Parshat Hashavua Beshalach.
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
Beshalach in a nutshell: Pharaoh pursues the Israelites. The Red Sea splits, the Israelites cross and the Egyptian army is drowned. The Israelites complain about a lack of food and drink. G‑d sends Manna and quail for them to eat, and miraculously produces water from a rock.
Near the start of this week’s Parshat Hashavua Beshalach, we learn of the miraculous forces with which God accompanied the Nation of Israel on their journey the desert.
In Shemos 13;21-22 it says God went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them on the way and by night in a pillar of fire to provide them with light, so that they could travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night departed from before the people.
The Shem Mishmuel writes it is curious that the verses emphasize that they needed to travel both by day and by night, as the necessity for this seems to be obviated by another verse: And I bore them on eagles; wings, and I brought them to Me. It was 120 mil [approx. 120 miles] from Ramses to Sukkos [the first stage of their journey after the Exodus, and they came there within an hour, as the verse says, And I bore them on eagles’ wings. [Rashi, Shemos 12:37].
It should be clear that they did not need to travel at night at night, klal Yisrael [the nation of activity], miraculously reached their destination in no time at all. However, it is apparent that they traveled at night throughout their stay in the desert, and we hear of wondrously short journeys on other occasions during the forty years. What, then, was the function of journeying in the dark as well as by day?
In Moshe’s negotiations with Pharaoh for the release of Klal Yisrael, the ultimate purpose of the exodus is made clear: Shemos: 3:12, When you bring out the people from Egypt, they shall serve God on this mountain. “This mountain” was, of course, Mount Sinai, where klal Yisrael would accept the Torah. The need it was the driving force behind the whole Exodus. Indeed, there were four distinct phases to the Exodus process, culminating in Matan Torah.
The Me’am Lo’ez points out to us that the logical route from Egypt to Canaan would take the Israelites along the Mediterranean coast through the Philistine territory. Although this was the shortest path, God did not let the Israelites use it.
God did not let the Jewish Nation take the road precisely because it was short. If anything had frightened them, it would have been too easy for them to return.
Besides, there was another war that God did not want the Israelites to see. The Ephramities had taken the direct route through Philistia, and had been killed by the Philistines, who had left their bodies to rot in the field. Now, 30 years later, the bones of the Ephraimites still the roadside.
God therefore said, “It would not be good to bring the Israelites through Philistia. They will see the remains of that earlier war and the skeletons of their kinsmen lying along the roadside. They will be terrified and will fell back to Egypt.
Of course, the Israelites knew about this episode. But hearing about it and seeing the dead are two different things. Seeing the skeletons of thousands of their brethren lying in the fields would break their spirit, and make them flee to the relative safety of Egypt.
God made the people take a roundabout route, by way of the Red Sea Desert. The Israelites were armed when they left Egypt. Because of these considerations, God led the Israelites along a roundabout route. Instead of bringing them along the Mediterranean coast, he led them into the desert, toward the Red Sea.
This shows how far one must go to avoid doing wrong. God Himself would not let the Israelites take the most diet route because He was concerned that they might return to Egypt. Obviously, God is omniscient; there is nothing that He does not know. Still, when God created the world, He gave man free will. God does not coerce man to be good or bad; if He did so, man would not deserve reward for his virtue nor punishment for his sins. God therefore gave man complete free will. Joseph had bound his brothers by an oath to remove his bones and to make that oath binding on their descendants [Bereishes 50:25].
Although the Jews were supposed to be in Egypt 400 years they only remained there for 210. The numerical value of pakod [remember] is 190, the number of years reduced from the decree. [it was thus as if Joseph had said, “190 years early, He will remember you.”]
Besides the miracles that we described in the portions of the last two Parshas of VaEra and Bo, an additional 50 miracles occurred to the Jewish Nation between the Exodus and the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea. All of them were complete violations of the laws of nature.
These are the 50 miracles:
- The Clouds of Glory that GOD sent to protect Israel. There were seven clouds, six surrounding the Israelites on 4 sides, and above and below. They were thus protected from the weather and from snakes and scorpions on the ground. The clouds carried them along day and night, like a huge ship. The 7th cloud went before them, smoothing out all hills and valleys, so they would be able to travel along a level route. The north wind did not blow so the clouds of Glory did not dissipate.
- Hashem gave Pharaoh and his advisors the idea of pursuing the Jews. None of the Egyptians got discouraged after 3 days of pursuit.
- On the 7th night of Pesach the clouds changed position standing behind the Jews. The cloud was half dark which was half dark for the Egyptians and half white for the Jews.
- The Egyptians arrows were absorbed by the clouds.
- When the Jews entered the sea, and the water reached their nostrils, God immediately split the sea.
- On this 7th day of Pesach, all the waters in the world split.
- The sea divided into the 12 paths, one for each of the 12 tribes
- The sea was like a tent, covering the Jews on all sides
- The sea bed was perfectly dry, ads if there had never been any water there.
- When the sea dried up, it was not ordinary ground, but a beautiful mosaic, like that found in palaces.
- When the sea divided into dividing the tribes remained perfectly transparent, so that the tribes were able to see each other.
