A ‘Bissel’ of Torah Parashat Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17-16)

by Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

After the devastation and slaughter of all of the first-born to families in Egypt (God’s tenth and final plague), the Pharaoh finally freed the Jews in Egypt (Parsha ‘BO’). In this week’s Torah Parsha (BESHLACH), ‘The Song of the Sea’, we read about how the Israelites escaped Egypt, and a juxtaposition of their jubilation, as well as their fears and frustrations.

God led the people through the desert “by day in a pillar of cloud, and at night in a pillar of fire” (1). Upon hearing of the flight of the Jews, the elders of Egypt complained to the Pharaoh, “What is this you have done? You have released all of the people, who served as slaves to us” (2).Once again, the Pharaoh had a change of heart, and armed all of his men to chase after the Israelites. The Egyptians overtook them, encamped by the Red Sea, with every horse of the Pharaoh’s chariots. The children of Israel were very frightened, and they said to Moses: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?” (3). Moses appealed to ‘The Eternal’, for he did not know how to quell his people’s fears. God’s response was somewhat enigmatic. He believed that Moses, the leader, and the Israelites were losing faith, even after He had brought them so far. He said to Moses: “Why do you cry out to me? Tell your people to go forward; and, you lift up your rod  and hold your arm over the sea, and split the sea in two, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground” (4).

The Israelites were exhausted, elated, and awestruck, as they realized they were safe, and on dry land. As the Egyptians continued to pursue them, the Pharaoh, all of his horses, chariots, and horsemen drowned into the Red Sea, never to be seen again. Once again, the Jewish people relied on ‘Their God’ to perform astounding wonders to ensure their salvation.

For the first time, as written in the Torah, there was singing. As soon as Moses realized that the Israelites were safe, he led them in song: “We will sing to God, He has acted with a mighty Hand” (5). Then, Miriam, Moses’ sister, picked up a ‘hand drum’ and all of the women went out after her in dance and song: “Sing to the Eternal, for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver he has hurled into the sea” (6).

As the Israelites continued their wandering in the desert, they faced new obstacles and trepidations. As is common with all humans, they would tend to reflect back on their days in Egypt. They would remember the variety of food, and the fresh water; and, forget their days of backbreaking enslavement and bondage. Although, they were provided water and ‘manna’ (described as wafers, topped with honey), they quickly became bored with the monotony of their diet, and complained to Moses, to beseech God for more miracles.

The Midrash says that God’s power comes not from miracles produced by God, but from our acts of courage, justice, and compassion.  “We are God’s messengers. It is our responsibility to try and connect earth and heaven, in an effort to change the world, for the better” (7).


(1) Exodus (13:21)

(2) Exodus (14:5)

(3) Exodus (14:11)

(4) Exodus (14:15-16)

(5) Exodus (15:1)

(6) Exodus (15:20-21)

(7) “Honey From The Rock” (Jewish Lights Publishing) Page 74