Parashat Beshallah
Shabbat Shirah / Tu Bishvat
February 10-11, 2017 – 15 Shevat 5777
Annual (Exodus 13:17-17:16): Etz Hayim p. 399-422; Hertz p. 265-281
Triennial (Exodus 13:17-15:26): Etz Hayim p. 399-414; Hertz p. 265-274
Haftarah (Judges 4:4-5:31): Etz Hayim p. 423-431; Hertz p. 281-287


The Battle for God’s Ear
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, CY Faculty (Talmud, Midrash, Halacha)

Nahshon ben Aminadov is a fairly familiar character in biblical lore. He was the prince from the tribe of Judah known for taking the initiative to jump into the sea when the children of Israel were trapped, in panic, between the pursuing Egyptian army and the sea (Exodus 14:9-12). It was his great faith in God which caused God to split the sea so that the nation could leave Egyptian bondage. One rabbinic tradition asserts that this as the reason that the tribe of Judah warranted the kingship, through the house of David (see Mechilta deRabbi Yishmael Beshallah 6).

Don’t go looking for the story of Nahshon in the Torah. It is not there. It is one rabbinic take on how the scene played itself out, but it is not the only one. In the very same book where this story is found, there is an alternative version of the story, one that is not well known probably because it seems less heroic and is a bit more provocative: “Rabbi Meir said, When the tribes of Israel stood at the sea, one said, ‘I will go down first’ while another said, ‘No, I will go down first.’ While they were standing there fighting with each other, the tribe of Benjamin jumped up and entered the sea first. The tribe of Judah [in their fury at being preempted], began to throw stones at the tribe of Benjamin. A parable was told [to draw a positive lesson from this problematic scene]: To what can this situation be compared? To a king who had two children, one grown up and the other still young. The king said to the younger son, ‘Wake me up at sunrise,’ while he commanded the older son to wake him at nine o’clock. When the younger son came to wake his father at sunrise, the older son would not let him, saying, ‘He told me to wake him at nine.’ The younger son replied, ‘But he told me to wake him at sunrise.’ While the brothers were debating, the king woke up and said, ‘Both of you had my honor in mind, so both of you will be rewarded.’ The tribe of Benjamin was rewarded with having the Temple built in its territory and the tribe of Judah was rewarded with the kingship [David was from the tribe of Judah]” (see Mechilta, above).

The message of this story and its parable has contemporary application. Many of us are whole heartedly convinced that we have exclusive rights to God’s message or are convinced that our positions on moral or political issues are absolute truth and that the other guy is totally wrong. We are so convinced that we would have no compunctions about “throwing stones” at our opponents. This midrash comes to remind us that the other side might have something legitimate to say and might be equally sincere in trying to do the right thing. They just may hear God’s message differently. What God desires is our sincere service in trying to do what is right even though the outcomes of our listening to God may differ among us. He desires as well that we appreciate each other’s sincerity and treat each other with the appropriate respect.


A Vort for Parashat Beshallah
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

When the Israelites leaving Egypt saw Pharaoh’s army approaching, they were greatly frightened and accused Moshe of bringing them to their deaths. Moses, remaining calm, tells them not to worry, “The LORD himself will fight for you. Just keep quiet – v’atem tacharishun (Ex 14:14).”  RYonatan Eybeshütz (1690 – 1764, Prague, Germany) said the Jews should learn one thing from the non-Jews, decorum in the synagogue.  They show respect for their places of worship.  “God will indeed fight our fights” he said, quoting the verse, provided that “we keep quiet,” sit quietly in shul.  As Shlomo HaMelech said, “there is nothing new under the sun.”


Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

The Israelites leave Egypt, heading to the Land of Israel.  They cross the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians, sing a great song exalting God, and experience the uncertainties of life in the desert.

1) There seem to be several ways to go from Egypt to the land of Israel (13:17-18).  By which way does God choose to take the people?  Which way is to be avoided? Why? (The Philistines lived along the coast, from Gaza to Tel Aviv of today. They are assumed to be the people known as ‘the Sea Peoples’.)

2) What does Moshe take with him as they leave Egypt (13:19)? Why does he take this?  Why do you think Joseph swore the people to do this? What might we learn about the people of Israel from the fact that Moshe fulfills this oath?

3) Once Pharaoh realized that the people were not returning, he chases after them (14:5-8). Why do you think that his army is described in detail? What do you think that the sight of the army meant to the people of Israel when they turned around and saw them (14:9-12)?

4) After the People of Israel crossed the Red Sea and the Egyptians drowned, the people recite a song of praise to God (15:1-19).  What would you think should be the emphasis in a song like that?  Look at the song; is the stress on our salvation or the Egyptian downfall? Why do you think it is that way?

5) The people needed food while they were in the desert, so God provided Manna (16:14-21). How much manna should a person take? Moshe tells them not to keep any manna for the next day. Why might they have wanted to keep some?  Why do you think that God instructed not to leave any for future use?