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Song of the Sea

First Steps on the Path to the Promised Land

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.’ ”

D'var Torah By: 
And Now … What Next?
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer

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.

On Gazelles and Pillars of Fire

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).

D'var Torah By: 
Fear to Faith . . . to Song
Davar Acher By: 
Sari R. Laufer

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.

Miriam’s Song

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah, "Sabbath of Song," because on it we read/chant the epic poem, Shirat HaYam, "Song at the Sea," contained in the Torah portion B'shalach.

D'var Torah By: 
Let’s All Take a Chance . . . Dance
Davar Acher By: 
Marshal Klaven

Dance is poetry/song in motion.

Experiencing God’s Miracles: Being Ready to Act

Each year, when we reach Parashat B'shalach, I try to imagine how frightening it must have been for our ancestors to reach the Red Sea and to know that the Egyptian army was closing in on them. Was freedom only an illusion? They must have thought it was a mistake to believe that they could escape from the great Egyptian military power. How foolish they had been to believe Moses who spoke for an invisible God!

D'var Torah By: 
Don’t Cry Out, Don’t Read Aloud: Act, Sing, Dance!
Davar Acher By: 
Ariel Edery

B'shalach tells us not to "pray and cry out to God," but rather to take actions and initiatives to address our needs and problems (see Exodus 14:15).

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