The Midrash and Gemara are replete with Drashot from Pesukim that teach us various Halachot. Too often, we understand these Drashot only superficially, and thus we create for ourselves an impression that Chazal affixed Drashot to certain Pesukim almost haphazardly with little or no reason. This misconception cannot be further from the truth.
A well-known Drash that emerges from a Pasuk in this week’s Parsha serves as a perfect example. We will examine this Drash and attempt to determine the inherent difficulties in the text that compelled Chazal to indeed learn a Drash.
Immediately following Shirat Hayam (the song of the sea), we read as follows: ויסע משה את ישראל מים סוף ויצאו אל מדבר שור, “Moshe led Bnai Yisrael from Yam Suf and they went out to the desert of Shur” (15:22).
In its interpretation of this Pasuk, the Gemara in Bava Kama (82a) comments that the Jews traveled for three days without Torah and became weary as a result. Moshe therefore instituted that there be public readings of Torah on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat to prevent this weariness in the future. A number of questions emerge. First, the Torah had not been given yet, and the Jews had spent many years without a Torah and never seemed to have a weariness problem. Second, the Pasuk reads ולא מצאו מים, “And they did not find water.” It mentions nothing about Torah. Granted that from the Pasuk in Yeshayahu 55, הוי כל צמא לכו למים, we learn אין מים שלא תורה, “there is no ‘water’ that is not ‘Torah,’” but where in our Pasuk does there exist any indication that it was Torah and not water that Bnai Yisrael were lacking? After all, they had traveled three days in the hot desert; why would one contemplate that מים refers to something other than water?
To better understand this teaching of Chazal, we must appreciate the phrase וילכו דרך שלשת ימים במדבר in our Parsha by reexamining an almost identical expression that we have already encountered in Parshat Shemot. Moshe and Aharon, following Hashem’s order, request of Paroh as follows: נלכה נא דרך שלשת ימים במדבר ונזבחה לה' אלקינו, “Let us travel for three days in the desert and we will sacrifice to Hashem our God” (3:18). When did Moshe and Aharon intend to discharge this obligation? Ostensibly, this was to be fulfilled upon the Exodus from Egypt, or, more specifically, precisely at this juncture following Shirat Hayam. Paroh’s pursuit and the splitting of the sea had prevented the performance of this long-awaited sacrificial service. It is when the Jewish People travel from Yam Suf and enter the wilderness that we should read וילכו שלשת ימים במדמר וזבחו לה' אלוקינו. Instead, much to our chagrin, after witnessing the wondrous ten plagues and the miraculous splitting of the sea, Bnai Yisrael spend the three days of potential offering of praise and thanksgiving looking for water.
At this point, Moshe understood that even miraculous experiences become fleeting memories and the only way to insure the constant acknowledgement of Hashem’s everlasting assistance and protection is to recreate the experience. When Moshe saw that the Jews spent three days looking for water he realized that the next upcoming miraculous experience (Matan Torah) must be preserved. He therefore instituted a public reading of the Torah, which would serve as a tri-weekly recreation of Matan Torah.
“מים” in this context is to be taken literally. It is the replacement of this opportune time for Korbanot by a convergence on seeking water that elicits Moshe’s response of instituting public Torah reading.