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Parashat B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

“He did not move away from the pillar of cloud by day
or the pillar of fire at night from before the people.” (Exodus 13:22)

Parashat B’shalach describes a moment of exultation.  The Israelites are free from slavery, yet are pursued by Pharaoh’s army. In response to the miracle of the splitting of the sea, Moses (and Miriam) leads the people in song. That is why this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song.

Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea comprises eighteen verses of poetry describing God’s majesty. It ends with a prophecy: the enemies of the Israelites will be rendered powerless, “…Until your people have crossed, O God; until the people You acquired have crossed over.” (Ex. 15:16) This refers to crossing the Jordan river to freedom in the Land of Canaan. The repetition of the phrase ad ya-avor, crossing over, predicts two crossings: in the first, Joshua leads the people into the land to conquer it and in the second, Ezra leads the return from the Babylonian exile to rebuild it (Babylonian Talmud B’rachot 4a).

Rabbi Avraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine) interprets further: the two crossings represent the first and second Temple periods, respectively. Each of those periods of history represents a distinct aspect of k’dusha, or sanctity. The first is an innate k’dusha, which is inherited from the Biblical patriarchs. The second is an acquired k’dusha, which is the result of our own individual actions. Innate k’dusha is revealed only as a function of the acquired k’dusha. That is, your innate k’dusha remains inert until your acquired k’dusha activates it. Put another way, pride in heritage is meaningless unless you actively contribute yourself to the ongoing saga of the Jewish people.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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