For the week ending 18 January 2003 / 15 Shevat 5763

Parshat Beshalach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


Pharaoh finally sends B'nei 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.


Pushing the Blanket

"Pharaoh approached, the Children of Yisrael raised their eyes and behold! Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; the Children of Yisrael cried out to G-d." (14:10)

What kind of mother is it that can send her child off in the morning with a sandwich and an explosive vest?

Of the lunacy of a national policy of suicide bombings there can be no doubt. Every fiber of a normal right-thinking individual is revolted by this carnage, by the wanton devaluation of innocent life. In the last two years, however, we have learned a bitter lesson: Self-sacrifice, however ill intentioned, is the most powerful weapon known to man. Nothing can stand in the way of self-sacrifice except a corresponding display of self-sacrifice.

In this weeks Torah portion, when the Children of Yisrael saw the awesome seemingly supernatural degree of the Egyptians self-sacrifice in pursuing them, they cried out to G-d. Unlike the back-seat-driving of other kings, Pharaoh led his troops into battle at the head (14:10). And also unlike other kings Pharaoh was prepared to divide the spoils of war and not horde it to himself (15:9). When the Jewish People saw this other-worldly self-sacrifice they implored G-d to give them an equivalent degree of supernatural self-sacrifice to combat Pharaoh. G-d replied to Moshe "Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Yisrael and let them journey forward!" Was G-d ignoring their plea? No. He was telling them that the power of self-sacrifice is not some miraculous gift; it is a power in the heart and the mind of man to harness. G-d told them to journey into the sea, an action of self-sacrifice in itself would be sufficient to defeat the Egyptians.

So, should Israeli television start a campaign of ads for mommies from Kiryat Shemona to Eilat to send their kids off to school in the morning with a smile and a bomb?

No. Thats not quite what Im suggesting.

Notice that G-d didnt ask the Children of Israel to give up their lives, He wanted them to be prepared to give up their lives. Theres all the difference in the world.

Part of our innermost thoughts when we say the Shema is that, if necessary, we are prepared to give up our lives for the sake of our faith. A Jew doesnt seek martyrdom, but if we are called upon to surrender our lives to sanctify the Name, we do this with all the commitment of a suicide bomber.

And even for those of us who will never be put in the position of dying to sanctify the Name of G-d, we can still make self-sacrifice part of our lives. Every little bit of self-sacrifice creates a powerful defense lawyer in the Heavenly Court for ourselves and the whole of the Jewish People.

If we are prepared to make small sacrifices, G-d may not ask us to make big ones.

Recently there was an interesting meeting between two worlds. Howard Schultz, chairman and chief global strategist of Starbucks, the wildly successful chain of coffee houses described his meeting with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the great Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem:

"When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there. I had never heard of him and didn't know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.

"What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn't want to embarrass him.

"We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: "Gentlemen, look at me" His speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him

"Then he asked, "Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?" He called on one guy, who didn't know what to do it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, "We will never, ever forget?" And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: "We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander."

The rabbi said, "You guys just don't get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.

"As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.

"After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.

"As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?' "

"And Rabbi Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."

"And with that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."

A little self-sacrifice goes a long way.

Kedushat Levi; Hermes magazine, Columbia Business School

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Parsha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.