January 15th, 2022: Parashat Beshalach – The Wilderness

This week’s parashat is taken from Exodus 13:17—17:16. Listen in as David goes through the exhilarating escape from Egypt, and in to the experience of the wilderness - the true testing ground for Israel.

Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashat:

Exodus 13:17—17:16

This is it, Parashat Beshalach is the climax of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, right? Or is it? Here, we witness the final act of Hashem’s plan to free the Children of Israel and glorify His Name by leading the Children of Israel through the Sea of Reeds, and then by luring Pharaoh and his army into the midst of the Sea before drowning and killing all of them. What a sight that must have been to experience and behold! After this, the Children of Israel stood on the eastern shore of the Sea and Moses led them in a beautiful song of triumph and exaltation. They sang of Hashem’s great power, His salvation for them, their enemy’s brazen declarations to enslave them again, and Hashem’s rebuttal to their brazen declarations by slaughtering them in the Sea. It seems like the perfect end to a story, right?

Yet, as we read on, we see that the opposite is true. The reality is that this only marked the beginning. Yes, behind them, Egypt was left in devastated ruins by the hand of Hashem. But ahead of them lay the Wilderness – the true testing ground.

And so we open up this week’s parashah to the words of Exodus 13:17-18:

וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וְלֹא־נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י ׀ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים פֶּֽן־יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃ וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱלֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

It happened when Pharaoh sent the people that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for God said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.’ And God took the people around toward the way of the Wilderness to the Sea of Reeds.

Here we see that Hashem chose not to lead the Children of Israel by the quickest path to the Promised Land, “because it was near.” In conjunction with the path being near, Hashem said: “Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.” Taken all together, the Children of Israel were not ready to enter the Land because they were not prepared. What do I mean that they were not prepared? As Hashem said, they weren’t even prepared to face a battle, and as we learn later on when they would eventually enter the Land under the leadership of Joshua, there would be many battles to fight. Couldn’t Hashem fight their battles for them just as He decimated Egypt to bring them out? Of course! But the Children of Israel needed to start looking past the signs and wonders to return back to the intimate relationship that their forefathers had with Hashem – a relationship that was grounded in faith and trust in Him.

Thereafter, we see several other events that reveal to us the spiritual state of affairs of the Children of Israel. For instance, in leaving Egypt, why is it that Moses (of the tribe of Levi) was the one that took the bones of Joseph with him (Exodus 13:19)? Why not someone from the tribes of Ephraim or Manasseh? Or, prior to crossing the Sea of Reeds, we read that the Children of Israel looked behind them and saw Egypt coming after them in full force, and that they cried out to Hashem (Exodus 14:10). Yet, they went further than that – they complained to Moses, saying (Exodus 14:11): “Is it because there are not – there are not graves in Egypt – that you took us to die in the Wilderness? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?” Yet, then Hashem tells them to move forward, they step forward in faith, and cross miraculously through the midst of the Sea. Then, after crossing the Sea and singing the “Song of the Sea”, the people start to complain again, this time about lack of water (at Marah) (Exodus 15:23-25).

And Hashem gives them water. Shortly after this, they complain about food (Exodus 16:2-3). Hashem sends quail and manna, the latter to sustain them throughout the remainder of their stay in the Wilderness. And then once more, they complain about water again (Exodus 17:1-3). And Hashem tells Moses to strike the rock of Horeb with his staff and water comes out.

Ultimately, these were all tests by Hashem for the Children of Israel. And in virtually all of the cases, they were quick to bend under the pressure, succumbing to their physical needs rather than trusting in Hashem. From a spiritual perspective, they were precisely that, “children”. In the years that they were in Egypt, they had sunken so far below the level of righteousness that was embodied by their forefathers.

You would figure that after witnessing the great power of Hashem in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, the people’s faith would be supercharged to the level of the Patriarchs, but that’s not what happened. Today, we “could” look back on them and smugly ask the question – how could they? But we are absolutely in no position to judge. They were just that – “children”, and they had a lot of maturing to do.

Rather, this was all about Hashem and His divine plan for them and ultimately for the entire world. Hashem kept His promise to Abraham to liberate his descendants from exile – the result was the complete devastation of the Egyptian economy and civilization all by the mighty hand of Hashem. Given the decline in the spiritual state of the people, were they worth it? At this point, were they no better than the pagan Egyptians?

Yet, Hashem fulfilled His promise to Abraham. Hashem always fulfills His promises. Hashem knew what would happen, yet He saw great potential way back when He made the promise initially to Abraham. Hashem let it play out. He allowed the Children of Israel to assimilate as they did into Egyptian society. He allowed them to suffer under the strong arm of bondage. He held back sustenance and provision from them to test them.

