Parashat Beshalach

action is required/shabbat shira

by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

Shortly after the Jews left Egypt, things began to deteriorate very rapidly. Paroh rallied the troops of Mitzrayim, who followed the B’nei Yisroel and cornered them at the edge of the Sea. Only the miraculous cloud of Hashem separated the Jews from the Egyptians. Out of fear and frustration, the Jews cried out to Moshe (Shmot 14:11), “Are there no graves in Egypt? Why did you take us out [of Egypt only] to have us killed in the desert”?

Faced with the sea at his back, a hostile army of Egyptians only a short distance away, and a terrified Klal Yisroel looking to him for guidance; Moshe Rabbeinu davened to Hashem for salvation. Surprisingly, Hashem responded by telling Moshe, “Mah titzak eilay… – Why are you crying out to Me? Instruct the Jews to continue traveling [into the sea]” (Shmos 14:15).

Rashi comments that Hashem told Moshe that this particular moment – when Klal Yisroel is in jeopardy – is not the time to engage in lengthy tefilot. Action is required at this time! Therefore, continued Hashem, command the B’nei Yisroel to enter the Yam Suf!

This exchange is quite difficult to understand. Wouldn’t this be the most appropriate time for prayer? Shouldn’t Moshe have prayed to Hashem in this moment of crisis, more than any other time? What makes this difficulty more pronounced is the fact that Hashem did, in fact, answer the tefilot of Moshe and instructed him how to free himself from this crisis – by moving forward into the Yam Suf (Res Sea).

The Ohr Hachaim explains that while Moshe was praying on their behalf, the Heavenly Court was passing judgment on the B’nei Yisroel as to their worthiness of a miraculous salvation (see Rashi 14:19). At this point, says the Ohr Hachayim, tefilah ALONE was not sufficient. Surely, Moshe Rabbeinu was correct in turning to Hashem for guidance and salvation. However, at that critical moment, Klal Yisroel had to act in a manner that would show their bitachon(Trust) in Hashem. Only then would they be worthy of the miracles that were about to transpire.

The Shem Mi’Shmuel offers a profound insight regarding the seemingly inexplicable âU-turn’ that the Jews made in the Midbar on the third day of their escape from Mitzrayim – as they charted a course that would lead them back to Egypt (Shmot 14:2). As Rashi explains, this reversal caused the Egyptians to believe that the Jews were lost in the swirling sands of the desert. This resulted in Paroh once again hardening his heart and pursuing the B’nei Yisroel to the Yam Suf.

The Shem Mi’Shmuel comments that there was a deeper reason for this turnabout. When children learn to walk, parents lovingly holds their hands and support them as they take their first steps. Eventually, the parents must let go and allow the children to acquire the skill independently by encouraging them to walk without parental assistance.

At the time of (Yetziat Mitzrayim) going out of Egypt, the B’nei Yisroel were collectively in the depths of the forty-ninth level of tumah (impurity), says the Shem MiShmuel. They were unworthy of redemption. Hashem had to ‘hold their hands’ and release them from slavery on the future merits of their commitment to a life of Torah and mitzvot. After receiving their gift of redemption, the Jews needed to turn back towards the Egyptians. They had to create their own Yetziat Mitzrayim, as free people – by taking the initiative and entering the Yam Suf.

Moshe Rabbeinu’s sister internalized this important lesson as well. After Moshe and Klal Yisroel sang Az Yashir, Miriam led the women in singing shirah at the Yam Suf (Shmot 15:20). At first glance, there seems to be little added value in the song of Miriam – which appears to be a mere repetition of selected words of Moshe’s song. Upon reflection, however, her song was far more than a second version of the Shirah. She gathered the women and inspired them to personalize the Az Yashir and make it their own song of praise to Hashem. Moshe gave them the gift of a person example of shevach(praise) to Hashem. However, even the nicest gifts often go unopened, or collect dust in closets. Miriam showed her appreciation of Moshe’s shirah by immediately âusing it’ – taking the words of Moshe and praising Hashem.

These are important messages to internalize during our teenage years – as we begin to take our own first steps toward adulthood. Our parents, rebbeim(Our teachers) and morot provide us with the gifts of chinuch and education; with their values and a moral compass to guide us. However, even the most loving parents and educators need to let go after a while. The next steps on the road to living a meaningful and fulfilling Torah life are up to us – as we internalize these values and make them our very own.


