Aliya-by-Aliya Parashat Bshalach 5760

Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.

Kohen
First Aliya – First Aliya – 14 p’sukim – 13:17-14:8

“When Par’o sends the People…”, G-d leads them along a circuitous route to prevent them from panicking and returning to Egypt. Moshe, in fulfillment of the promise made to Yosef by his brothers, takes Yosef’s remains out of Egypt with the People.

[SDT] The Midrash tells us that Yosef’s bones had been hidden by the Egyptians in the Nile in order to prevent the Israelites from leaving the country. Yosef’s coffin miraculously surfaced just at the right time, so that the People could take them with them when they left. We are taught that Yosef merited being taken out for burial in Eretz Yisrael because he had arranged for his father’s burial. Moshe, in turn, was accorded the highest honor – G-d Himself – took care of Moshe’s burial, in reward for the attention he paid to Yosef’s remains.

[SDT] The Gemara teaches us that a dead body itself – and certainly one who is defiled to a dead body – is allowed into the “Levite Camp”, and is only banned from the Mikdash area. This we learn from the fact that Moshe took Yosef’s bones “with him”. This halacha has significance today concerning the permissibility of ascending the Temple Mount in those areas that are not where the Temple and its courtyard stood. The Temple mount – outside the Mikdash area – has the status of the Levite camp, and one may go there following immersion in a Mikve to rid oneself of “the defilement that comes from the body”. (Defilement to a dead body cannot be removed without the Para Aduma potion.) – with certain restrictions. A person careful about Halacha should consult Rabbanim with Temple Mount experience before ascending to there.

G-d provided an escort for the People in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. G-d tells Moshe of His plan to lead the People in such a way that Par’o will pursue them in the misguided hope of bringing them back to Egypt. When Par’o is notified (by spies whom he had sent to accompany the Israelites) of the People’s whereabouts, he (with G-d’s help in making his heart “heavy” and “strong”) takes a tremendous force with him and chases after the People of Israel.

[SDT] “And G-d did not allow them to go DERECH ERETZ P’LISHTIM. Literally, they did not take the straight route to the territory of the Philistines. One commentator suggests an interesting DRASH based on a play on words. G-d did not take the People out of Egypt in DERECH ERETZ, in the normal, natural way of things. Normally, bread comes from the ground; for the People of Israel, G-d sent them bread from above. Normally, water comes from above; for the People of Israel, G-d provided water from below, from the miraculous Well that accompanied them on their journeys, in the merit of Miriam. Not taking us out in a natural manner, leaves us with no doubt that it was indeed G-d Who took us out of Egypt. This is a crucial foundation stone of Judaism. Not only did we get out of Mitzrayim, but it was G-d Who took us out. Not only did He take us out, but the people knew it well.

Levi
Second Aliya – 6 p’sukim – 14:9-14

The mighty Egyptian army pursues the People. When the People see them coming, they are greatly frightened because there is no place to flee. They complain to Moshe that it would have been better to have dies in Egypt. Moshe reassures the People, encourages them not to fear, promises them that G-d will fight on their behalf, and tells them that Egypt will soon cease to exist.

[SDT] It might be suggested that what is happening is a clarification of who took the People of Israel out of Egypt. Par’o actually thought that he let the People go – that he expelled the People from Egypt. That’s even what it seems to say at the beginning of this week’s sedra. G-d arranged to have Par’o run after them. Then the events make it clear to him – and to us – that G-d, and only G-d took us out of Egypt.

Sh’lishi
Third Aliya – 11 p’sukim – 14:15-25

G-d “asks” Moshe why the People are screaming; let them just move on.

[sdt] Our Sages teach us that there are times that prayer is called for, and other times when action is the order of the day. Sometimes we must use long prayers and petitions; sometimes a quick prayer not only suffices, but saying more can be counter-productive. G-d says: MA TITZ’AK EILAI, why call to me? MA is spelled MEM-HEI. MEM represents the 40 days and 40 nights that Moshe was to spend in prayer on behalf of the People following the Sin of the Golden Calf. MEM represents long prayer. HEI stands for the simple but eloquent 5-word prayer for Miriam’s recovery from Tzora’at which she contracted in punishment for speaking disrepectfully of Moshe.

