BeshalachWeekly Torah Portion

Parshat Beshalach “My Dad’s Oldsmobile”

Wondrous things and awesome miracles abound in our Parsha. Our sages say that “what the average maidservant beheld at the sea, even the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel never saw” (Mechilta)

This splitting of the sea is essentially different than all of the miracles or plagues that had occurred thus far.The ten plagues of blood, frogs; all the way to the killing of the first born Egyptian male children, are all astoundingly miraculous events. However, they were all local events that transpired in the external world, and confined to Egypt. By contrast, when the sea splits, and becomes a place where people are able to walk, the feeling is completely different. Nature changes. The whole system is turned on its head, and everything we know about reality is no longer valid. The sea is no longer a sea; the water is no longer water, and the rule of physics suddenly do not apply.

What does the average maidservant or ordinary Jew for that matter, experience after the upheaval of the splitting of the sea? How does he proceed from that point? Suddenly, the miracle ends, and the people begin their journey through the wilderness. Let’s put this in perspective. A short while ago this nameless Jew was sure he was going to die, having stopped at the edge of the sea – with thousands of mighty Egyptian warriors pursuing him. He then witnesses an incredible supernatural event. After that’s over, he crashes back into the mundane, and is forced to wander in the wilderness.  How is he dealing with these different states of consciousness?

In fact, the Torah tells us in Exodus 15:22 “Moshe made Israel travel from the Red Sea”. Moshe had to prod the people to travel onward, because they were so dazed and disoriented. So this individual that emerges from the Red Sea, doesn’t have any idea if he’s in a dream or in reality.

I always wondered, how could the Jews, having just witnessed all of the miracles in Egypt, and at the Red Sea, not have faith, that Hashem would provide them with water and bread? After all Hashem just split the sea, he’s definitely capable of arranging water and bread for the people. The answer is, it wasn’t that they were ingrates and non-believers, it was the transition itself. The difficulty in moving from a world where everything is perfect – where the rule of physics can be altered by Divine whim- at the drop of hat – to a world that unforgivingly follows the natural way of the world.

How can someone shift from the miraculous world of the Red Sea, to the world of Mara, where the water is so bitter that it’s not drinkable? The story of the Manna is likewise connected to the difficulty of dealing with dramatic changes in reality. The Manna combines two aspects. On the one hand, its whole essence is miraculous; bread falling from the sky – is entirely incompatible with the laws of nature. On the other hand, it falls every day (aside from Shabbat). And the same amount falls every day; day after day, week after week, month after month. It’s not difficult to comprehend, that even something that is supernatural could eventually be perceived as mundane and staid. A miracle ceases to be a wonder when it becomes the routine. One can get used to miracle – bread from heaven, and eventually perceive it as earth – bread. When this happens; one begins to complain. This happens again and again in our Parsha; In Elim with the seventy date palms, and later with the quails dropping from the sky. One minute the people are witnessing the hand of G-d customizing everything to their needs; and the next minute, they’re back in the wilderness going around in circles and complaining.

How many times have we all said to ourselves; “If only I could experience the same miracles our ancestors experienced I would be absolutely loyal to G-d”! Our Parsha relates story after story of our people’s first hand encounters with miraculous revelations, yet they still complained. And it was a gift that kept on giving. Those complaints continued through and after the sin of the Golden Calf as well. The first hand bread – from – heaven and meat – from – heaven miracles, didn’t stop Korach from complaining and causing destruction; and it also doesn’t halt  the licentiousness of the people in the story of Balak, culminating in the despicable act of Zimri, as we see later on in the book of Numbers.

So to paraphrase a popular (really old) commercial, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile”. What that means is that we’ve evolved as a people; we’re in better shape than past generations. The story of the Jews is, that after all of these millennia, we are still driving the same Oldsmobile our father’s drove .Things haven’t changed much. The gift just keeps on giving. We are still the same stiff necked people we always were.
 

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