Skip to content

Parashat Beshallach 5780 — 02/08/2020

Parashat Beshallach 5780 — 02/08/2020

Shemot 13:17-17:15

There are several places in our parashah in which Torah and Or haChaim ascribe remarkable powers to Torah, to Torah study and to those who engage in Torah study. Here are some examples.

[After the Jews had crossed the Sea and Egypt was in the sea chasing them:]

Moshe stretched out his hand over the Sea, and toward morning the water went back to its power… (14:27)

Or haChaim brings the Midrash that the Sea was created with the stipulation that it would split when it needed to.

… For the Sages of blessed memory teach (Shemot Rabbah 21:6): The Sea defied Moshe and said to him, “I will not split on your account, for I was created on the third day [of Creation] and you were created on the 6th day. … Furthermore, I have seen Rabbinic teachings that say that the Sea would split against its will for certain outstanding individuals, such as in the incident cited in the Talmud (Chullin 7a) regarding R. Pinchas ben Ya’ir. …

In truth, this stipulation falls into the category of the stipulations that Hashem made regarding all the work of Creation, that it be subservient to the Torah and to those who toil in Torah and do all that [the Rabbis] command them to, and to recognize that the dominion of the Torah scholars over Creation is akin to the dominion of the Creator Himself, blessed is He. … And thus we find something similar regarding the heavens and earth, and the stars, sun and moon, certain individuals among the righteous [RAR: e.g. Yehoshua stopped the sun, Barak changed the constellations, Moshe and the plagues] exercised authority over them, and it goes without saying that when a large number of the righteous join together [that they can exercise authority over Creation].

[About the manna:]

… our Sages, of blessed memory said (Yoma 75a) that the manna would fall for the righteous at the entrance to their respective tents, and it was unnecessary for them to go out of the camp for it.

[Artscroll comments on the jar of manna that was to be kept for all future generations]: The verse states that the manna shall be “a safekeeping for your generations.” This means that it was stored away to teach future generations that Hashem provides nourishment for those who engage in Torah study.

[About Rephidim and the lack of water]:

According to the words of our Sages, of blessed memory [Bechorot 5b], “Rephidim” is nothing but “Raphu Yedeihem” (“their hands got weak/slacked off”) from Torah study … since their hands slackened from the Torah, which is compared to water (Taanit 7a), Hashem therefore withheld water from them, measure for measure.

[Note that the attack of Amalek is also blamed on this same “slacking of the hands” on Torah – apparently Torah somehow shields the nation from attack]

In all these cases, Torah sages are said to be masters of nature, able to set aside the laws of nature when they wish or when they need to in order to accomplish some mission. How might this work?

I think that to understand these statements we cannot take a narrow, academic view of Torah or its study. The entire purpose of Torah study is to refine the personality, the consciousness, the character of all of us – that is why everyone is duty-bound to study Torah! But it is a bit hard to see how simply learning Torah (inclusive of all the Rabbinic literature) on an intellectual level can produce such a transformation. Rather, the Rabbis tell us that Torah must be internalized, we must be Torah. How can we do that?!

Modern physics has identified a Unified Field at the basis of all physical existence. This field vibrates in different modes, appearing to us as the different elementary particles and their interactions. It follows that all the laws of nature are contained in this Unified Field, and that everything we see around us is nothing more than a very rich and complex pattern of vibration of this one entity, which really is the only thing that exists.

In a similar way, Torah describes itself as a record of the virtual vibrations taking place so-to-speak within Gd. Gd is the only reality; everything that we think of as “real,” including our own individuality, is just a rich and complex expression of Gd. All of nature and all its laws are contained in these vibrations. When projected onto our plane, we have the Torah that Moshe Rabbeinu “brought down” from the transcendental realms, but the “real” Torah remains on the transcendental level.

I would like to suggest that “Torah study,” at least in its ideal form, means taking the awareness directly to the transcendent until the mind and the nervous system become accustomed to maintaining the transcendent along with normal activity. Thus, we will have fully internalized the “real” Torah on the level of our consciousness, which is the basis of all our thought, speech and action. The practical value of this is that all our activity is in accord with Torah, that is, with Gd’s Will. In this way, Torah study refines and purifies all aspects of our life, and polishes them to perfection.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshat Beshallach

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, to allow us to participate in Gd’s Greatness.

We can look at the Red Sea as what at first it 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 while Pharaoh, the King of Enslavement, and his army drowned, 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.

More important than the physical opportunities Gd gives us are the spiritual ones. In this Parshah, the physical opportunities include: water from a rock in the desert with Moses’ hand guided to strike it so it releases water; manna and quail in the desert; a Sabbath to rest from toil; and a leader (Joshua) to defeat our enemies: the Amaleks who attacked our ancestors.

But each of these are symbolic of spiritual opportunities: “water from a rock” symbolizes how Gd guides us to experience the Water of Gd’s Presence: this is the Water that truly quenches our thirst.

“Manna and quail” appear regularly, sufficient for the day: this symbolizes the Reliability of Gd, sufficient for the moment, ever fresh and new.

“Sabbath to rest” symbolizes not only the experience of Gd’s Restfulness on the Sabbath Day but the experience of Rest in every physical object and every moment of time, especially the Rest within our own bodies, thoughts and feelings.

“A leader to defeat our enemies” symbolizes the Love within us that allows us to dissolve doubts, fears and every selfish motive and to raise them to the level of “Love the Ld thy Gd with all thy soul, all thy heart, all thy might” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself/Self.”

Our religion helps us to reveal this Love within our self and return to Full Awareness: Oneness beyond the duality of Gd and us.

Baruch HaShem