Lessons for Generations
by Willie Roth, Editor-in-Chief, 2004-2005
Immediately after the miraculous Keriat Yam Suf and Bnei Yisrael’s subsequent praise of Hashem with Shirat HaYam, Bnei Yisrael are confronted with their first non-Egyptian challenge: the waters at Marah are too bitter for them to drink. This seemingly basic problem turns into an entire lesson in Emunah that Hashem imparts to Bnei Yisrael. It is not sufficient for Him to simply sweeten the water and make it drinkable, but “Sham Sam Lo Chok UMishpat VeSham Nisahu” (15:25) – Bnei Yisrael are also given certain Chukim and Mishpatim to follow. On top of that, the incident finishes with what seems to be a promise from Hashem that if Bnei Yisrael follow the Mitzvot, which they will soon receive, then Hashem will not inflict them with the diseases that He used to punish Mitzrayim. What is it that Bnei Yisrael lack that causes this incident, and how does the institution of these specific laws correct the problem?
Ramban explains that now, prior to entering the desert, Bnei Yisrael are given Chukei HaMidbar, rules regarding how to deal with the hardships of the desert. When there is no water, instead of complaining as they do here, they should pray to Hashem to help them. Additionally, they are given Mishpatim that deal with how to live their everyday lives. These include loving other people, following the words of the Zekeinim, Hilchot Tzniut that pertain to women and children, and other laws regarding how to act within the camp. At this point, Bnei Yisrael still suffer from a slave mentality, a syndrome which will linger until they enter Eretz Yisrael. A slave focuses on his individual, physical needs and seldom thinks of how to act spiritually or relate to other people. Therefore, Am Yisrael is given guidelines that help rectify its deficiencies in these areas. Additionally, Bnei Yisrael have no experience as a free nation and must be instructed how to act on a national level.
This idea also explains the reason for the Marah incident. The issue at hand is not the bitterness of the water, but rather that Bnei Yisrael do not know the proper solution to the problem. Instead of complaining to Moshe, they should take the initiative and pray to Hashem for help. However, because complaining is the only response to difficulty that they have known until this point due to their slave mentality, they have to be taught the proper way to resolvesuch a situation.
Alternatively, Rashi states that the phrase “Sham Sam Lo Chok UMishpat VeSham Nisahu” refers to the Parshiyot of Shabbat, Parah Adumah, and Dinim, which are given to Bnei Yisrael after the Marah incident to discuss. The Gur Aryeh explains, based on Sanhedrin 56b, that Dinim refers to Dinei Mamonot, monetary laws, which must be judged by a Beit Din and are hinted to by the word “Mishpat” in the Pasuk. On a practical level, it is understandable that this sphere of Torah be presented at this point. Having just formed a nation, Bnei Yisrael will need to know how to deal with such issues, and more importantly, how to apply Halacha to the situation at hand. Additionally, it makes sense that these are given to Bnei Yisrael specifically at Marah, as it is their inability to solve problems and apply knowledge that causes them to complain rather than take initiative.
With regard to Parah Adumah and Shabbat, on the other hand, a different element is involved. Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky explains in his Sefer Emet LeYaakov that the miracle of water turning sweet when wood is thrown into it (as the waters of Marah did) shows that all Parnasah depends on the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Only once this lesson is taught is it possible to command Bnei Yisrael to keep Shabbat, whose main challenge is that it prevents a person from working to acquire the necessities of life. Shabbat tests our ability to recognize that everything is really in the hands of Hashem.
Rav Yaakov goes on to quote the Midrash in Shemot Rabbah (5:18) which states that the main source for Bnei Yisrael’s Bitachon during Galut Mitzrayim was their reading on Shabbat of Megillot describing the future Geulah. However, during the final year of slavery, Pharaoh decreed that Bnei Yisrael stop reading these Megillot and begin working on Shabbat. (This is hinted to by 5:9, where Pharaoh says, “Tichbad HaAvodah Al HaAnashim VeYaasu Vah, VeAl Yish’u BeDivrei Shaker.”) Therefore, just like the source for Bnei Yisrael’s Bitachon in Mitzrayim was Shabbat, so too their source for Bitachon once they leave Mitzrayim will be Shabbat. Thus, it is Bnei Yisrael’s lack of Bitachon that causes them to complain, and it is Shabbat that will instill them with Emunah once again.