Tu B’Shevat is generally regarded as the “New Year for the trees,” (Rosh Hashanah 2a). We are told that by the fifteenth day of Shevat most of the rains for the given year have already fallen (Rosh Hashana 14a). As a result, Chazal tell us that until this date all the fruits that grew are a product of the rains from the previous year, and the fruits produced from this day onward are from the rains of the new year. In fact, it is for this reason that many have the custom to pray for a beautiful and kosher etrog for the upcoming Succot holiday on this day (see Lashon Chachamim 1:38 of the Ben Ish Chai for a text of the prayer).

Tu B’Shevat also bears halachic significance for the purposes of counting the years for orlah, terumot u’maaserot (tithes), and according to some opinions for determining the holiness of fruits that grow during the Shemitah year. It is for this reason that many communities have the custom to eat several different types of fruits as a means of celebrating the day (see Mishna Berura 131:31, Kaf Hachaim 131:97). The halacha also states that we refrain from reciting tachanun on this day (Orach Chaim 131:6). This custom appears to be a bit puzzling since we generally refrain from saying tachanun because of some sort of happiness.

On Tu B’Shevat, however, what is the nature of the day’s happiness, since most of the rains have fallen due to purely natural means? In order to gain clarity of the significance of the day, as well as the spiritual energy present, we must delve into what is spiritually taking place. The Maharal of Prague explains that since everything in the physical world is a manifestation of a spiritual root, when one studies the natural world and its seasons he can understand the spiritual energy of that time of year (Gevurot Hashem, 46). The fifteenth of Shevat marks the day on which the rain’s potential growth begins to materialize through the trees producing fruit. The Ohr Gedalyahu explains that rain in this context does not only refer to physical water from above that leads to production and growth on land, but also alludes to spiritual Divine assistance that can aid in producing spiritual fruits, i.e. mitzvot (which are often referred to by Chazal as “fruits”; see for example Sotah 46a). The amount and nature of this Divine assistance is decided every Rosh Hashana, as it is on this day that G-d determines a person’s riches, health, spouse, etc.

According to this symbolism the tree is also not only referring to physical trees but also to man; as the verse in the Torah says, “for man is like the tree of the field” (Devarim 20:19). The Shem M’Shmuel points out that just like a tree is the medium through which the ground can produce fruit, so too man is the medium through which physicality can be uplifted to produce fruit, mitzvot. The only difference between man and a tree lies in where the roots are implanted. Unlike the tree, man’s roots are above, they are his intellect. All of his actions — his branches — all stem from his intellect, his roots. A physical tree, however, is rooted in the physical earth, and the rest sprout forth from that physical core. Indeed, as the Maharal explains, man is an upsidedown tree (Chiddushei Aggadot, Sanhedrin 91b). Based on the above we can understand the significance of the day of Tu B’Shevat.

Just like the trees begin to bear fruit on this day from the rains of the new year, so too this is the time when we begin to see the results of the spiritual rains that we have received since Rosh Hashana. Because we have completed one-third of the new year, Tu B’Shevat is the opportune time to both harvest and assess the spiritual fruit of our labor. It is the happiness that accompanies this spiritual harvest that results in refraining from the tachanun prayer.


something to think about

after all, it is the will of G-d

So God turned the people toward the way of the wilderness.

The Midrash teaches that this pasuk, which relates that Hashem caused the people to journey in a indirect manner, is the source for the halacha that requires each Jew, even one who is poverty-stricken, to sit at the Seder table reclining. Apparently, the only connection between the halacha and the pasuk is the word va’yaseiv; they are related by the root sov.

The question before us is obvious: What is the relationship between reclining on Pesach and the manner in which the Jewish People travelled from Egypt? Harav Zaidel Epstein, ZT”L, suggests a significant principle to be derived from this pasuk. Why did Hashem guide the Jews in a circuitous manner? If the problem was that their fear of the Egyptians would cause their desire to return to Egypt, Hashem could simply have removed the fear. After all, they had witnessed the most amazing miracles as Hashem devastated Egypt.

