Dvar Torah from Rabbi Saul I. Grife
"Miracles: from Without and from Within!"
Parshat HaShavuah, the Torah portion this week is Beshallach, from Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus 13:17 - 17:16. "Beshallach" means "When He sent", referring to the actual exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The parsha begins as the narrative relates that God had compassion for the Israelites' fragile condition on their way out of slavery. The text reveals that God led them on a roundabout route away from the Philistines, lest the people encounter immediate conflict and battle and consequently shrink out of fear back to Egypt. Leviticus 19:14 teaches us that the path to kedusha (holiness) lies through doing the mitzvah of "Lo titayn michshol lifnay ivare - do not place a stumbling block before the blind." God knew that a direct encounter with the Philistines could deter Israel from continuing on to the Promised Land so He had them avoid it. May we in turn learn from God's sensitivity towards Israel way back when by being aware of the condition of others as well as ourselves and seeking to prevent unduly difficult situations from crossing our paths. Blessed are those who watch out for others and care for others! Blessed are those who protect us and seek to make our lives easier!
This Shabbat is known as "Shabbat Shirah", the Sabbath of the Song. The song is entitled the "Song of Moses" (Exodus 15:1-18). Immediately following the death of the Egyptians as they failed to successfully negotiate through the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites sang a song of triumph and thanksgiving to the Lord...
I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously
Horse and rider He has hurled into the sea
The Lord is my strength and my might
He has become my deliverance...
The Israelites seized upon their moment of salvation to express their gratitude to God. But according to Midrash, it wasn't only God who was responsible for their victory.
The Midrash teaches us that when the Israelites saw themselves caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, i.e., facing the waters of the Red Sea before them and the pursuing Egyptian army from behind, they turned to Moshe for help. So Moshe turned to God seeking assistance for the people. Exodus 14:15 explains that God answered Moshe by saying, "Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward!" The commentary explains that God was encouraging the people to first do all they could for themselves before they turned to the Lord for assistance. In response, Tradition says that Nachshon ben Aminadav, a tribal leader of the Judahites, ran forth and dove into the sea, aiming to cross it on his own. When the waters closed around him and he could safely go no further, it was at this point that God split the seas, enabling all the people to cross safely. This Midrash conveys a formidable lesson to us all... before we seek help from others, let us first consider and do all we can for ourselves! It may turn out that we have underestimated our potential... and then we realize ourselves capable of more than we anticipated! This episode finds a parallel in the Hanukkah story. While the Israelites were hoping for a miracle with the oil; they boldly initiated the lighting of the tender amount they had, and much to their amazement, they witnessed it burn for an entire 8 days long! From both of these narratives we learn that before we turn to others for aid, let us first look within and offer all that we are capable of doing! We may surprise ourselves by what we can accomplish on our own!
This Shabbat we are looking forward to welcoming Rahel Musleah, our Scholar in Residence who will share the culture of Indian Judaism with us all. We are looking forward to having her join us on Friday night, Shabbat morning and for a Shabbat dinner and Havdalah program. Rahel's visit promises to be informative and enlightening. Looking forward to seeing you this weekend for Shabbat Shirah!
The actual date of Tu Bishvat is this coming Monday. This Shabbat we will hold our annual Tu Bishvat Seder and luncheon after morning services. The program elevates our consciousness of the cycle of life, as we go from year to year, from inactivity to rebirth. The Seder is modeled after the Pesach Seder and similarly includes 4 cups of wine. The first is all white, symbolic of the heart of the winter when apparently nothing grows. But each successive cup incorporates added measures of red, representative of the return of spring, growth, rebirth, new life and new hope. The 4th and final cup is all red, reminding us of the full power of Mother Nature's ability to annually renew herself for the benefit of us all. Join us for this exciting Seder as we look forward to warmer days in the months to come.
A Shabbat Shirah Shalom to all!