“Let the Egyptians know that I am God, when I gain glory through Pharoah, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:18)
This week’s Torah perspective comes from Rabbi Barry R. Baron, Deputy Director of the JWB Chaplains Council.
Parashat B’shalach describes Israel’s departure from Egypt, Pharoah’s pursuit, and the miracle of the splitting of the sea. Not surprisingly, when the Israelites see the Egyptians advancing on them, they are frightened, and cry out to God. They then turn to Moses, saying,” Was it for want of graves in Egypt you brought us to die in the wilderness?” (Exodus 14:11) Moses reassures them, saying, “God will battle for you; you hold your peace.” (Exodus 14:14) God responds by asking Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? …Lift your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.” (Exodus 14:15, 16)
This moment represents a shift in God’s plan for the Jewish people. Up until now, the Torah uses military language to describe the Israelites: “At the end of 430 years, to the very day, all the armies of the Eternal departed from the land of Egypt;“ (Exodus 12:41) “That very day the Eternal freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop;” (Exodus 12:51) “So God led the people round about, through the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds, and the Children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:18) God’s plan was for the Israelites to be an army, fight the Egyptians, and establish themselves as a sovereign nation, bringing glory to God. But the Israelites could not yet fight for themselves and God scraps the plan.
Instead, God opts for Plan B, hinted at in next week’s parasha (portion). God tells Moses and, through him, all Israel, “You shall be, for me, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”(Exodus. 19:6) The message is clear: being an army is insufficient. Only a commitment to holiness will permit Israel to meet God’s expectation as a people chosen for divine service.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,
Dr. David Ackerman is the Director of JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education.