They really had nothing to fear but fear itself. We realize that obviously Hashem had other options. Hashem however, sought to teach Klal Yisroel an important lesson: what is straight and easy is not always what it seems to be. Hashem was in the process of educating the nation. Every challenge which He presented to them was to elevate them, to increase and enhance their spiritual powers. What they thought was impeding them was actually a promising opportunity that would sustain them throughout their national lives. This, explains the Harav Epstein, is the lesson of “Even the poor man of Yisroel” must recline and celebrate the Seder as a king. Specifically during the Festival of Faith, which is another name for Pesach, when we delve into the miracles that Hashem produced for us, the plagues which overturned Egypt, the Splitting of the Red Sea with its accompanying miracles; we are able to perceive the reality that even the most abjectly poor person should sit back and recline at the Seder table like a king. He understands that his function in this world is to carry out the (ratzon) – will of Hashem. If Hashem has created him to be poor, then he believes that this state is best for him. After all, it is the will of G-d.

simcha corner

“Mr. Clark, I’m afraid I have bad news,” the doctor told his anxious patient. “You only have six months to live.”

The man sat in stunned silence for the next several minutes. Regaining his composure, he apologetically told his physician that he had no medical insurance. “I can’t possibly pay you in that time.”

“Okay,” the doctor said, “let’s make it nine months.”

Parsha Summary 

First Aliyah: After Pharaoh sent the Israelites from his land, G‑d did not allow them to take the most direct route to the Promised Land, fearing that any confrontation would then frighten the Israelites, causing them to return to Egypt via this short route. Instead G‑d had them take the circuitous desert route, leading them with a pillar of cloud during daytime and a pillar of fire after dark. G‑d then commanded the Israelites to backtrack and encamp along the Red Sea. They would thus appear to be hopelessly lost, which would prompt the Egyptians to pursue them. The Israelites followed this instruction, and, indeed, the Egyptians armies set out after the “lost” and cornered Israelites.

Second Aliyah: The Israelites noticed the approaching Egyptian armies, and they panicked. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?” they screamed at Moshe. “Don’t be afraid,” Moshe reassured. “Stand firm and see G‑d’s salvation that He will wreak for you today . . . G‑d will fight for you, and you shall remain silent.”

Third Aliyah: G‑d instructed Moshe, “Speak to the children of Israel and let them travel!” G‑d told Moshe to stretch out his staff over the sea and divide it, and the Israelites should then proceed through the split sea. “And the Egyptians shall know that I am G‑d, when I will be glorified through Pharaoh, through his chariots, and through his horsemen.” Meanwhile, the pillar of cloud that normally led the Israelites moved to their rear, insulating the Israelites and plunging the Egyptian camp into darkness. Moshe stretched out his staff and the sea divided, and the Israelites walked on the seabed, on dry land. The Egyptians quickly pursued them into the sea.

Fourth Aliyah: Moshe stretched his hand over the sea and the waters that had been standing like walls now fell upon the Egyptians, drowning them all. Moshe then led the Israelites in song, praising G‑d for the wondrous miracle that had transpired. Miriam, Moshe’ sister, then led the women in song and dance, with musical accompaniment. The Israelites traveled on in the desert, journeying three days without encountering water. They then arrived in Marah, where there was water—but bitter water. Moshe miraculously sweetened the water.

Fifth Aliyah: One month after the Exodus, the Israelites’ provisions ran dry. They complained to Moshe, mentioning nostalgically “the fleshpots of Egypt,” that they left behind. G‑d responded that He will rain down bread from heaven in the mornings, and meat will be provided every night.

Sixth Aliyah: The meat, in the form of quails, appeared in the evening and covered the Israelite camp. In the morning, bread – called manna – fell from heaven, encased between layers of morning dew. Moshe told the Israelites to gather one omer (a biblical measure) of manna per household member every day. Miraculously, no matter how much manna one picked, he arrived home with precisely one omer per head. Furthermore, Moshe commanded the Israelites not to leave any manna over from one day to the next. Some disregarded this instruction, and next morning found their manna worm-infested. On Friday everyone picked two omers. Moshe explained that the second portion was to be prepared and set aside for Shabbat—when no manna would fall. Again some disregarded Moshe’ directive, and went out pick manna on Shabbat. G‑d was angered by this disobedience. G‑d instructed Moshe to take a jar of manna and place it in the (yet to be constructed) Tabernacle, as a testament for all future generations.

Seventh Aliyah: The Israelites journeyed further and as they arrived in Rephidim their drinking water ran out again. The Israelites complained, and G‑d instructed Moshe to smite a certain rock with his staff. Water came pouring out of the rock and the people drank. The Amalekites then came and attacked the Israelites. Moshe directed his student Joshua to assemble an army and battle Amalek. Joshua did so, and the Israelites were victorious—aided by Moshe’ prayer atop a mountain. G‑d told Moshe to record in the Book that He will “surely erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”