For the week ending 23 January 2016 / 13 Shevat 5776

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.


Which Came First?

“G-d did not lead them (the people) by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near…” (13:17)

The classic question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is a non-starter.

Everyone knows that the chicken came first.

The Book of Genesis tells us so: “And G-d created …all winged fowl of every kind.” (1:21)

Sometimes, however, it’s not so clear which came first.

In this week’s Torah portion, from the above verse it seems that the only reason that G-d led the Jewish People across the Red Sea and through the desert was because of the danger that they would turn back if they would be faced with the warlike Philistines. For the route to Eretz Yisrael through the land of the Philistines was indeed much shorter.

Which is strange, because surely the Jewish People had to go through the desert to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai was already designated as the place of the Torah’s giving before the Exodus, as G-d said to Moshe at the “burning bush”, “…When you take the People out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.” (Ex. 3:12)

Why, then, does the Torah cite a different reason for the journey through the wilderness?

And this is where we have to consider, “Which came first?”

It could be that the prime reason to take the Jewish People through the desert was, as we see from this week’s Torah reading, because of the danger of their turning back in the face of the Philistines. For this reason G-d chose Mount Sinai as the site of the giving of the Torah, because it was on their route, and as a result of this He told Moshe that they would serve Him on that mountain.

Or it could be that Mount Sinai was always the place of choice for the giving of the Torah, even without this reason, and had it not been for the Philistines the Jewish People would have taken the short route to Eretz Yisrael, settled it, and only afterwards made the trek to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. However, as it turned out that they couldn’t go the short way, G-d gave them the Torah on Sinai because it was now, so to speak, “on their way.”

In this case, it’s impossible for us to know “Which came first?”

  • Source: Chazon Ish in Tallelei Orot

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