In this week’
I tend to
In this week’
I tend to
We read about Amalek in Parashat B’shalach. As the first to attack the Israelites once we are freed from Egypt and wandering through the desert, Amalek gains some level of notoriety. In M’chilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Rabbi Eliezer of Modi’in suggests this is due to the tactics Amalek used in the attack. “Amalek ‘sneaked’ under the edges of the cloud and snatched the souls of Israel and killed them,” (as the Torah hints later in Deuteronomy) — “When you were weary and worn out, [Amalek’s army] met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God” (M’chilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Amalek, on Exodus 17:8).
In Parashat B’shalach we read that God instructs Moses to “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” Our fascination with Amalek reflects both the Torah’s and our own human desire to connect all of our enemies to one great, focused, overpowering source of evil.
Redemption! Parashat B’shalach is a Torah portion of glory — glory in the Song at the Sea, the poetic celebration of liberation from Egyptian bondage, and glory in the details of the Israelites’ first steps out of Egypt.
The parashah begins with the verse that sets the scene for the entire next thematic section of the Book of Exodus, the Israelites’ early adventures wandering in the desert. Exodus 13:17 reads, “Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ ”
Rabbi Bonnheim shows a particular, timely insight in her reference to the “Israelites’ anxiety about their new reality.” When we think of Parashat B’shalach, our first images often turn to the miracle at the Sea of Reeds, an explosion of rapturous song and joyful dance, and the celebration of the new-found state of freedom.
But not here.
This journey, with its dangling carrot of collective redemption, presents itself in alternating forms of paralytic panic, fear of the abyss, relentless struggle, and loss of control. A leave-taking moment, indeed.
Traveling in Tanzania on safari, my husband pointed excitedly to a gazelle bending down in the tall grass. After a moment, I realized why he was so excited – the gazelle was standing over a wet, furry ball: a baby gazelle. Newborn gazelles are on their feet within a few days, but this calf was only hours old, still wet with amniotic fluid, and not yet able to stand on its spindly legs. The mother stood over her tiny treasure, nestling the baby in the grass. Then the mother moved away and viewed the baby from distance.
Our guide reassured us, the newborn gazelle was healthy. "The mother is moving away as way of protecting him," he explained. "By himself, the calf is very well camouflaged in the grass. Predators will have a hard time seeing him. But if the mother were to stand next to him, they would see her, and then would be more likely to notice the defenseless baby next to her. This way, any predators will see her, not the calf, and she can distract them should they come too close to where the calf is hiding."
In this week's Torah portion, B'shalach, our ancestors experience a similar moment of protection that must have seemed at first like a moment of abandonment.
The Israelites, newly escaped from Egypt, not yet across the Red Sea, have been led by God's Presence. As the Torah describes: "The Eternal went before them in a pillar of cloud by day, to guide them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, . . . the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21-22). All is well. The Israelites are journeying on their way defiantly, with no concern for the Pharaoh who had so long held them captive (see Rashbam on Exodus 14:8).
When we reach Parashat B'shalach, the cantors with whom I am lucky enough to work know that the greatest gift they can give me, on years that the stars align, is the gift of chanting Shirat HaYam, the Song at the Sea. If I get that chance, it is usually on the 7th day of Passover. Year after year, I am overcome with emotion watching the congregation rise around the Torah, chanting the words and the melodies that guide us through the sea.
As I started reading this week's portion, Parashat B'shalach, I could not believe its implication for what is currently happening in Israel.
Three years ago, my parents commissioned a sumptuous talit for my installation.
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them, "Sing to Adonai…" (Exodus 15:20-21)
"And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea; there remained not so much as one of them."
Exodus 13:17 - 17:16 is a study in divine control.
Who is like You, Almighty God, who split the Sea of Reeds for our people to cross . . .
At the very same moment I opened the draft of Rabbi Klein's d'var Torah , I also opened a solicitation from the Weizmann Institute of Science.