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Parashat Beshalach

February 3, 2023
12 Sh'vat 5783
Exodus 13:17 - 17:16

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion contains multitudes of every sort: the mixed multitude that left Egypt, the many Egyptians who drowned, the many people on both sides who were killed in the first war that the people fought as a liberated people, all of those women dancing with Miriam, the manna coming down to feed the people, and people complaining about bitter water. Along with the multitudes, there is a brief stay at an incredible oasis in the middle of the Torah portion.

This Torah portion bubbles with action and emotion, both positive and negative.

What does that remind you of? We are certainly living in the midst of a moment that is clearly transitional and, like the Israelites, we cannot quite see what is coming next. And like them, we want to know how it will all come out, so we are often filled with fear, anxiety and a lot of complaints.

If we look closely at this Torah portion, times of transition are opportunities for growth, leaving the old ways behind, and finding new ways of going about our lives. But it takes time for newly planted seeds to take form and root. We are still in the throes of a technological revolution and we are emerging, albeit slowly, from a pandemic that changed the way we live. Much like the Israelites, much of our time is spent on how we see and experience the world, not taking into consideration that others may be experiencing something quite different. Like them, many want to go back to what was, forgetting that what was, was not perfect either. The Israelites pine for the food of Egypt, but one wonders if they were ever able to partake of it or whether they saw the lush produce from a distance.

The name of this Torah portion is Beshallach, “and he let go” (Exodus 13:17-17:16). The "he" is Pharoah, referring to the fact he finally allowed the people to leave. They have entered a new phase and it will take the full forty years for them to begin to appreciate this transition as can be seen by the fact that we tell the story of our liberation every year at the seder table.

In the midst of this tumultuous Torah portion, there is one sentence at the end of chapter 15 following the episode of the bitter water where the people complain. God basically tells them if you behave you will be rewarded and if not I will treat you the way treated the Egyptians.

Chapter 15:27
וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ אֵילִ֔מָה וְשָׁ֗ם שְׁתֵּ֥ים עֶשְׂרֵ֛ה עֵינֹ֥ת מַ֖יִם וְשִׁבְעִ֣ים תְּמָרִ֑ים וַיַּחֲנוּ־שָׁ֖ם עַל־הַמָּֽיִם׃
And they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they encamped there beside the water.

And that is all that we are told of this place and their stay. We do not know how long they stayed or how they responded to their stay, though we know that three days upon leaving their complaints started once more.

Amidst all of the tumult of our lives, we too need an Elim, a place to stop and put down the load of our worries and fears. Elim is that space where we retrench so that we are able to go forward once more. Could it be that the description is not more detailed because each of us would describe such a place differently? Each of our needs varies and yet, if we find such a place, can we do better than our ancestors and find the strength to be there for one another? We can recognize that the journey we are on is challenging for each of us in a different way, so maybe looking out for one another, and looking forward and not back is a better a way to live. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784