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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Beshalach

Posted by rabbiart on April 21, 2008

Shabbat Shirah – Finally Out of Mitzrayim

On Tuesday we will celebrate the holiday of Tu Beshevat. There are two songs publicly read this Shabbat morning. The “Song of the Sea” Shirat HaYam – is read from the Torah. The “Song of Deborah” is the Haftorah. Each is sung after a deadly triumph over an enemy of Israel; Pharoah and Sisera1 respectively.

After crossing through the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds) and seeing the pursuing Egyptians drown, Moshe and the Israelites celebrate in song. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nappacha describes a scene where the angels starting to sing in heaven, and HaShem responds “My creatures are drowning in the sea and you’re going to sing!?!

Customs for Reading Shirat HaYam

The Song is read in a single aliyah. The congregation stands while it is read.

A Question of Directions – or Something more Profound?

The reading this week opens with a puzzling description of our people’s escape from Mitzrayim. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh sent out the people, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: ‘Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Mitzrayim (Egypt).'”

וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא: כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה–וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה.

Last week’s parshah ended saying G-d’s hand brought us out of Mitzrayim. This parshah says that Pharoah sent us out. After which Hashem led us out the long way – through the Sea of Reeds.

This seems to say that the Israelites are still only passive participants in leaving Mitzrayim. Pharoah sends them (us) out, G-d leads them (us), Moses remembers to take the bones of Joseph, but the Israelites themselves (ourselves) do nothing but follow along – and fearfully at that. But the end of the verse says that Israel could decide to return to Egypt. The implication is that HaShem would not, perhaps, could not stop them(us) from going back to the slavery of Egypt.

In our people’s story of escaping from Mitzrayim and leaving old bad habits behind it is easy for us to see and understand that old habits do not die overnight; they take time to overcome. In our own lives, this can be harder to accept. A friend once told me that it is easy to invite new good habits “into our house” through the front door, but the old bad habits have to be coaxed down the stairs, over to the door and firmly ushered out. And even then they will come around to the kitchen door and try to get back in to the house.

HaShem does not lead us the “short way” where we might encounter a battle we are not ready to fight. Instead HaShem led us the “long way” because it was the safe way to get where we were going. In our lives as well, we strive to invite in the good habits we know we should have, and usher out the bad ones. For many of us, this is the work of a lifetime; change does not come quickly nor easily. Perhaps this is why we read the Torah cycle from beginning to end each year. The stories need retelling, because the behavior about which the Torah teaches us has to be relearned again and again. One might even go so far as to say that is requires a life time of learning and behaving.

In the midst of our daily lives, errands and to do lists, it is easy to sometimes forget why we are here and where we are going. Just in time, arrives a day of rest and refreshing that is built into the rhythm of the world as HaShem created. Once a week we can put down the latest battle and the struggle of the journey and just celebrate who we are and those that we love.

Shabbat Shalom

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