Commentary on Parashat Beshalach, Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
An Indirect Route
Now God did not lead the Jews out of Egypt on the most direct route but took the people by way of the wilderness. God went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire at night so they could travel day and night.
Upon leaving Egypt, Moses takes Joseph’s bones with him, recalling Joseph’s dying words, “God will surely remember you and then bring my bones with you to the promised land.”
God told Moses to camp by the Sea of Reeds. “I will then harden Pharaoh’s heart so he will try to capture you there. Then I shall assert My authority over Pharaoh and everyone will acknowledge that I am the Lord.” It happened just as God predicted. Pharaoh went after the Jews with his best army.
As Pharaoh’s army approached, the Israelites cried out to the Lord and Moses in fear. “Why did you bring us here to die? Let us go back to Egypt and be slaves.”
“Don’t be afraid.” Moses answered. “Stand firm. Watch how God will deliver you.”
Then God said to Moses, “When you stretch forth your hand over the sea, it will split and you shall cross safely. But with a stiffened heart, the Pharaoh’s army will go in after you. They may be mighty but I will prove that I am Almighty.”
The Israelites Cross The River
Then the angel of God went behind the Jewish camp while a pillar of cloud went in front of the Egyptian camp so one would not come near the other.
Moses then stretched out his hand and the Lord commanded a strong east wind to split the water. With walls of water on either side, the Israelites crossed the river on dry land.
Then when the Egyptian army raced after them, God confounded them with mud to break their chariots’ wheels.
Afterwards, God told Moses to stretch out his hand again and let the water return. By morning the sea had covered Pharaoh’s army so that not even one of them remained.
When the Jewish people saw what the Lord did to the Egyptians, they trusted in God and Moses as God’s prophet. The Moses and the Israelites sang this song unto the Lord:
Who is like Thee, O Lord,
Among all the gods who are worshipped?
Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness?
Awesome in splendor, working wonders!
The Lord will reign for ever and ever.
Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, with her drum in her hand led the women in song and dance. “Sing unto the Lord for God has triumphed gloriously.”
Searching for Water
From the Sea of Reeds, Moses led the people into a new wilderness. For three days they could find no water and when they finally did at Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. The Jewish people cried. So God showed Moses how to cast a certain tree into the waters to make it sweet. There God proclaimed, “If you will listen Me and do what is right in God’s sight, then I will not plague you as I have the Egyptians, for I am the Lord and your Healer.”
As they journeyed, the Jews became hungry. They complained to Moses and Aaron, “You brought us into the wilderness to starve.”
The Lord spoke to Moses, “By evening you shall eat meat and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread. Then you shall recognize that I, The Lord, am your God.”
Food From God
That evening quail appeared and in the morning there was dew all around. When the dew lifted, there was a fine, flaky substance everywhere. “This is food from God,” Moses announced, “But only gather what you need to eat, one omer(portion of grain) per person.”
When some families gathered extra, they woke up to find their food rotten with maggots. However, on the sixth day, Moses told the Israelites, “God instructs you to gather double the amount of food on the sixth day, for the seventh day is a day of rest, a holy Sabbath of the Lord. The extra you gather will be edible in the morning.” And it was.
But there were some Jews who went out to gather food on the Sabbath anyway. They found nothing.
God lamented to Moses, “How long will you refuse to follow My commandments and My teaching? Mark the seventh day as My Sabbath and keep it holy for all generations.”
The People Protest
The Israelites named the food “manna” and it tasted like honey wafers. God instructed them to keep one omer of manna in a jar by the Ark of the Testimony for all generations to remember how the Lord fed the Israelites for forty years in the wilderness.
At the next camp, at Rephidim, again, there was no water. The people got angry with Moses.
“Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put God to the test?” retorted Moses to the people. To God, however, Moses says, “What shall I do with these people? A bit more and they will stone me.”
God instructs Moses to go in front of the elders of Israel at Horeb and strike a rock to bring water for the people to drink. Moses does so. The place is named Massah and Meribah because the people tested and contended the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord present among us or not?”
At this camp, an enemy, Amalek came to fight with Israel. Moses sent Joshua with an army to do battle against Amalek. Meanwhile Moses stood at the top of the hill with the rod of God in his hand. As the fighting began, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
But Moses’ arms grew heavy. So Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported Moses’ hands until Joshua beat the Amalekites. Moses built an altar on the site knowing that war with Amalek would be present throughout the generations.
Parashat Beshalach Discussion Questions
1) When God parted the Sea of Reeds, it was a miracle. Can you think of a miracle God performed for you in your life?
2) If you were one of the Israelites with Moses, how would you feel upon seeing the Egyptian army drowned? How do you feel when someone who is your enemy is hurt or defeated?
3) God tells the Jewish people that the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest. What is your definition of rest? How is that the same or different from God’s definition in this portion?
4) The Israelites test God in this portion. Do you ever test God? Why? How?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!