This week’s parsha: Beshalach – Ups and downs

January 13, 2022 by Jeremy Rosen
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Life has its ups and downs. Just look at this week’s Torah reading.

Pharaoh, reeling from the plagues, has told the Children of Israel to get out. The Egyptians have showered them with gifts, either as compensation or just to see the back of them. Exhilaration! But Moses knows they are in no state to defend themselves, and so instead of taking the quick short route east towards the aggressive Philistines, he veers south and heads towards the Red Sea and the Sinai desert. Set back number one.

Pharaoh, thinking that they are lost, reconsiders his position and chases after with 600 chariots and soldiers to reclaim them. He catches up with them at the Red Sea. The Israelites panic. They want to go back to Egypt. “Rather serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness,”  they said.

They survived, miraculously crossing the reed marshes of the Red Sea and the Egyptian army sank. They sang this magnificent poetic song ( Exodus 15) “ No one is like God…God will rule forever.” And “They believed in God and Moses His servant.”” Jubilation. Did it last? Not a chance.

They got to Marah where the water was undrinkable and again despondency, crying, complaining. Moses solved the problem. A certain type of tree absorbed the salinity, and they were able to drink. They went on and came to an oasis called Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms. Each time there was a solution despite their fears and negativity.

On they went towards Sinai which meant passing through the Wilderness of Sin. And once again they started to complain. “We remember how in Egypt we sat around fleshpots and as much bread as we could eat, why did you take us out to die here?” This time flocks of migrating quail arrived and the Manna.  Their full stomachs did not last long.

Off they went again and once more there was no water and they wanted to stone Moses to death. And this was where he hit the rock and water flowed. Perhaps he knew something about how to find water from his days as a shepherd.

All the things they benefitted from were not of their making. Yet look how ungrateful they were. Was it their slave mentality? Or that just like us they forgot the good times when the going got tough? If they were so convinced of God and Moses when they were saved after they crossed the Red Sea, what went wrong?

Whenever anything went wrong or was not as perfect as they hoped and they complained, did they have no trust despite what they had said when things went well?

Don’t we all forget the good times when we are in trouble or when things go wrong? Don’t we all have moments of faith and despair?

The Torah is telling us that there is no perfect state, no utopia. Life is a constant challenge and only by focusing on going forward and overcoming one’s trials can one hope to cope with life.

The final episode was the unprovoked attack by Amalek. The Israelites had no option but to fight. When forced to , they did. But at the same time when Moses kept his hands high during the battle pointing up to God, he was reminding them that for all our best efforts we can always do with some help and moral support from beyond us.

Jews are an argumentative, contentious,  stiff-necked people. Perhaps that’s why we have survived

Exodus 13:17-17:16

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