Parsha Potpourri: Parshas beshalach


V’chamushim alu B’nei Yisroel me’eretz Mitzrayim (13:18)

The Torah relates that the Jewish people left Egypt chamushim. A number of explanations are given for the meaning of this word. Rashi explains that four-fifths of the Jews died during the plague of darkness, leaving only the remaining one-fifth who went out from Egypt. The Targum Yerushalmi translates that they went out armed with good deeds, and the Targum Yonason ben Uziel perplexingly writes that each family went out with five children. It is difficult to reconcile these seemingly different explanations, as well as to understand what good deeds are being referred to, and why each family had exactly five children.

The Be’er Yosef beautifully suggests that all three explanations are really one. As Rashi mentions, the wicked Jews died during the plague of darkness. However, Hashem’s Heavenly Tribunal doesn’t punish a person until the age of 20 (Rashi Bereishis 23:1). While four-fifths of the adults died, none of the children did, resulting in a tremendous number of orphans.

The remaining adults were so overjoyed at being saved, both from Egypt and from the fate of their brethren who died during the darkness, that they decided to “adopt” the orphans from the four-fifths of the families who were now without parents. Thus, in addition to their own biological children, each family went out with the children of another four families. The Targum Yonason doesn’t mean that each family had five children, but rather five families of children, and these mass adoptions are the good deeds referred to by the Targum Yerushalmi.

The Oznayim L’Torah calculates that the average Jewish family in Egypt had 54 children. In light of this, it is all the more astounding to realize that as they were about to head out into the desert with no source of food, clothing, or sustenance, their trust in Hashem was so strong that they had no qualms about adopting another 216 (4 x 54) children, bringing the grand total of the typical family to 270 children. We now have a new appreciation for the well-known verse in Yirmiyah (2:2), zacharti lach chesed ne’urayich ahavas kelulosayich lechteich acharai Bamidbar b’eretz lo zarua – I remember for your sake the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, your following after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.

Az yashir Moshe UV’nei Yisroel es ha’shira ha’zos (15:1)

The Gemora (Megillah 10b) says that when the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the Heavenly angels wanted to sing a song of praise, but Hashem told them, “My creations are drowning in the sea, and you are singing about it?!” The obvious difficulty in understanding this Gemora is: how were the Jewish people permitted to sing the Shiras HaYam – Song at the Sea – and why didn’t this same reasoning apply to them?

Although angels are on a tremendously high spiritual level, at the same time, they are singular. They can only have one mission. Man may not be on their level, but we have the power of duality, and we can handle two contradictory concepts at the same time. As a result, angels aren’t able to sing due to the fact that the Egyptians were suffering, so they can’t sing about the good. Humans, on the other hand, are able to hold that contradiction within themselves, and at the same time that we were sad over the punishment of the Egyptians, we were still able to rejoice and sing a song of praise over our salvation.

Rav Elya Meir Bloch explains that we see this concept in the law which states that if a relative dies and leaves us a large inheritance, we recite two blessings at the same time: Boruch Dayan HaEmes (Blessed is the True Judge) and also Boruch HaTov V’HaMeitiv (Blessed is the One Who is Good and does good), and even though for angels this is a contradiction that they can’t handle, man is unique in this regard and we are capable of doing so.

Vatikach Miriam HaNevia achos Aharon es ha’tof b’yadah va’teitzena chol ha’nashim achareha b’supim u’vim’cholos (15:20)

Some call it unquenchable optimism. Others call it a deep-seated trust in the goodness of Hashem. We all know somebody like this, a person who radiates joy and an eternal confidence that no matter how bleak things may seem, life has a curious way of working out for the best. It’s not that these people have the good fortune of enjoying easy, comfortable lives, for they have faced many of the same curveballs with which we grapple. Rather, they actively choose to lead happy lives, turning the proverbial lemons into lemonade.

This week was the fifth yahrtzeit of such a person, my Grandma Dorothy. Anybody who ever came into contact with her couldn’t help but feel fortunate to bask in the warmth of her contagious enthusiasm. When my grandfather passed away just after their 60th wedding anniversary, she refused to be destroyed by the loss, declaring with her infectious smile, “Life is for the living!”

Similarly, after Hashem miraculously saved the Jewish people by splitting the Red Sea and drowning their Egyptian pursuers in it, the Jewish men sang a beautiful song to Hashem. The Jewish women, however, outdid them by accompanying their song with music and dancing. From where did the women obtain musical instruments in the middle of the desert?

Rashi explains that the Jewish women in Egypt were convinced that they would merit further miracles and brought along instruments to play while singing praises to Hashem. In spite of the centuries of oppression and suffering in Egypt, they remained so optimistic that although they left in a hurry without time for their bread to rise, they still managed to pack instruments to celebrate the salvation they were sure was just around the corner.

More recently, there was a tremendous drought in Israel which threatened that year’s entire harvest. This would mean financial ruin for the farmers as well as possible starvation for those left with nothing to eat. Communal fast days and prayers passed unsuccessfully.

With little choice, the Rabbinic leaders ordered everybody to go to the Kosel (Western Wall) to pour out their hearts and plead for Divine mercy. After reciting several chapters of Tehillim and other appropriate prayers the clear sky suddenly grew dark and full of ominous clouds, which shortly gave way to a full-fledged torrential downpour. Those present were so overjoyed by the answering of their prayers that they didn’t even mind that they were getting soaked to the bone, all except for one elderly, wheelchair-bound Chassidic Rebbe who remained completely dry … because he brought an umbrella!

Life will surely send us many challenges in the areas of health, finances, marriage, and children. Although the tests that we receive are beyond our control, we can learn from the Jewish women in Egypt (and from Grandma Dorothy) that the choice to persevere through the trials and live each day with happiness and confidence is fully in our hands.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Mishnah in Avos (5:6) teaches that our ancestors tested Hashem ten times on their way to the Israel, six of which are mentioned in Parshas Beshalach. How many of them can you name?

2) Are the words (15:1), “Then Moshe and the Jewish people sang this song to Hashem, and said the following” considered part of the actual Shiras HaYam, or are they merely an introduction to the song which begins afterward? (Chavatzeles HaSharon)

3) Did babies eat Manna, or did they nurse from their mothers? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Yoreh Deah 294 and Choshen Mishpat 12, Dagan Shomayim 7)

4) Rashi writes (17:9) that for the battle against Amalek, Moshe instructed Yehoshua to select soldiers who were both strong and who possessed a fear of sin. How was Yehoshua able to discern who was truly righteous, and why did he need strong soldiers when Hashem conducted the battle for them in a miraculous fashion? (Har Tzvi)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.