- When children began to cry while crossing the sea, God made the walls of the tunnel produce fruit and sweetness to comfort them.
- Although the Red Sea is saltwater, and it was congealed at the time, the walls yielded fresh water for the Jewish people to drink.
- Despite all the terror and confusion, not a single Jewish woman miscarried, even though there were many pregnant women them.
- Although there were deep canyons and crevices in the sea bed, the Jewish People were able to walk on a level path.
- After the Jewish finished drinking from a fountain in the walls surrounding them the water immediately solidified.
- Although there were many aged and infirm among the Jewish people did not delay the march, and the entire group was able to cross during the night, reaching land by daybreak.
- When the Torah says, “Flowing waters stood up like a wall” [15:8], it indicates that the water towered up on both sides of the Jews like huge mountains.
- Vegetation grew out of the sea bed for the Jewish people’s animals to eat.
- Even though the splitting of the Red Sea was an obvious miracle, the Egyptians pursued the Jewish right into the sea. This itself was a miracle.
- Although the sea bed had become as hard as stone for the Jewish people, when the Egyptians were crossing, the pillar of cloud transformed it into mire. Just as the Egyptians had made the Jewish people tread in mud all day, now they too were up to their knees in mud.
- The pillar of fire made this mud boiling hot, making the horses lose their hooves.
- God removed one wheel from each chariot. When the panicked horses pulled these disabled war chariots, the heavy vehicles swung back and forth, breaking bodies as they went.
- Many Egyptians fell from their chariots and were able to get up again as it says in the verse they sunk like lead
- Although it was virtually impossible for the chariots to move with a single wheel, the chariots were able to ride toward the closing waters. Even when the Egyptians tried to turn their chariots around they kept heading toward the approaching waters.
- Even though the sea bed had become like mire, when the Egyptians fell on it, it was like stone, breaking their bones. The water became so hard that the Egyptians broke their heads against it.
- Stones, hail and fiery coals rained down on the Egyptians from the sky. Even the Egyptians who were not killed by this were totally confused.
- The sound of the splitting of the Red Sea could be heard all over the world.
- God sent a wind that did two opposite things. First it froze the sea, making it solid. Then it melted the sea so that it could drown the Egyptians. The same wind was both freezing cold and boiling hot.
- Instead of melting slowly, the sea melted suddenly, all at once, engulfing the Egyptians
- Even when Egyptians were able to leave the sea, the water pursued them and drowned them. Some Egyptians used their occult powers to escape the waters, but the genius of the sea pursued them relentlessly.
- Not a single Egyptian survived, while at the same time, not a single Jew was harmed.
- Instead of retreating to the shore, the Egyptians who had just entered the water, continued charging into the flood.
- God agitated the Egyptians in the sea, as it is written, “God tossed the Egyptian in the midst of the sea” 14:27. The water threw the Egyptians in the air over and over, turning the wagons upside down over their riders.
- Even when the horses and chariots were being thrown in the air, they remained together. All the treasures that the Egyptians had taken with them to battle, would thus fall into the hands of the Jewish people.
- The subterranean ground water joined with the waters of the sea to drown the Egyptians. These powerful currents
- The Egyptians sank to the bottom like lead [15:10]. Still, the waves were so powerful that they were so powerful that they were swooped up again, and tossed into the air.
- The sea bed opened up and swallowed up many of the Egyptians. It is thus written, “You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them” [15;12]
- God raised up the land of Egypt so that the survivors who remained at home would be witness to see the downfall of their armies.
- Even after the sea closed, many Jews lacked faith. God then instructed the genius of the sea to spew out the Egyptians where the Jewish people would be able to see them. It is thus written, “Israel saw Egypt dead on the seashore” [14:30].
- Although the Egyptians were crushed between the waters of the Red Sea, they did not die. Half alive they were washed up onto the beach. They then saw that only they perished not any of the JEWS.
- When Pharaoh came to attack Israel, he brought along many foreign troops from other lands. Although these were also swept up by the sea, they did not drown. The sea was selective, only downing Egyptians.
- Although Pharaoh had been at the head of his troops, he was spared. Pharaoh repented and instead of returning to Egypt, he went to Nineveh where he became an important leader
- When the Jews lived in Egypt the Egyptians would substitute Jewish children for bricks
- Not only were the lives of the Jewish spared but they did not lose any of their belongings at sea.
- The Egyptians were washed up on the shore so that the Jews would be able to take the gold and silver from their horses and chariots.
- There was a great dispute between the sea and the land since is they were afraid they would be punished as the land had been cursed for accepted abel [Bereishes 4:11]. Only after God promised He would not punish the earth did the land open up and swallow the Egyptians.
- God restored Yaakov back to life. Yaakov and His sons were brought back to life to see the miracle of the Sea
- All the Jews attained the level of prophesy and were thus able to sing the song of the Red Sea along with Moshe word for word.
- Even young children joined in the song as well as infants as well as children in the womb. King David also alluded to the song of the unborn children in their mother’s womb, when he said, “In assemblies bless God, the Lord from the source of Israel” [Psalms 68:27]
For all time as we sing the song of Sea daily we must do so as if we just left Egypt as we thank HASHEM for our lives and freedom.