You see, this is the maturing process. Great acts and wonders were required to get the people’s attention, to remind them that the God of their forefathers had never forgotten them, and to reveal to them the limitless authority of His power over all of Creation. Hashem never had to do anything like this for the Patriarchs – remember, they knew Him as El Shaddai, the All Sufficient One.

Nevertheless, Hashem got the attention of His Children, but now He had to instill in them the knowledge, fear and love for Him. This could only be accomplished through trials, tribulations, and constant conditioning. In Exodus 15, after it explicitly states that Hashem tested the nation’s faith, we learn an important set of instructions as He said to them (Exodus 15:26): “If you will listen diligently to the voice of Hashem, your God, and you will do what is just in His eyes, and you will give ear to His commandments and observe all His statutes, then any of the diseases that I placed upon Egypt, I will not place upon you, for I am Hashem, your Healer.” Hashem promised not to allow any disease that He placed on the Egyptians to fall on His Children – but only if His Children accepted His word, perform His will, and gave ear and observed His commandments and statutes.

Moreover, all throughout this parashah and the last, we see Hashem deliver the first set of commandments to the Children of Israel – observance of Pesach, the week of Matzot, Rosh Chodesh and the adornment of tefillin – all as reminders of their experiences in Egypt. With this first set of commandments, Hashem was gradually introducing them based on the capacity of the people to adopt them with purpose and intent. The key words here are purpose and intent as obeying and doing these commandments was to remind them of all that transpired in coming out of bondage in Egypt.

The other element that cannot be ignored is the importance of Hashem’s chosen leader for that generation – Moses. Could Hashem have accomplished all of this without a holy vessel like Moses? Absolutely not! Hashem needed to partner with the right human vessel to accomplish all of this. Hence, having Moses as His “frontman” in speaking His words to the people through instructions and commandments, initiating the plagues over Egypt, raising his staff and hands to cause the parting and closing of the Sea of Reeds, and walking with his staff in front of the people to strike the rock to cause water to pour out. All of this was done in the sight of the Children of Israel. The people needed a model to look to for answers, to mediate between them and Hashem, and to ultimately look to as their role model. The right leadership was selected to lead the people in the right path, the path of righteousness, so there could be absolutely no excuse to sway to the right or to the left.

The signs and wonders helped in shifting the eyes of the Children of Israel back to Hashem, the God of their forefathers. The leadership of Moses gave them the ideal role model to look up to, to follow, and to learn from. The first set of commandments given were all about observance for the purpose of remembrance of what had transpired as part of the great Exodus from Egypt. Taken all together, Hashem was rebuilding the damaged foundation for His Children using all of these elements so that they could elevate themselves back to the level of their forefathers – with a key emphasis on the fact that they had to do the job of elevating themselves. Hashem jumpstarted the process, but now they had to complete it. And this latter part could only be accomplished through trials, tribulations and constant conditioning. This first act was a great act of salvation for them physically, but more importantly, spiritually, as the souls of the Children of Israel were reawakened back to Hashem. This is why the great acts and wonders by Hashem weren’t meant to last forever – they were used to get their attention. After that, they had to learn how to draw closer to Him on their own, and with the help of a great leader and commandments to remind them, which was essential.

And the reality is that our circumstances today are no less different. Not necessarily salvation from physical bondage and slavery, but more importantly, spiritual bondage and slavery… spiritual bondage and slavery to the system of the world… to the dominion of sin. When our eyes are opened to our sinful ways, when we are brought into the knowledge that this sin separates us from our Heavenly Father, and when we come into the knowledge that we can be saved from this bondage of sin and shame – oh, what a glorious day that is! It is ever so hard to forget such a day when one was saved in such a manner! Yet, this event seldom occurs with signs and wonders, with a crossing through the midst of the Sea of Reeds. Rather, it is through a perfect human vessel, a righteous vessel, that has the ability to connect us with Hashem. There is no other perfect vessel than Messiah Yeshua! It is through Yeshua that we can be re-connected with our Creator, with our Father in Heaven.

When Yeshua walked the Land, when he performed his ministry some 1,000 years later after the Exodus, it was almost as if nothing had really changed from the Wilderness. He did powerful miracles and acts to reveal Who it was that he was connected to, yet it seemed as if the people just wanted more signs and wonders. The religious leadership was teaching the Torah of Moses, but was the leadership truly walking in the footsteps of their forefathers? And were the people ultimately being connected to Hashem through them? The nation was performing all of the commandments to a “T”, but were they being done with the right intentions and purpose? The answer to all of these questions is “no”. Why? Because the nation as a whole had once again lost sight of Hashem. It is as if they had returned to their former state of bondage in Egypt. Yeshua arrived on the scene at such a time with one intended purpose – to reveal himself as the perfect conduit of Hashem’s nature. And he did so through his teachings, his deeds, and his actions (including his miracles). He did not teach any new commandments; no, rather he reinforced the Torah of Moses. The big difference is that he knew how to live it to a “T”! This is why I said earlier that it is through Yeshua that we can be re-connected with our Creator, with our Father in Heaven. There is no other perfect vessel than Messiah Yeshua! Thus, if we all diligently strive to draw closer each and every day to Hashem by replicating the life of Yeshua… if we condition our lives to resemble that of Yeshua, we will find our trials and tribulations fade away as our foundation in Hashem becomes firmer and our faith in Him strengthened!