Nonetheless, the reason for teaching Parah Adumah here seems much more obscure. What is the need for a Mitzvah that has no application now, before Matan Torah? Rav Yaakov notes that the main purpose of these laws is for Bnei Yisrael to discuss Torah, as Rashi explains. They are not necessarily practicing these Mitzvot just yet, but rather learning the Sugyot as preparation for Matan Torah. There is no greater preparation than learning the Sugya of Parah Adumah, which man cannot fully comprehend; only Hashem can understand the logic behind an item that can simultaneously purify the impure and contaminate the spiritually pure. Such a concept would teach Am Yisrael before Matan Torah that Torah lies beyond the simple understanding of a person, but rather is much deeper than anything else in the world.
Similarly, the Torah Temimah points out a comment of the Gemara in Bava Kama 82a based on the idea that “Ein Mayim Ela Torah,” that water is often a symbolic reference to Torah. The Gemara infers from the introductory Pasuk to the Marah story – “…Vayeilchu Sheloshet Yamim BaMidbar VeLo Matz’u Mayim” (15:22) – that the Neviim established Torah reading on Mondays and Thursdays to prevent one from going three days without learning. It is thus clear that one of the causes for this incident was the lack of Torah amongst Bnei Yisrael. “Deracheha Darchei Noam,” the ways of the Torah are peaceful, but the converse is also true – when there is no Torah, there is no peace. The use of an Eitz, a piece of wood, to cure the problem hints that Torah was the real remedy, as Torah is also compared to an Eitz (“Eitz Chayim Hi LiMachazikim Bah”). The giving of the first few Mitzvot after Marah thus prepared Bnei Yisrael for Matan Torah.
by Kevin Beckoff
The Torah records in this week’s Parsha (14:27) that the waters of the Yam Suf, the Sea of Reeds, split only after Moshe stretched his hand over it. Moreover, the Midrash teaches that even more forceful action was required to make this miracle happen: Nachshon Ben Aminadav jumped into the sea prior to the actual split. In fact, the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 21:6) recounts that the sea spoke to Moshe and specifically told him that it would not split for him, since it had priority in creation; the sea had been created on Day Three, while Moshe, like all mankind, had been created later on day six. However, the Midrash also teaches (Bereishit Rabbah 5:5) that Hashem created this sea on the condition that it would one day split for the Jewish people. Given this, how could it be that the sea vehemently refused to split for Bnei Yisrael as they were leaving Mitzrayim, and required the intervention of Moshe and Nachshon?
The Or HaChaim writes that we must understand the specific stipulations that Hashem laid out in creating the sea. After all, the Gemara (Chullin 7a) tells of a great scholarly rabbi, Pinchas Ben Yair, who was able to make the sea split against its will. Apparently, the sea was allowed to split on at least one occasion other than Yetziat Mitzrayim. Why, then, should we assume that the condition on which it was created was that it would split specifically for Bnei Yisrael as they left Mitzrayim? And if this was a specific exception for Yetziat Mitzrayim, why would the sea, a force of nature, be able bend its own rules for Pinchas Ben Yair, especially against its will?
To explain this issue, the Or HaChaim posits that the righteous members of Bnei Yisrael are able to manipulate the forces of nature because that was the condition that Hashem stipulated at creation – that the Torah and those who exemplify it would be above and beyond the natural order. This idea explains why Pinchas Ben Yair was also able to make the sea split. One question, however, remains unanswered: why did the sea initially refuse to split for Bnei Yisrael as they left Mitzrayim?
