Difficult beginnings by Shimon Cohen


This week's Parashah begins with Bnei Yisrael on their exodus from Egypt and journey to Israel. When the Jewish people experieced Keriat Yam Suf, they were on a very high spiritual level, and the Midrash in Shemot Rabbah (23:15) tells us that even the mere slavewomen was able to clearly identify God. This seems to be the pinnacle of man's existence; it is incredible that they reached this level. However, later on in the Parashah, we see that the nation sinks to a lower level. What happened?

In the desert, the Jews were being led by a cloud during the day and fire at night. "VaHashem Holeich Lifnehem Yomam BeAmud Anan LaNechotam HaDerech VeLaylah BeAmud Eish LeHa'ir Lahem LaLechet Yomam VaLaylah", "And God was going before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them on the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to illuminate for them to go by day and by night" (Exodus 13:21). Rav Shalom Noach Brezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe explained that the times of day indicate the quality of Bnei Yisrael’s experiences throughout their travels. The day represents the good, when everything is clear, while night represents darker times when the good is not so obvious. In this "night" the Jews needed to search to find the good.

As soon as the Jews left Egypt, they were assaulted by Amaleik at Refidim. The Chachamim explain that the word “Refidim,” which means lax, explains the Jews’ actions. The Jews were lax in their study of Torah, and as a result, Amaleik attacked them. It is at that time that we see the Jews descend from the spiritual high from the splitting of the sea. "VaYarev HaAm Im Moshe VaYomeru Tenu Lanu Mayim VeNishteh . . . VaYalen HaAm Al Moshe Vayomer Lama Zeh He'elitanu MiMitzrayim LeHamit Oti VeEt Banai VeEt Miknai BaTzama," "The people fought with Moshe, and they said, 'Give us water' . . . the people complained about Moshe, and they said, 'Why did you bring us up from Egypt to kill me, and my children, and my livestock with thirst?'" (Exodus 17:2-3).

While it’s clear that Bnei Yisrael were on a very high spiritual level coming out of Egypt, we see that Benei Yisrael were loyal only to Hashem because they were given prophetic abilities -- but as matters worsened, they started to complain and struggled to keep their faith.

Rashi provides a parable to illustrate the troubles the Jews were facing. "A man was out walking with his son on his shoulders. The son asked, ‘Father would you please get me this, and would you please get me that? The father willingly complied time after time, while his beloved son was getting a 'free ride' safe and sound on his shoulders. A while passed. They went past a fellow on the road, and the boy asked, 'Have you seen my father?' When the father heard that, he took him down from his shoulders, and a dog came and bit the son."
 Bnei Yisrael failed to realize that they should not have been wondering where Hashem was when they were “riding on His shoulders.” But when Bnei Yisrael experienced difficulties, they completely forgot Hashem and complained to Moshe, and because of this, were lowered spiritually. Therefore, we see that a man is truly great and at the highest spiritual level when even at the worst times, he can realize that Hashem is always behind him, no matter how bad things get. May we be Zocheh to attain this spirituality.

The Importance of Hearing by Rabbi Joel Grossman

Fighting the Man by Reuven Herzog