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

“The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” (Exodus 14:14)

Parashat B’shalach describes Israel’s hasty departure from Egypt, Pharoah’s fevered pursuit, and God’s miraculous splitting of the sea and destruction of the Egyptian army.  In response, Moses leads the people in Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea.  (That is why this Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song.) It is the first extended piece of Biblical poetry and depicts God as virile, fierce, and vengeful; a Rambo-like warrior protecting the Israelite people.  B’shalach also offers another image of God, though.

Six weeks later, when the Israelites complain about the lack of bread and meat, God tells Moses food will “…rain down.” (Ex. 16:4).  Moses and Aaron then tell the Israelites, “…in the morning, you shall behold k’vod adonai (the Presence of God).” (Ex. 16:6) This is the first time k’vod adonai is used in the Bible.  Nahum Sarna (1923–2005; modern Biblical scholar) observes historically it has been translated as “God’s glory,” but more recently, scholars feel its meaning is variable and determined by the context.  Here the context is provided a few verses later, when the manna, which appeared in the morning, is described as, “…a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.” (Ex. 16:14.) Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains the manna is covered by dew and rests on a bed of dew, like jewelry in a box.   Here k’vod adonai appears as precious gemstones.

Obviously, God is neither only an avenging warrior nor a precious stone. B’shalach is sharing an important insight about God’s presence: it is manifest in different ways and relies upon our individual perception.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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