For the week ending 30 January 2010 / 14 Shevat 5770

Parshat Beshalach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Pharaoh finally sends Bnei Yisrael out of Egypt. With pillars of cloud and fire, G-d leads them toward Eretz Yisrael on a circuitous route, avoiding the Pelishtim (Philistines). Pharaoh regrets the loss of so many slaves and chases the Jews with his army. The Jews are very afraid as the Egyptians draw close, but G-d protects them. Moshe raises his staff and G-d splits the sea, enabling the Jews to cross safely. Pharaoh, his heart hardened by G-d, commands his army to pursue, whereupon the waters crash down upon the Egyptian army. Moshe and Miriam lead the men and women, respectively, in a song of thanks. After three days' travel only to find bitter waters at Marah, the people complain. Moshe miraculously produces potable water. In Marah they receive certain mitzvot . The people complain that they ate better food in Egypt. G-d sends quail for meat and provides manna, a miraculous bread that falls from the sky every day except Shabbat. On Friday a double portion descends to supply the Shabbat needs. No one is able to obtain more than his daily portion, but manna collected on Friday suffices for two days so the Jews can rest on Shabbat. Some manna is set aside as a memorial for future generations. When the Jews again complain about a lack of water, Moshe miraculously produces water from a rock. Then Amalek attacks. Joshua leads the Jews in battle while Moshe prays for their welfare.


Life's Rich Tapestry

“Then Moses and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to G-d.” (15:1)

As a young boy, I remember my mother weaving a tapestry of Gainsborough’s “The Boy In Blue”.

It took her forever. One day, shortly before she finished it, I remember picking it up and thinking to myself. “Mommy, forgive me. You’re maybe the best mother in the world, but when it comes to needlework, well, this is a mess! There’s a piece of red sticking out here. Over here, there’s a turquoise thread that seems to go nowhere.” The whole thing looked more like Bauhaus than Gainsborough.

Suddenly, my fingertips detected smooth regular stitching on the other side of the tapestry. I turned the tapestry over and saw the most beautiful sight: an exquisite and precise copy of Gainsborough’s “Boy in Blue”. The stitches were so regular and well formed. The colors all blended so beautifully together. A divine tapestry! All the disjointed threads that I saw on the other side of the tapestry harmonized into a complete and beautiful whole.

Sometimes we can view life's rich tapestry from the wrong side

Sometimes it’s very difficult to make sense of world events. It’s difficult to believe that the world is being run by Someone. You wonder how things could be part of a Divine coherent plan. You hear about earthquakes and terrible suffering, and you wonder how this can be the handiwork of a Merciful G-d.

Don’t think you’re alone if you feel like that.

You’re in good company. Because one of the greatest men who ever lived felt exactly like you.

Moses, our greatest teacher, himself had his questions about how G-d was “running the show”. In last week’s public Torah reading, Moses went to Pharaoh to ask him to let the Jewish People go. Pharaoh, as you may remember, was not the easiest of negotiating partners. In reply to Moses’ request, Pharaoh told the taskmasters to stop giving the Jews straw. However the Jews were still required to produce the same quantity of bricks as before. Not surprisingly, the Jews complained bitterly to Moses. So Moses went back to G-d and said, “My L-rd, why have You done evil to this people, why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he did evil to this People, but You did not rescue Your people.”

Moses wasn’t just complaining about the problems he was having now with Pharaoh. He was saying that “from the time” — from its very beginning — the whole plan to take the Jews out of Egypt was fatally flawed. He was saying to G-d that he didn’t see any order in what was going on.

When you look at life’s rich tapestry from the wrong side it looks like a complete mess. Moses didn’t see the Divine needlework of the Creator. He was looking at events from the wrong perspective. However the same word that Moses used to complain to G-d, he repeated in G-d’s praise when he saw the perfection of the Divine Plan. The Midrash says that just as Moses erred with the expression “me’az” — “from the time” — so too with that same word, “az”, Moses rectified his mistake.

After the Jewish People emerged from the splitting of the sea, they saw the mighty Egyptian army strewn across the beach like so many broken toy soldiers. It was there that every Jew, from the greatest to the most humble, reached a level of insight into the workings of the world that has never been repeated.

This perception moved Moses and the children of Israel to song. Song in Jewish thought represents the ability to harmonize all the disparate events in our world and plug them back into the One. G-d is One.

“Then — “az” — Moses and the children sang a song.”

That song is part of the prayers we say every single day of the year. Maybe one of the reasons we say it every day is to remind ourselves that when life seems like a bad attempt at modern art, we must know that there is a Supernal Artist weaving life's rich tapestry.

And not a single thread is without design and beauty.

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