January 22-23, 2016 – 13 Shevat 5776
Annual (Exodus 13:17-17:16): Etz Hayim p. 399; Hertz p. 265
Triennial (Exodus 14:26-17:16): Etz Hayim p. 405; Hertz p. 269
Haftarah (Judges 4:4-5:31): Etz Hayim, p. 424; Hertz p. 281

PDF Beshallah 5776

God’s Beauty is in Our Hands

Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, CY Faculty and visiting Rabbi at Moriah Congregation, Deerfield, Illinois

Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, is an exuberant elegy celebrating the redemption of the Children of Israel from Egypt and God’s parting of the sea on their behalf. In their joyful thanksgiving, Israel sang out before God the words: “Zeh E-li v’anyeihu – This is my God and I will glorify Him.”

These words apparently raised a theological question for some of the rabbinic sages. After all, how is a human being truly capable of “glorying” God? The Mechilta d’Rabbi Ishmael, a rabbinic midrash from the period of the Mishnah, raised a number of alternative interpretations to try to contend with this question by offering creative readings of this verse: “Rabbi Ishmael asked: ‘Is it possible for a person of flesh and blood to glorify His Creator? Rather, it must mean: I will be beautiful before Him in the mitzvot that I perform – before Him, I will prepare a beautiful Lulav, a beautiful Sukkah, beautiful tzitziyot (tallit), beautiful tefillin.’ Abba Shaul said (offering an alternative interpretation): ‘Let us make ourselves like Him (God). Just as He is gracious and merciful, so, too, you should be gracious and merciful.’ Rabbi Yossi said: ‘I shall recount the glories and praises of the One who spoke and the world came into being.’ Rabbi Yossi son of Dormaskit (possibly the one from Damascus) said: ‘I will make before you’re a beautiful Temple,’ playing on the fact the root of anyeihu (NVH) can also mean “a dwelling place”. (Shirta 3, Lauterbach ed. vol.2 pp. 25-6)

The variety of opinions here have a common thread, namely, that we humans have tangible ways of proclaiming God’s glory in the world. Our actions give voice to letting the world know how special God is. For Rabbi Ishmael, we express God’s glory through carrying out the ritual commandments in as beautiful a way as possible; for Abba Shaul, by becoming exemplars of God’s lovingkindness in how we treat others; for Rabbi Yossi, in the intension and beauty of our prayers; and for Rabbi Yossi the son of the one from Damascus, in building beautiful spaces in which to worship God.

We can exhibit our appreciation for God in the enthusiasm, joy and love found in our actions. Our lives can be our songs. If we share these qualities with others, it won’t be long before our voices become a choir for all of the world to hear.

A Vort for Parashat Beshallah

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

“As Pharoah drew near, Bnei Yisrael (the Israelites – plural) saw Egypt (Mitsrayim – singular) pursuing them, and they were greatly frightened and cried out to the Lord” (Ex.14:10). Rashi says the Egyptians were “united in thought and deed,” which enabled them close the distance. R’ Mordechai Hakohen (20th C, Israel) says that the use of plural verbs for the Israelites shows that they were still divided and thus weakened, which is why they were greatly afraid. The Baal Shem Tov (Ukraine, 18th C.) said people sometimes think that they can run away from their tsarot (troubles), but the troubles often pursue them and even get closer; the real hope is in crying out to God.

Table Talk

By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Israel leave Egypt, escape the Egyptians by crossing the Sea of Reeds, experience the uncertainties of life in the desert, and fight their first battle.

1) Pharaoh decides to chase the people (presumably to return them to slavery). How does God save Israel from Pharaoh and his army (14:15-19)? What happens to the Egyptians? In 14:30-31 Israel sees Egypt dead on the shore. What is their reaction? Why do you think that God makes sure that Israel would see this?

2) Following the miraculous crossing of the Sea of Reeds, Moshe and the people express their appreciation for God’s deliverance. What do they do (15:1-18)? Miriam, Aaron’s and Moshe’s sister has a different way of expressing her feelings. What does she do (15:20-21)? Which group would you have joined? Why?

3) Following the salvation and celebration at the Sea of Reeds, the people head out into the desert. Now they face one of the most frightening challenges of being in the desert: Water. In a short period they face 2 aspects of this challenge. What are they (15:22-25)? Read v.22 carefully. What is the difference between ‘not having water’ (as in 17:1) and ‘not finding water’?

4) A month after the people left Egypt they complain about the lack of food. God responds by promising food from heaven (Chapter 16). This food will be a test for the people whether or not they will follow God’s teachings. How do you think food from heaven is a test?

5) A nation named Amalek appears and fights Israel. While Joshua (we don’t yet know who he is) leads a military effort against the Amalekites, Moshe does his share. How does Moshe fight? What do you think is the meaning of his act (17:8-13)?