyptians tried to crush them at the Red Sea or when they were in desperate need of water and food, the response was one of fear and complaint.
Although they had witnessed the miracles of the plagues and the other wonders, bad habits persist; as slaves in Egypt, they had gotten used to complaining.
The Torah portion describes the miraculous food known as the manna. They were never given more than a one-day supply (except for Fridays when they received a two-day supply, for Friday and Shabbat; thus, they would not have to work on the Sabbath to gather it). This was not an easy test: Would they put their trust in God and not worry about the next day or would they live lives of fear, always worrying about tomorrow?
The final section of Beshallach details the battle with the nation of Amalek. In describing this, the Torah uses the Hebrew phrase asher korcha baderech, which means literally “they met you on your way out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 25:18). The Chasidic masters interpret korcha to mean “cooled you off.” The Jews came out of Egypt all fired up. They were on their way to Mount Sinai to receive the greatest gift in God’s treasure chest, the Holy Torah. Then Amalek attacked with the purpose of trying to extinguish their excitement. The battle against Amalek continues forever, as there is a personal Amalek within each one of us that attempts to throw cold water over the soul’s natural desire to have a love affair with the Almighty.
Despite the complaints the people expressed on a number of occasions, the prophet says in the name of God, “I remember the kindness of your youth, your following Me into the desert” (Jeremiah 2:2) On the whole, God gives us a good grade for our behavior in the desert.
This Shabbat of Song is a time to nurture and express our excitement about the special relationship we enjoy with the Almighty as chosen people, thereby dealing a defeat to our internal Amalek.
Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg is a rabbi at Tugman Bais Chabad Torah Center in West Bloomfield.