For the week ending 15 January 2011 / 9 Shevat 5771

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.


UnKnown UnKnown

“Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing” (15:1)

Let me start with a confession.

I have never seen a Harry Potter movie. I haven't even read the books.

But I do remember with much affection a great work of imaginative writing, "The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I was thinking the other day about what makes "The Lord of the Rings" so powerful.

Tolkien pulls the rug out from underneath you.

He starts off with a tale that seems to be very homey and contained and then he starts to reveal that the events that are taking place in this little village are really part of a vast cosmic struggle. He changed the canvas on you. He dropped the floor from underneath you like a roller coaster and the experience takes your breath away.

The power of this technique lies in the disparity between what you think you know and the realization that you really don't know what's going on at all.

In a rare philosophical reflection, former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once mused, "…there are known knowns : there are things we know we know. …there are known unknowns : that is to say we know there are things we know we don't know. But there are also “unknown unknowns” — the ones we don't know we don't know."

The revealing of an unknown unknown stuns the viewer.

The experience of the splitting of the Red Sea was an "unknown unknown." Not only did the knowledge of the scale of G-d's power become vastly bigger than anyone could have imagined in their wildest dreams, but G-d revealed how this world is connected to the worlds above – and more.

"Then Moshe and the Chlidren of Israel will sing this song…." Grammatically this verse should have read, "…sang this song…." Why does the Torah use an unusual tense here?

The Torah wants to communicate the vast and unparalleled experience of the splitting of the sea. It wants us to feel as if we are actually standing on the beach with Moshe and the Jewish People witnessing an unknown unknown.

  • Source: based on the Ramban

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