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Torah Sparks

BESHALAH - SHABBAT SHIRAH
February 10, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 13:17-17:16; Hertz Chumash, p. 265
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 14:26-17:16, p. 269
Haftarah: Judges 4:4-5:31, p. 281

(13:17-22) The beginning of the Exodus, and its route through the desert. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire.

(14:1-14) The Egyptians pursue the Israelites and catch up to them at the shore of the sea. The Israelites panic, and Moses reassures them.

(14:15-18) God tells Moses that He will save Israel; they will cross the sea on dry land.

(14:19-25) The splitting of the sea. The Israelites pass through safely. The Egyptians pursue them into the sea.

(14:26-31) At God’s command, Moses stretches his hand forth over the sea; its waters close up again, and the pursuing Egyptians are drowned.

(15:1-21) The Song at the Sea, sung to God in praise and thanksgiving.

(15:22-26) The continuation of the journey; the bitter waters at Marah.

(15:27-16:36) The encampment at Elim; God feeds the Israelites with manna and quail.

(17:1-7) The miracle of the water from the rock.

(17:8-16) The war against Amalek, the archetype of the enemies of Israel.

Discussion Theme: Sizing Up the Enemy

The Lord will reign for ever and ever (Exodus 15:18)

  1. A major concern of the poet is G-d’s kingship, with which he ends the poem... this is no accident, nor is it inappropriate; since Chapters 4 and 5 the story of the Exodus has revolved around just who shall be king (G-d or Pharaoh) and just who shall be served. By the end of Chapter 14 this is no longer an issue. The victorious YHVH can now be acclaimed as king, while we hear nothing further of Pharaoh. (Everett Fox; The Schocken Bible: Vol 1 The Five Books of Moses; p. 334)
  2. Thus all the Egyptians were drowned. Only one was spared, Pharaoh himself. When the children of Israel raised their voices to sing a song of praise to G-d at the shores of the Red Sea, Pharaoh heard it as he was jostled hither an thither by the billows, and pointed his finger heavenward, and called out; “I believe in Thee, O G-d! You are righteous, and I and my people are wicked, and I acknowledge now that there is no god in the world beside Thee.” Without a moment’s delay, Gabriel descended and laid an iron chain around Pharaoh’s neck, and holding him securely, he addressed him thus: “Villain, yesterday you did say, ‘Who is the Lord that I should hearken to His voice?’ and now you say, ‘the Lord is righteous?’” With that he let him drop into the depths of the sea and there he tortured him for 50 days, to make the power of G-d known to him. At the end of the time he installed him as king of the great city of Nineveh, and after the lapse of many centuries, when Jonah came to Nineveh, and prophesied the overthrow of the city on account of the evil done by the people, it was Pharaoh who, seized by fear and terror, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes, and with his own mouth made proclamation and published this decree through Nineveh: “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock taste anything; let them not feed nor drink water; for I know there is no god beside Him in all the world, all his words are truth, and all His judgments are true and faithful.” Pharaoh never died and never will. He always stands at the portal of hell, and when the kings of nations enter, he makes the power of G-d known to them at once, in these words: “O ye fools! Why have you not learned from me? I denied the Lord G-d, and He brought ten plagues upon me, sent me to the bottom of the sea, kept me there for fifty days, released me then, and brought me up. Thus I could not but believe in Him.” (Louis Ginzberg; Legends of The Jews, Vol. III; Jewish Publication Society; p. 29-30)
  3. When the Holy One was about to drown the Egyptians in the sea, Uzza, heavenly prince of Egypt, rose up and prostrated himself before the Holy One, saying, “Master of the universe, You created the world by the measure of mercy. Why then do you wish to drown my children? The Only One gathered the entire heavenly household and said to them: “You be the judge between Me and Uzza prince of Egypt. At that, the heavenly princes of the other nations began to speak up in behalf of Egypt. When Michael perceived this, he gave the sign to Gabriel, who in one swoop darted down to Egypt, where he pulled out a brick with its clay enclosing a dead infant who had been immured alive in the structure. He then came back, stood before the Holy One, and said, “Master of the universe, thus did the Egyptians enslave Your children.” Whereupon the Holy One sat in judgment over the Egyptians in accord with the measure of justice and drowned them in the sea. In that instant, the ministering angels wished to utter song before the Holy One, but He rebuked them, saying, “the works of My hands are drowning in the sea, and you would utter song in my presence?” (Talmud Sanhedrin 39b in Bialik and Ravnitzky; The Book of Legends (Sefer Ha-Aggadah) Braude Translation; Schocken Books p. 73)

Discussion Sparks:

In this primal battle between good and evil, between the Chosen People of G-d and the greatest civilized power, what is the real essence of this struggle? How would you categorize this struggle today in our civilization? What is the Midrash teaching about how we are to treat enemies?

Whereas Ginzberg portrays Pharaoh as chiding others to follow his example and repent of their evil ways, Hertz in his commentary (p. 269-270) portrays Pharaoh as unrepentant. What is your assessment of Pharaoh after all that transpired? Is it realistic to think that such a powerful ruler with a history of cruel wickedness can really change and turn into someone with faith in G-d? Can you give an example of another ruler having such a change of heart?

Incidentally, I found lots of associations in these midrashim which relate in my mind to the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians and the public relations war that was waged during and after this past Rosh Hashanah? Are there lessons for Israel today in these passages? How would you apply these midrashim to the Middle East situation during last October and November?


 
 
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