For the week ending 8 February 2020 / 13 Shevat 5780

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.


The ABC of Ecology

"This is the thing that Hashem has commanded: 'Gather from it, for every man according to what he eats - an omer per person - according to the number of your people, everyone according to whoever is in his tent shall you take.'" (16:16)

The world gets smaller every day. One of the fears of living in a global village is that the village store is going to run out of food. Will we wake up one day and find our planet can no longer support its population? For years, science fiction has dwelled on highly imaginative schemes to "farm" the solar system. Here's the good news. You can relax and stop planning your trip to Andromeda. It isn't going to happen. Although waste is certainly wrong, there is no need to worry about the nourishing bounty in our world.

The letters of the Hebrew language are the building blocks of Creation. When G-d created this existence, He did so using "speech." "And G-d said: Let there be light…And G‑d said: Let there be sky....And G-d said..." This is not merely a narrative tool, a stylistic convention. It means that existence consists of nothing more than G-d speaking, that it is built out of letters and words. This explains why the Hebrew word for "thing," davar, is comprised of the same letters as the word for "speech," dibur. Ultimately, "things" are no more than G-d's "words."

There's a prayer we say three times a day called Ashrei (Ashrei is the first word of this prayer.) Ashrei is a combination of two of the Psalms of King David. But what is so important about these particular Psalms that we say them three times a day?

If you open a siddur you'll notice that the first letters of each line of Ashrei go in alphabetical order. The first line starts with aleph, the second with beit, etc. Ashrei also contains the verse, "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of all life." This is a promise that G-d will sustain each one of us. What is the connection between having enough to eat and the aleph-beit?

With that same aleph-beit that G-d created the world, He creates a sufficiency for every living thing. G-d created this world with a plan. Man is the centerpiece of this plan. Just as He created the ABC of Creation, He has made sure that His plan will be fulfilled, right down to XY and Z. Every creature will receive its needs. We don't have to worry that there won't be enough for everyone to eat. We don't have to worry that the world will become overpopulated. With that same "whole cloth" that G-d fabricated existence, the aleph-beit, He provided a sufficiency for His Creation at all times.

"This is the thing that Hashem has commanded: 'Gather from it, for every man according to what he eats - an omer per person - according to the number of your people, everyone according to whoever is in his tent shall you take.'"

In this week's Torah portion we learn of the manna, the miraculous food that sustained the Jewish People for 40 years in the desert. Manna is the prototype of G-d sustaining man miraculously, providing for his every need. Just as in Ashrei, the above verse illustrates that every person receives according to his needs. And interestingly, it also contains all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Also, if you count the Hebrew letters of this verse, you will find they add up to 70. This corresponds to our global village's seventy nations who are constantly sustained by the Creator.

You don't have to worry. The "village store" is never going to be "out of bread."

  • Sources: Rabbi Sholem Fishbane in the name of Rabbi Uziel Milevsky from Rabbeinu Bachye

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