And sometimes, neither short nor long prayer is appropriate. At this point of the Exodus, the order of the day was decisive action. Move it! There is another example later in the Torah of Moshe and Aharon springing into immediate action to stop a plague from decimating the People. We must know when to say T’hilim and went to act.

G-d tells Moshe to raise his hand over the Sea and split it, so the People will be able to pass through it on dry land. G-d informs Moshe that He will again harden Egypt’s heart so that they will continue their pursuit. The Egyptians will finally know G-d’s might. The guardian angel (pillar of cloud) that was leading the People now was repositioned between the Jews and the pursuing Egyptian army, thus preventing contact.

Moshe raises his hand above the Sea and G-d causes a powerful eastern wind to blow all night, followed by a parting of the waters. The People of Israel enter the Sea on dry land, between walls of water. Egypt boldly follows. The arrogant attitude of the Egyptians abruptly changes to fear and panic as their chariots lose their wheels and bog down in the seabed. (This is in sharp contrast with the perfectly dry land that Israel found beneath its feet.) Egypt finally (and too late) acknowledges G-d, not only now, but retroactively, as the One Who had fought for Israel in Egypt.

[sdt] What was the purpose of the strong wind blowing all night? Could not G-d have split the Sea with the snap of a finger? The answer is: Of course. But the night’s preparation for the miracles of the day serve several purposes. The Egyptians are lulled into a false sense of security when something is happening that they can explain. They don’t want to accept that the G-d of Israel is performing miracles for His people. No doubt, their wizards explained the desert winds and the effects it can have. Etc. Among the Jews, there are always individuals who would also like not to admit to G-d’s awesome powers. They too will have their “excuse” in the natural components of the miracle. Perhaps, most importantly, this wind (and similar elements attached to other miracles) allows us to relate to and appreciate more, the miracles themselves. A snap of the finger brings results too quickly for us to think about what is happening. A night to ponder what was going on, further enhanced the appreciation of the Children of Israel for what had happened, was happening, and was to happen.

R’vi’i
Fourth Aliya – 32 p’sukim – 14:26-15:26

Moshe is now instructed by G-d to raise his hand once more over the Sea so that the waters may return. He does so and the Egyptians are drowned. The People, however, have succeeded in passing through the Sea and are ecstatic in their salvation. They attain true belief and trust in G-d and in Moshe His servant. (Rambam states that complete, solid, lasting faith in G-d was attained at Sinai. Here we must say that the belief was great, but not yet permanent.) Next we have the Song of the Sea.

For your information…

The Song of the Sea is written in the Torah in a unique manner. The column it is contained within, is wider than all other columns in the Sefer Torah. There are five lines of regular text at the top of the column, followed by a blank line. The column starts with the word HABA’IM in all sifrei Torah (Scribal custom). It is one of only 5 columns that do not begin with a VAV (this is so for most Torahs, but some are not VAV-Torahs). The blank spaces are said to hint to deep secrets of Torah Knowledge.

What makes the Song of the Sea so special is that it is a direct quote of the People of Israel that G-d put into His Torah verbatim. In other words, the rest of the Torah is written by G-d; we composed this part. It is an inspiring passage that has been incorporated into the daily davening.

[SDT] Commentators point to the tense used in the beginning of the Song: Then Moshe and the Children of Israel WILL sing… This is taken as one of several allusions to the concept of T’chi’at HaMeitim, the resurrection of the dead, being found in the Torah.

It is written in Sefer HaChareidim that “he who says the Song of the Sea aloud and with joy, it is as if he was leaving Egypt at that moment – and his sins will be forgiven.” In the merit of the Song of the Sea, G-d split the Sea for the People and forgave their transgressions.

The People continue their journey and fail to find water for three days. When they do find some, they complain bitterly (pun intended) of the inability to drink it. G-d directs Moshe to perform a miracle whereby the water becomes sweet.

[sdt] Aside from the literal meaning of the text, this episode is considered an allusion to the primacy of Torah in the life of a Jew. Both Torah and water sustain life – spiritual and physical. In the same vein, “three days without water” resulted in our reading the Torah on Monday and Thursday, so that in our wandering in the spiritual desert of life, we will not go 3 days without spiritual water. This is but one “use” of the well-known analogy between Torah and water.

