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Parashat Beshallach 5778 — Shabbat Shirah — 01/27/2018

Parashat Beshallach 5778 — Shabbat Shirah — 01/27/2018

Shemot 13:17-17:15

There are two major miracles in parashat Beshalach. The first is the splitting of the Sea, which our Sages consider to be one of the “hardest” miracles for Gd to do: “Giving a person sustenance is as hard for Gd as the splitting of the Sea.” The other is the “manna from Heaven” by which the Israelites were sustained throughout the 40 years’ wandering in the desert.

According to Abarbanel, there is a substance, called in Arabic manhu, which was used for medicinal purposes and which was a thin overlay of some kind on certain desert plants. [Note that in the text, when the manna appeared, the Israelites said to each other: Man hu, which is rendered “What is it?” – but was perhaps this substance. Moshe goes ahead and disabuses them of this notion, telling them that it not something they are familiar with, but rather the food with which Gd will feed them during their sojourn in the desert.] However he goes on to distinguish between the man and the manhu. The latter had a laxative effect, while, by Rabbinic tradition the manna was completely absorbed in the body, which meant nobody had to defecate for 40 years!

Additionally, the manna automatically measured out to one omer per person in each household, no matter how much or how little was collected. If there were a dispute between two households as to where someone belonged, one needed only to count omers to determine the person’s proper place. Any manna left over rotted overnight. Twice as much manna fell on Friday, so the people could prepare half for Shabbat, when none fell, and in this case the extra, Shabbat portion, lasted the night just fine. And just as it appeared with the morning dew, it melted away with the rising sun.

The manhu was a physical substance, which was apparently exuded by certain plants in a perfectly natural way. The manna, on the other hand, may have looked a lot like manhu, but it was miraculous “angel food” – food that nourished the body, but which primarily nourished the soul. Indeed, our Sages tell us that “only a people eating manna could have received the Torah.”

Abarbanel gives other examples where looks are deceiving: The Nile turned to blood, but it wasn’t natural blood from any actual creature. Moshe’s and Aharon’s staves turned into serpents, but they weren’t natural serpents. In all these cases, it seems that Gd was demanding that we look beyond the surface value of phenomena to see a deeper reality.

What is this deeper reality? The ultimate reality of life is that its basis is a transcendental realm that is beyond space and time, beyond change and motion. That ultimate reality manifests itself in various layers, the deeper layers being more subtle, abstract and powerful. We have an example of this in the structure of physical creation that physics has uncovered. There is the surface layer of objects, beneath that the molecular layer, then the atomic layer, the subatomic layer, etc. But when you stop to consider these “layers,” they are just different descriptions of the one phenomenon of physical matter. The molecular layer isn’t anywhere other than where the macroscopic object is, nor is the atomic “layer” nor the subatomic “layer.” All the layers interpenetrate, because they are nothing other than different views of exactly the same phenomenon. The layering is in our perception only.

In the same way, all the substances and objects have subtler layers of existence, from the gross surface level down through innumerable spiritual levels, all the way to its transcendental basis. Our ordinary perception only falls on the surface layer. But suppose we were able to perceive and act on these subtler levels. It doesn’t require creating anything new, only the ability to see more deeply than the surface level. And there is magic on those subtler levels! We experience that magic when we look into the eyes of someone we love – we are not seeing just pupil and iris! We are seeing deep into the person. We know that when we wake up fresh in the morning, our thoughts are quiet, abstract, subtle, and very powerful – it’s a good time to organize our day.

Ordinarily, it takes a great deal of personal development to learn to perceive on these very subtle levels. Perhaps, though, at times Gd, for His own reasons, pulls back the curtain so-to-speak, and gives us a perception that is ordinarily beyond our capabilities. Suppose Gd gave us the ability to see beyond the prosaic dew on the ground and perceive a subtler substance, one that we can completely absorb because it doesn’t have the impurities of gross physical matter. Nothing new need be created; we only have to purify our bodies to be able to use what is already there. For 40 years in the desert Gd saw fit to purify our bodies and our perception so that manna fell from Heaven in the dew to feed us and water came from a rock to give us drink.

At first the experience is new and even confusing: man hu? What is it? After a while we get used to the experience and we can function on this high spiritual plane, to the extent that we can hear at least part of the Torah directly from Gd. May we soon all rise to the level where we can perceive the full range of creation, where we can see infinity in a grain of sand.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Beshalach

Gd commands Moses to raise his staff and split the Red Sea so that our ancestors could pass through it on dry land.

This is an example of how Gd sometimes performs miracles through human hands allowing us to participate in Gd’s Greatness.

We can look at the Red Sea as what at first seemed to be another obstacle that arose just after our ancestors felt they had become free from the slavery in Egypt. But the obstacle turned out to be a Blessing when Gd’s Power expressed through Moses allowed our ancestors to pass through and Pharaoh, the King of Enslavement, and his army to drown, thus freeing our ancestors not only from the land of slavery but from pursuit by the slave master.

In our own lives, we may often find that we escape one difficult situation and after only a short time of relative peace find ourselves in another one, one which may even seem worse.

We might quit a job in which we feel we are treated unfairly but then begin to run out of money without yet having a new job.

The same type of situation might happen with relationships, contracts, hobbies, travel plans, shopping trips.

The miracle that saves us happens when we are guided – by our own wisdom – by Gd to relax into our situation, not to become frightened but just to innocently become aware of the possibilities within us and outside us, and then to act on some good possibility and to cross over the obstacle into a new freedom; having gained confidence and lost fear.

Our religion helps us to trust that Gd is always present and Gd is always making possibilities available to us even when at first glance none seem available. With this trust, we let go our nervousness and deepen our ability to perceive opportunities, to act on them, and to cross whatever sea of obstacles seems to be presenting itself.

Baruch HaShem