For the week ending 19 January 2019 / 13 Shevat 5779

Parshat Beshalach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Pharaoh finally sendsBnei 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, 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.


A Bribe of Kindness

“Stand fast and see” (14:13)

There was a friend of mine who suffered a terrible tragedy.

His sister was involved in a horrific car accident which left her brain seriously starved of oxygen for critical minutes. The doctors said she would probably never regain consciousness.

This terrible shock hit the teenage children worst. Who is more important in your teenage years than your mother? The hospital moved quickly to bring in psychological support for the family.

The psychologist recommended to the father that he should go out and buy them expensive presents. The eldest, who had passed her driving test but as yet had no car, received a super-compact mini that could be parked nose first. I forget what presents the other children received, but they were equally lavish.

At the time I felt that trying to compensate a child for the potential loss of their mother with some bauble — however extravagant — bordered on the obscene.

Interestingly though, I saw that it succeeded in mitigating the immediate shock to some extent.

The mishna in Pirkei Avotteaches that one should “Weigh the loss of a mitzvah against its reward on one side; and on the other, the ‘reward’ of a sin against its loss.”

Mitzvahs can incur losses: losses of time in praying and learning, expenditures on kosher food, kosher education, kosher phones and more. Almost everything that is kosher is more expensive than its non-kosher equivalent. However, the reward of a mitzvah is priceless beyond pearls and lasts forever.

A sin also has a ‘reward’: a cheap thrill that turns out to be very expensive, but you can’t say there’s no ‘reward’ — otherwise, who would want to do a sin?

What’s interesting is that we need a mishna to tell us to make this calculation, which implies that left to ourselves we would conclude that the bribery of the cheap and the fleeting outweighs the eternally valuable.

It is this same quirk of human frailty that can be used to create a temporary forgetfulness with a bribe of kindness.

“Stand fast and see.” (14:13)

It’s difficult to understand why the Jewish People were in need of the towering miracle of the sundering of the sea. They numbered more than two million people, vastly outnumbering Pharaoh’s storm-troopers.

The mind can make us big and the mind can make us small.

A century of subservience had planted in the minds of the Jewish People a vassal mentality incapable of standing up to their former masters. Only a Divine miracle could break that mindset. Only a miraculous bribe of kindness.

· Source: based on Ibn Ezra

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