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Beshalach – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

B’shalach: Sunday: Back to Egypt

And G-d did not guide them by way of the land of the Plishtim for it was close, for G-d said lest the Nation will change its mind when they see war and return to Egypt” – G-d guides the Children of Israel on a longer path to prevent them from panicking when they encounter war and returning to Egypt.

Later, though, the opposite takes place. G-d says to Moses, “Speak to the Children of Israel and they should return and encamp before Pi Hachirot”. Rashi explains, “And they should turn back toward Egypt in order to mislead Pharaoh”.  Back to Egypt? How can that be?

If there is concern lest the Nation will change its mind … and return to Egypt, then this thought must be present somewhere in the minds of the Children of Israel – the slave wishes to return to his familiar house of bondage. If this thought is not actualized, it is liable to ‘get stuck’ inside. Every thought that enters the mind must be actualized.  But it can be actualized in a different direction. In this case, G-d re-directed the thought of returning to Egypt lurking in the minds of the newly-freed slaves by commanding them to return in the direction of Egypt – just a bit – in order to entice the Egyptians to enter the Red Sea.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Amudeha Shiv’ah)


B’shalach: Monday: Overcome Your Fear

And the Children of Israel lifted their eyes and behold, Egypt was coming after them and they were extremely afraid and the Children of Israel called out to G-d…and Moses said to the Nation, ‘Do not fear, stand firm and see the salvation of G-d…G-d will fight for you and you must remain silent.” The Children of Israel are afraid and they cry out to G-d. What is more natural and fitting than that? If you feel fear – start praying!

True, it is very good to cry out to G-d and to pray. But Moses saw that the Children of Israel were still in an immature state. They were like a small child who is afraid and calls out to his father. Moses wished to raise them up to a state of maturity. The mature person knows how to employ his mind to overcome his emotions and to calm his fear. Thus, the fundamental point is “Do not fear, stand firm and see the salvation of G-d” (and understand that there is no reason to fear).

And know that a person must pass over a very, very narrow bridge, and the rule and the main point is not to feel fear at all.” (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov). And if you are afraid and run to pray to G-d, it is best to stop praying and put your effort into overcoming your fear by strengthening your faith in G-d.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Amudeha Shiv’ah)

B’shalach: Tuesday: The Illuminating Darkness

And there was the cloud and the darkness and it illuminated the night, and they did not approach one another the entire night”. What illuminated the night? Rashi explains that it was the Pillar of Fire that G-d sent to go before Israel every night (as is mentioned in the beginning of this Torah portion). On this night, as well, the Pillar of Fire illuminated the darkness for Israel.

Nevertheless, this explanation still leaves us wondering. After all, the Pillar of Fire is not mentioned here at all (and not in the previous verses, either). This is a case in which the verse beckons us to dig deeper and reveal its inner dimension…The deep secret is that the verse can be understood as is: The darkness illuminated the night! What does that mean?

When G-d created the world, He outlined boundaries: “And G-d called the light ‘day’, and the darkness He called ‘night’.” The light illuminates the day and the darkness darkens the night. But at the Splitting of the Sea, the boundaries are erased: The sea becomes dry land and we can also say that the boundaries of the dimension of time were annulled – especially during the Song at the Sea, which projects into the future, “Az yashir Moshe”, “Then Moses will sing.” (This is the Torah source for the Resurrection of the Dead). At the Splitting of the Sea, day and night become one and darkness, itself, illuminates.

A central pair of concepts in the inner dimension of the Torah is ‘Lights and Vessels’. From a certain perspective, the vessel is darkness in relation to the light. For example, Torah and mitzvot are relatively lights and vessels. We feel the Divine light in the Torah, while the performance of the physical mitzvah is the vessel – and we do not necessarily see in it revealed light. Nevertheless, it is specifically the dark vessel that has a very deep source. Ultimately, the light within the darkness will be revealed and the darkness will illuminate reality.

B’shalach: Wednesday: A Complete Recovery

The Children of Israel reached Marah and complained about the bitter water. G-d shows Moses a tree to throw into the water, “and the waters were sweetened.” Immediately after this episode, the Torah says, “And He said, if you listen to the voice of Havayah your G-d and do what is right in His eyes and you will listen to His commandments and you will safeguard all of His laws, all the disease that I have put on Egypt, I will not put upon you, for I am Havayah, your healer”.