The Or HaChaim proposes an answer to this question as well. He explains that at this point in the exodus from Egypt, Bnei Yisrael had still not received the Torah. Therefore, to the sea, their demands had no effect on the deal made when the sea was created. Since they were not above the rules of creation, the sea applied the order of the creation, and in this respect it saw no reason to obey the requests of man. However, once Moshe stretched out his hand, Hashem signaled for the sea to comply with the part of the agreement that allowed Tzaddikim such as Moshe to alter nature.
These Midrashim communicate a very important message. Jews are not simply a natural entity, but rather beings who possess the capabilities for a much greater purpose – learning and exemplifying Torah. If we successfully do this, then the possibilities before us are endless, and all obstacles will be removed from before us. --Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Talelei Oros
A Mitzvah Apart
by Joseph Jarashow
Parshat Beshalach speaks of Bnei Yisrael’s departure from Mitzrayim and of the celebrated miracle of Keriat Yam Suf. After recounting these miracles, the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael traveled to Marah, where they complained to Moshe that the water was extremely bitter and not potable. Hashem complied with Bnei Yisrael’s request by having Moshe throw a tree into the bitter water and thereby sweeten the water. Immediately after this incident, the Torah states, “Sham Sam Lo Chok UMishpat,” “There Hashem established a decree and a law” (15:25). Rashi explains that we were given at this point the Mitzvah of Shabbat (and Parah Adumah and Dinim).
An obvious question arises from this episode. Virtually all other Mitzvot were commanded at Har Sinai. What was unique about Shabbat that it was isolated from all other Mitzvot and issued at Marah?
The Sidduro Shel Shabbat quotes a Midrash that states that at this time, Hashem told Moshe to inform Bnei Yisrael that He would be giving them the special gift of Shabbat. This, says the Sidduro Shel Shabbat, explains the fundamental difference between Shabbat and other Mitzvot. The other Mitzvot were only commanded as result of Bnei stating “Na’aseh VeNishma.” Shabbat, on the other hand, was not given based on an achievement of Bnei Yisrael. Rather, it was a pure gift from Hashem.
Hashem is considered a father to Bnei Yisrael, a notion which the Mitzvah of Shabbat highlights. There are two types of love which a father expresses towards his son: there is love that comes in response to the son’s actions, and there is undeserved love. The latter type stems from the mere fact that the father has a biological connection to his son. This is precisely the type of love that Hashem shows for Bnei Yisrael through the Mitzvah of Shabbat. We did not earn the Mitzvah; it was given simply as a pure, loving gift.
In Sefer Devarim (14:1), the Torah writes, “Banim Atem LaShem Elokeichem,” “You [Bnei Yisrael] are children to Hashem your God.” Based on this Pasuk, we can glean a profound lesson from Shabbat. Since Hashem is the father of all of Klal Yisrael, the gift of Shabbat is given to all of His children. This gift is intended to unite us. Shabbat is a time when all of Klal Yisrael come together to accept the incredible gift of Shabbat from our Father.
by Dani Yaros
In Parshat Beshalach, the Torah states (15:22-24): “They went three days in the wilderness, and they found no water. And they came to Marah, but they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter…The people complained against Moshe, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’” Why did Bnei Yisrael complain to Moshe; did Bnei Yisroel not realize that Moshe could do nothing without the help of Hashem?
Bava Kama 82a teaches that water can also refer to Torah. With this explanation of the word “water,” we see that the big problem was not Bnei Yisrael’s lack of water, but their lack of Torah. When Klal Yisrael stopped learning Torah and their spiritual height fell, they were prepared to rebel against Hakadosh Baruch Hu, Who had just saved them at the Yam Suf a few days earlier. We learn from this episode that if one stops learning Torah, one’s morals will fall. One must be “Kovei’a Itim LaTorah” – one must set a time to learn Torah every day. Whether one learns for 5 minutes or 5 hours, the most essential thing is that one at least learn something every day. Only by consistently learning Torah can we improve ourselves and achieve our full potential. --Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Thinking Outside the Box
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