Chamishi
Fifth Aliya – 11 p’sukim – 15:27-16:10

The People next travel to Eilim and from there to Midbar Tsin, en route to Sinai. This time, they complain about the lack of food. G-d tells Moshe about the Manna which He will soon provide for the People. Moshe tells the People that they will soon see how G-d hears and listens to their complaints. Manna is not just the food that sustains the people throughout their wandering, it is also a crucial test of the faith that the people should have in G-d. The Manna was to fall daily except for Shabbat, and was not allowed to be left over night (except for what fell on Friday). This facilitated a constant strengthening of our faith in G-d -the need to “trust” him every single day.

Shishi
Sixth Aliya – 26 p’sukim – 16:11-36

The account of the Manna continues… Quail miraculously appear in the evening. On the next morning, the Manna – protected by a layer of dew above and below it – appears. The People are fascinated by it and when they question Moshe, he explains the rules and procedures set down by G-d.

Despite being told that the Manna will NOT fall on Shabbat, there were individuals who went out to search for Manna. G-d “takes note” of this display of lack of faith.

Included in the instructions about the Manna is the command not to “leave our PLACE on the seventh day (to collect the Manna)”. This was not just a rule for that generation; it is a mitzva among the 613 – the mitzva of T’chum Shabbat [24].

MITZVA WATCH

A PERSON SHALL NOT LEAVE HIS PLACE ON THE SEVENTH DAY. The Sages disagree as to whether this pasuk commands us concerning the Shabbat Boundary, or whether it inspired the Sages to restrict our “travel” on Shabbat. Rambam claims that T’CHUM SHABBAT is Biblical. The Rambam holds that the Torah forbids walking more than 12mil (24,000 amot) beyond one’s “place of Shabbat”. This corresponds to the length and breadth of the Israelite Camp in the Wilderness. Since this is the context of the commandment in question, Rambam posits that the Torah’s limit is 12 mil.

The Sages, however, greatly shortened the T’CHUM, to 2000 amot, to conform with the description of the Levite cities (end of BaMidbar), where 2000 amot are specifically mentioned as being part of the cities. Ramban holds that the entire concept of a limit for the distance one may walk on Shabbat is Rabbinic – inspired by the Torah, but legislated by the Rabbis. Either way, all agree that we are forbidden to walk more than 2000 amot outside our “place” on Shabbat. “Place” is defined as where a person is at the onset of Shabbat. If that be a town or city, then the entire populated area, regardless of size, is considered the person’s own “four cubits”, and the 2000 amot limit begins beyond the border of the city. The laws of T’CHUM and the related topic of ERUV are very complex. The details are the domain of halachic experts. We must follow them in these matters. The concept behind the whole matter, on the other hand, should be well within our grasp. The six days of the work-week are characterized by being “on the go”. Shabbat is the day of rest. Not only do we abstain from various creative activities, but we demonstrate with our entire deportment that G-d is the Master.

The episode of the Manna is the context in which the Shabbat was first introduced to the People of Israel. A sample of the Manna was stored as a remembrance for future generations.

Sh’vi’i
Seventh Aliya – 16 p’sukim – 17:1-16

The People journey to Refidim and once again complain about the lack of water. (It is not the complaint itself that “angers” G-d – if you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty. It is the apparent lack of faith and the doubt in the value of the Exodus that casts a negative light on the People.) In response, G-d tells Moshe to gather the Elders and People and strike a rock in their presence with his miraculous staff. The result is water for the People.

The final nine p’sukim (which constitute the Torah reading for Purim morning) tell of the attack by Amalek on the fledgling nation of Israel. It is the archtypical fight against those who would seek to destroy us. This battle repeats itself – in different forms – throughout Jewish History.

Haftara – 52 p’sukim – Sho’f'tim 4:4-5:31

During the period of the Judges, Bnei Yisrael found themselves cruelly oppressed. When delivered from that oppression, Devorah sang a song of praise and thanks to G-d, similar in nature to that of Moshe and Bnei Yisrael in the parsha. Similarly, the People’s faith in G-d had similar “ups and downs” to those we find in the sedra. Devorah was instrumental in restoring a high level of faith in G-d among the People and in leading the People to great victories. The format of the Song of Devorah is the same as the Song of the Sea. In some traditions, the Haftara is shorter. Rabbi Jacobs points out some remarkable similarities in phraseology between sedra and haftara.