Note the connection between sweetening and healing. (This is the only appearance of the concept ‘sweetness’ in the Torah and the main appearance of the concept ‘healing’ in the Torah). True healing sweetens bitter reality. The sweetening of the water is also called healing, as when Elisha the Prophet sweetened the bad water in Jericho, “Thus says G-d, I have healed these waters”. Elisha healed the bad water by throwing salt into it. The tree that Moses threw into the bitter water was also bitter, as in the words of our Sages that G –d heals the bitter with bitter. This is an important principle in healing: “Healing like with like”, as is especially predominant in certain methods of natural healing (homeopathy).

The commentators ask a question on our verse: If no disease will come upon us, what healing is involved?

Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Pashischa explained the verse in Isaiah, “And G-d smote Egypt, smiting and healing” as follows: The Zohar says that G-d smote Egypt, but healed Israel”. In other words, all the plagues that smote Egypt were in and of themselves healing for Israel. They freed them of the husk of Egypt. This is good healing, but not perfect, for there is still the good side and the bad side – and each side is contracted within certain boundaries. But now, G-d says to us:  “All the disease that I have put on Egypt, I will not put upon you" – I will not heal you by means of the disease that I will put upon Egypt. Instead, “I am Havayah, your healer”. I will heal you completely with expansive lovingkindness.

Initially, the focus is on separation of the good from the evil. The evil still exists and we must separate from it. But after the Splitting of the Sea and the Song at the Sea, we rise to a more lofty level of sweetening, “and the waters were sweetened.” The bitter reality is completely healed and sweetened and there is no need for any blow.

Complete sweeting is the Messianic destiny, as the Zohar says, “To transform darkness to light and bitter taste to sweetness”. As it says about the waters of the stream that will emanate from the Holy Temple, which will sweeten the bad and bitter waters, ““and the waters were healed.”


B’shalach: Thursday: Seventy Date Palms

And they came to Eilim, and there were twelve springs of water there and seventy date-palms and they camped there on the water.” Why is it important to know the number of springs and the number of palm trees? Rashi explains: Twelve springs of water parallel the twelve tribes and seventy date palms parallel seventy elders.

The Children of Israel encamp “on the water,” and as our Sages say, “Water is none other than Torah”. In other words, the souls of Israel are always encamped on the waters of the Torah. Each of the tribes has its own Torah-spring.

The seventy date palms that parallel the seventy elders are the “seventy faces of the Torah”. The secret of the date palm, the tamar in Hebrew, is tmurah, ‘exchange’ – to exchange bad for good, bitterness for sweetness. As the Talmud says, “If one sees a date palm (tamar) in his dream, it is a sign that his sins are finished (tamu). True to form, the date palm can also grow on salty-bitter (mar) water. The tamar transforms the bitter water, exchanging it for fruit that is the quintessential symbol of sweetness. Likewise for the Torah: Parallel to each of the seventy correct faces of the Torah, there is a false, evil face. The seventy date palms/elders exchange the evil for good.

Above the seventy elders is Moses, the seventy-one. Throughout the generations, the elders come and go, expressing the transformations and different faces of the Torah. Moses, however, expresses the eternal unity of the Torah, beyond any transformation.

Where is Moses alluded to in this verse? In the vav, "v’shiv’im tmarim", "and seventy date palms". How befitting that the numerical value of ‘and seventy date palms’ (v’shiv’im tmarim) equals Shema Yisrael, Havayah Elokeinu Havayah Echad.”


B’shalach: Friday: A Good Place Beneath Himself

Each person shall sit beneath himself, no person should leave his place on the seventh day.” The unique phrase ‘Each person shall sit beneath himself’ alludes to a major foundation of service of the soul – the character trait of positive lowliness, as our Sages say, “One should be very very low in spirit”.

More accurately, a person must “sit beneath himself”. In other words, I may be conducting myself just fine, fulfilling the mitzvot, praying and learning Torah. Thank G-d, I really am in a good place – that is the simple reality. But wait. I must know that deeper down, from a soul-perspective, I am much lower, truly at the bottom of the pit. In truth, I am a completely empty vessel and everything that does exist inside me is simply a G-d given gift.

What is the connection between lowliness and Shabbat, as in our verse above? Shabbat is also a time for deep, internal teshuva. It is on Shabbat that a person must recognize his existential lowliness and become an open vessel to receive the illumination of Shabbat, to “sit beneath himself” with serenity, enveloped in the pleasure of Shabbat.

It is written about the Mashiach, “Behold, the man Tzemach is his name and from beneath himself he will grow (yitzmach)”. From within his recognition of the fact that he is ‘beneath’, that he sits in lowliness beneath himself, the Mashiach grows to become the king of Israel.

This week’s translations l’ilui nishmot Alteh Nechech bat Idel and R’ Elimelech ben Moshe.


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