And this brings us to one final question: What is the ultimate goal of Hashem in Creation? Why all of this conditioning to overcome the trials and tribulations in our lives? We find the answer at the end of the parashah. In Exodus 17:8, we read that Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim. Moses told Joshua to: “Choose men for us and go out, do battle with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” We read that as long as Moses’ hand was raised with the staff, Israel overpowered Amalek. By the end of the day, we read that (Exodus 17:13): “Joshua weakened Amalek and its people with the sword’s blade.” It doesn’t say that Amalek was defeated or destroyed, but rather “weakened”. The focus here is not on who Amalek was as a people (yes, a descendant of Esau), but rather on what they did and when they struck. It is as if they came out of nowhere, unprovoked, and attacked the Children of Israel at Rephidim. What happened right before? As it says in Exodus 17:7: “[Moses] called the place Massah U’Meribah, because of the contention of the Children of Israel and because of their test of Hashem, saying, ‘Is Hashem in our midst or not?’” While Joshua was sent to do battle with Amalek, and Amalek was weakened as a result, we do see Amalek return time and again throughout Israel’s history thereafter. We see them beaten back again in the days of King Saul and then in the days of Mordecai (remember Haman was an Amalekite). This is in conjunction to what Moses said after the battle (Exodus 17:16): “For there is a hand on the throne of God; Hashem maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation.” There was a realization by Moses that Amalek would continue to be a thorn in the side of Israel for generations to come. Yet, this would eventually come to an end, as prior to this, Hashem said to Moses (Exodus 17:14): “I shall surely wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.

If we dig deeper into Exodus 17:16 though, we find the answer to our question. To quote the verse again:

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כִּֽי־יָד֙ עַל־כֵּ֣ס יָ֔הּ מִלְחָמָ֥ה לַיהוָ֖ה בַּֽעֲמָלֵ֑ק מִדֹּ֖ר דֹּֽר׃

For there is a hand on the throne of God: Hashem maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation.

How does this verse reveal Hashem’s ultimate goal? The answer is embedded in the Hebrew. The word “kes” (“כֵּס”) meaning “throne” is missing the letter “aleph” (“א”) (it should be spelled “כִּסֵּא”). Moreover, the Name for God here (“יָהּ”) is only spelled as half the Name of Hashem “Yod-Heh” instead of “Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh”. What do these two half-spelled words tell us? They tell us that Hashem’s Name and Throne are not yet complete and are not yet established in all of Creation. How can this be the case when we claim that Hashem is Sovereign over all? He most certainly is Sovereign – that is irrefutable, but in this world… in the lives of mankind, he is not Sovereign. And you don’t have to look far in this world to see the brokenness of man from generation to generation. Call Amalek a “reminder” to the Children of Israel through the generations – that they would continue to be a thorn in their side so long as the Children of Israel did not rise above all of the trials and tribulations to draw closer to Hashem, and ultimately to reveal Him in their lives, replicating Moses, the leader in their generation, and their forefathers. Similarly, if we do not replicate Yeshua – who was the perfect reflection of Hashem to walk the face of the earth – then we can expect to continuously face trials and tribulations in our lives. And if we are stubborn enough, we may even have an “Amalek” to contend with!

We are all walking through the Wilderness of our lives. We have not yet arrived at our Promised Land… yet. The question is: Are we connected to our Heavenly Father? Moreover, who is our model to replicate in this world? Are we looking to Yeshua to help us in drawing closer to Hashem? Each and every day of our lives is filled with trials and tribulations that Hashem sends our way to test us, and it is up to us to condition ourselves, to elevate every part of ourselves – our thoughts, deeds and actions – all to the glory of Him! All so that we can in turn influence those in the world who need guidance and direction, and who don’t have the right model for their lives.

And finally, we know how it all ends. We know, according to Zechariah 14:9, that: “on that day, Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.” That day is coming when Hashem will repeat the great and mighty acts that He performed in Egypt – to reveal to both His Children and to the rest of the world that He is absolutely Sovereign, and that there is no other name even remotely comparable to His. On that day, He will be One, and His Name will be One in all of the world. Amen.

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