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Torah Sparks

Parashat Beshalach
January 30, 2010 – 15 Shevat 5770

Annual (Ex. 13:17-17:16): Etz Hayim p. 399; Hertz p. 265
Triennial (Ex. 14:26-17:16): Etz Hayim p. 405; Hertz p. 269
Haftarah (Judges 4:4-5:31; 5:1-31): Etz Hayim p. 424; Hertz p. 281

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, NJ

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, accompanied by 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 out his rod 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.

Just three days later, the people begin complaining that the water they find at Marah is too bitter to drink. God teaches Moses how to make the water potable. A month later the people are complaining yet again, this time about the lack of food. God responds with the miraculous manna and with quails. Along with the instructions for gathering manna, the Israelites are given the laws of Shabbat.

Once again the people find no water. God tells Moses to strike a rock and water comes from it. The Israelites are attacked by Amalek; they defeat their attackers with God’s help.

1. R’fa’einu, Adonai, V’neirafei

He said, “If you will heed the Lord your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the Lord am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

  1. A chasid came to Rabbi Modechai of Nischiz, and said to him, “Rebbi, I am extremely ill, and I would like your advice on what I can do.” “Travel to the professor of Hanipol,” the rebbi told him. When the man arrived in Hanipol and asked where the professor lived, everyone laughed at him: “How do you expect to find a professor here? Hanipol is so small that it doesn’t even have a doctor.” “And what do you do if you become ill?” “All we can do is pray to our Father in Heaven.” Disappointed and bitter, the chasid returned to the rebbi in Nischiz and told him about his trip. “There isn’t even a doctor there,” he said. “And did you ask the Jews there what they do when they are sick?” the rebbi asked him. “Of course, and they told me that as they have no choice, they put all their faith in God.” “Fool!” said the rebbi, “that was the professor to which I sent you, ‘for I the Lord am your healer.’” (Mi-ginzei Ha-hasidut, cited in Itturei Torah, Rabbi Aharon Yaakov Greenberg)
  2. Once Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva were walking in the streets of Jerusalem, and another person was with them. A certain man who was ill approached them and said, “My masters, tell me, how can I become healed?” They said to him, “Do such and such and you will be healed.” He asked, “But who struck me [with this illness]?” They replied, “It was God.” He said, “Then are you not involving yourselves in something which is not your business? After all, God struck me with this illness, and now you are healing me. Are you not contradicting His will?” They asked him, “What is your occupation?” He answered, “I am a laborer of the soil. See, I am carrying my scythe.” They asked him, “Who created the vine?” He answered, “God.” They said, “Are you then not involving yourself in something which is not your business? God created it, and you cut down its fruit!” He said to them, “Do you not see the scythe in my hand? Were it not for my plowing and cutting down and fertilizing and weeding, nothing would grow!” They answered, “Foolish man! By virtue of the nature of your work you should know what is written: Man’s days are like the harvest (Psalms 103). Just as a plant in ground that is not weeded and fertilized and ploughed cannot grow, and if it grows but has no water and is not fertilized it cannot live and it will die - so it is with the body. The ‘fertilizer’ in this case is the drugs and medicines, and the ‘farmer’ here is the doctor.” He said to them, “Please [forgive me and] do not punish me.” (Midrash Shmuel)
  3. The sages said in the name of Rav: It is forbidden to live in a city where there is no physician. (Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 4:12)
  4. May He who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bless and heal ________ . May the Holy One in mercy strengthen and heal him soon, body and soul, together with others who suffer illness. And let us say: Amen. (Siddur Sim Shalom, p. 145)

Sparks for Discussion

Rabbi Mordechai of Nischiz uses our verse to teach that healing comes from faith and prayer. Midrash Shmuel takes a different approach. When someone is seriously ill, what roles do faith and medicine play in healing? Is medical science sufficient? Is prayer? How do faith and medicine work together? Why do we pray for those who are ill?

2. Our Daily Bread

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion – that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not.” (Exodus 16:4)

  1. The disciples of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai asked him: Why did the manna not come down for Israel just once a year? He replied: Let me answer you with the parable of a mortal king who had a son. When the king provided him with his sustenance once a year, the son visited his father only once a year. When the father began to provide him with his sustenance daily, the son had to call on his father every day. So it was with Israel – if an Israelite had, say, four or five children, he would worry, saying: Perhaps the manna will not come down tomorrow, and all my children will die of hunger. And so [because the manna was coming down daily], the Israelites were compelled to direct their hearts to their Father in heaven [every day]. Another reason: They were able to eat it while it was still warm. Still another reason: To lighten the burdens that had to be carried during the journey. (Talmud Yoma 76a)
  2. “Each day that day’s portion.” He who created the day creates the sustenance for it. From this verse Rabbi Eleazar of Modiin infers: He who has enough to eat today but wonders, “What will I eat tomorrow?” is lacking in faith. (Mekhilta Shirata 3)
  3. My [God’s] decision to provide the people with manna just fits in with saving you and justifying you. For bearers of My Torah it is essential that I find men for whom it suffices to be provided for wife and family for each day by itself. Men who can cheerfully and happily enjoy today, carry out their duties for today, and leave the worry for tomorrow to Him Who has provided for today and Who can be trusted for tomorrow. Only such unreserved confidence in God ensures the fulfillment of His laws against infringement out of supposed or actual concerns about material necessities. He who has not learned to trust God for the next day will ultimately be led away from God and His law, by his provident care for next year. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-1888, Germany)
  4. Rabban Gamliel, son of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi, taught: The study of Torah is commendable when combined with a gainful occupation, for when a person toils in both, sin is drive out of mind. Study alone without an occupation leads to idleness, and ultimately to sin. (Pirkei Avot 2:2)

Sparks for Discussion

Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai asks an interesting question – why did the manna fall every day (except Shabbat)? What do you think of his answers? Rabbi Eleazar of Modiin says that a person who has enough food (or money) for today but worries about tomorrow lacks faith. Most of us would consider this position irresponsible. What does Rabbi Hirsch add to our understanding? Do you think that there is necessarily a conflict between living a religious life and earning a living? Are there circumstances in which worrying about the future not only shows a lack of faith but is detrimental? What other reasons might there be for the need to gather manna daily?

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