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Torah Sparks

April 26, 2008 – 21 Nisan 5768

Annual: Exodus 13:17 – 15:26 (Etz Hayim, p. 399; Hertz p. 265)
Maftir: Numbers 28:19 – 25 (Etz Hayim, p.932; Hertz p. 695)
Haftarah: II Samuel 22:1 – 51 (Etz Hayim, p. 1311; Hertz p. 1017)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

The Israelites leave Egypt and head into the wilderness. God accompanies them, appearing as a pillar of cloud during the day and as a pillar of fire at night. Being a slow learner, Pharaoh again changes his mind and takes off after his former slaves – with his warriors and 600 chariots. The terrified Israelites find themselves trapped between the pursuing Egyptians and the Sea of Reeds. God tells Moses to hold his rod out over the sea and the sea splits. The Israelites cross on dry land and then, at God’s command, the sea closes and the Egyptians drown. Moses leads the people in the great song of praise and thanksgiving to God; Miriam leads the women. According to one tradition, this occurred on the seventh day of Pesah.

Just three days later, the people begin complaining that the water they find at Marah is too bitter to drink. God tells Moses how to make the water potable.

The maftir reading describes the sacrifices to be offered on each day of Pesah.

1. God Does Not Desire the Death of Sinners

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord. They said: I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; horse and driver He has hurled into the sea. (Shemot 15:1)

  1. The ministering angels wanted to sing a hymn at the destruction of the Egyptians, but God said: “My children lie drowned in the sea, and you would sing?” Rabbi Elazar said: He does not rejoice, but He causes others to rejoice. (Talmud Megillah 10b)
  2. Why do we remove 10 drops of wine from our cups? We glory in our liberation, but we do not gloat over our fallen foes. When the waters of the Sea of Reeds engulfed the Egyptians, the ministering angels began to sing praises. But God silenced them, saying, “My children perish. Cease your songs!” So we celebrate with less than a full heart, with less than a full cup. (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, The Rabbinical Assembly, p. 58)
  3. You find three verses that command you to rejoice on Sukkot... For Passover, however, you will not find even one command to rejoice. Why not? ... because the Egyptians died during the Passover. Therefore you find that though we read the entire Hallel on each of the seven days of Sukkot, on Passover we read the entire Hallel only on the first day[s] and the night[s] preceding [them]. Why not on the other days of the festival? Because of “if your enemy falls, do not exult; if he trips, let your heart not rejoice” (Mishlei 24:17). (Yalkut Shimoni, Emor 654)
  4. Pharaoh himself, according to legend, did not perish in the Sea of Reeds. He repented, and was delivered from the depths. Later he was appointed king of Nineveh. When that city’s impending doom was announced by the reluctant prophet Jonah, the king led his people in fasting and penitential prayers. And Nineveh was spared. Now, when tyrants gravitate to their eternal unrest, the reformed Pharaoh greets them with hindsight’s vexatious wisdom: “Why did you not profit from my example?” (Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, The Rabbinical Assembly, p. 62)
  5. In Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood there lived some ruffians who annoyed him so much that he prayed for them to die. His wife Beruriah said to him: What are you thinking of? Are you relying on the verse “May sinners disappear from the earth? (Tehilim 104:35) It is rather “sins.” [The word hata’im can be understood as “sins” or “sinners.”] Moreover, look at the end of the verse “and the wicked be no more,” which implies that when sins come to an end, the wicked will be no more. You should seek mercy for them, that they turn in penitence, so that they will be wicked no more. Accordingly, he besought mercy for them, and they did turn in penitence. (Talmud Berakhot 10b)

Sparks for Discussion

The deaths of the Egyptians at the sea and during the 10 plagues may have been necessary, but they were not a cause for gloating. God rebukes the angels when they want to sing. Why does He permit – even encourage – the Israelites to sing? How, if at all, do you think repeating these stories for centuries has shaped the character of the Jewish people?

2. The Prose of Life

Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; that is why it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” (Shemot 15:22-24)

  1. A maidservant at the sea saw what Isaiah and Ezekiel and all the rest of the prophets never saw. (Mekhilta Shirata 3)
  2. As soon as they came to the sea and saw the might of God in His execution of judgment upon the wicked... and how He drowned the Egyptians in the sea, then at once: “They had faith in the Lord.” It was on account of this faith that the Holy Spirit rested upon them and they recited the Song. (Shemot Rabbah 23:2)
  3. From Beshalach we learn a great lesson: The miracle, the revelation, and also man’s elevation to poetry as a result of a miracle of revelation – all this is but a passing episode that has no continuing influence. What endures is not the poetry of life but rather the prose of life. (Yeshayahu Leibowitz, 1903-1994, Israel)
  4. One should not depend on a miracle. (Pesachim 64b)

Sparks for Discussion

Why doesn’t our Torah reading for the seventh day of Pesah conclude with the triumphant song; why does it add these verses? The rabbis tell us we should not rely on miracles. Does this mean to save us from danger, or might it perhaps mean to sustain our faith? Is it possible to have an intense spiritual experience each time you pray? Every Shabbat and Yom Tov? What sustains you when life is not poetry but prose?

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