Parashas Beshalach 5781 – The Solution Within You

In our Parasha underly several unaccounted mistakes made by both sides. As much as the blunders of the Bnei Yisrael could be explained since their transition from slavery to freedom was so sudden. Thus, those made by Pharaoh are just striking by the poor level of judgement and his actions qualify to be assessed as suicidal. Our Parasha records the exodus by stating; “It was when Pharaoh let the people go, Hashem did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for Hashem said, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt,” [Shemos 13:17]. This verse raises several difficulties; It was not Pharaoh that freed the Jews from Egypt. In contrary, he put up a fight not to let them leave, but Hashem coerced him with the ten plagues. So, it is Hashem who instigated the exodus; He is the One who freed them from bondage. Why is the verse not mentioning it and rather mentions Pharaoh who never wanted to liberate them? The second episode takes place three days later when the Jews camped by the shore of Yam Suf. Pharaoh approaches them with his army and could already taste the victory. Thus, the Verse describes; “He took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt,” [Shemos 14:7]. In other words, Pharaoh gathered a nominal army to fight millions of people. Had the Jews only taken water in their mouth and spitted at them they would have drowned them. Then, why is Pharaoh so assured of his victory? Besides, he knows the Israelites are protected by Hashem, he sees a column of raging fire in the sky that stands between him and the Jews. What leads him to think he will receive a different than the one he received in Egypt. The logic dictates to preserve whatever was salvaged from the 10 plagues and to rebuild his country. Then, what drives him to gamble the leftovers? On the other hand, the emancipated slaves brace themselves for the inevitable showdown with their erstwhile masters. They start by pouring out their heart to Hashem to save them from this hopeless situation. Then they gang up on Moshe to complain why he freed them from Egypt. Their entire logic is so primitive and does not reflect the supposed Heavenly light that Jews are known for. Has Hashem not punished the Egyptians with supernatural plagues? Have they not seen Pharaoh being pushed to his knees for refusing to liberate them? Have they not seen the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire shifted and stood between them and the Egyptians? Is that not a clear sign that Hashem is readying to smite the Egyptians? What can explain that a poor attitude? Rarely in life do we witness Divine Justice unfolding in real time, as the Israelites did with the splitting of the sea. Standing on terra firma, they had front row seats to the most awesome display of God’s involvement in human history man had ever seen: The Egyptian army, chariots, and all, were consumed by fire and water, and the reality of God’s might and Egypt’s complete eradication began to sink into their consciousness. In response, the Israelites broke into songs of praise and thanks. The remainder of their march toward destiny would be unencumbered by fear of Pharaoh or his henchmen. The Arizal teach us that everything in the world is composed by two components: a vessel and its content. For a blessing to lay on a person it requires a vessel. The importance of the vessel is judged by its content, and it would be a bitter mistake to select the vessel over its content. Pharaoh was only a vessel used by Hashem to provide the pompous liberation of the Jews. Hashem is the infinite light which constantly surrounds us as long as we acknowledge it. The fatal mistake made by the Jews was to try to be rational and to explain the events with mortal logic. They rationalized that Pharaoh let them go and denied the true perpetrator. Consequentially Hashem’s light was removed from them, leading them to the most absurd logic. The Baal Shem tov also teaches us this fundamental and essential characteristic. The Jews traveled to 42 different locations through their journey in the desert. The Torah mentions every place because every person will travel those 42 destinations during his lifetime. A place is named “Bitterness”, another one “Fear” etc. The key is to learn not to internalize the outer events. This would be the fatal mistake which will drive Hashem’s light away from the person. One should convince himself that only good comes from Hashem despite that events show differently. The reason is: because the numerical value of Hashem’s name that resides in the brain has is 17, which is also Tov, Good. That’s the reason King Solomon says; “The wise has eyes in his head.” Our mission is to flood our bodies with our internal light, not to internalize our body’s darkness. The Midrach recounts that when Alexander the great travelled to Africa to conquer a country, the Jewish sages came out to great him. They asked him; is there no sun in your country or maybe no rain? He reassured them that the sun rises every day, and it was also raining periodically. They then asked him, maybe there are no fruits or water? again he reassured them there were plenty of it. They then asked him why did come all the way to conquer us? Anyway, we are dead, and our body is our tomb. However, one day Hashem will have mercy on us and free us from our tombs! Hearing these wise words, he thanked them for the lesson and turned around. Hereafter is a beautiful story that illustrate the outcome of the internal light overpowering the darkness of the body: Wine flowed and words of Torah were shared as the Jewish community of Ratzfert, Hungary, gathered to welcome their new leader, Rabbi Naftali Hertz Halevi. The atmosphere was jubilant, and the choicest fish, meat, and wines were served. Suddenly a cry erupted at one of the tables. “Yayin nesech! Non-Jewish wine!” someone shouted. The lone voice soon became a din. As the bottle in question was passed around, it became apparent that there was a cross illustrated on the label, indicating that the wine had been manufactured at a non-Jewish winery, rendering it unfit to be used. The bottle made its way up to Rav Yechezkel Shraga of Shineve, oldest son of the saintly Rav Chaim Halberstam of Tzanz, and a dear friend of the new rabbi. As he inspected it, a faint smile crossed his lips. This surprising reaction calmed the commotion. All waited for the visiting sage to explain. As the room fell silent, the rabbi began to tell a story: Years ago, in one of Warsaw’s upscale neighborhoods, lived a rich widow named Paula Zimorsky. Among the many assets her late husband left her was a large winery. When a Jewish merchant arrived at her estate one day, a rock was thrown at his head. He looked around and noticed a young boy with a cruel grin peeking out from behind the bushes. It was the widow’s son. As the injured Jew met with her, he bemoaned the “warm welcome” he had received from her son. Shocked, she didn’t hesitate to apologize. “Maybe my preoccupation with my business affairs did not leave me enough time to invest in raising my child,” she sighed. After the Jewish businessman left, the mother called her son and reprimanded him. The child looked at his mother in surprise. His eyes conveyed his thoughts: Mom, what’s the big deal? After all, he is just a Jew. Noticing the unspoken sentiment, she said, “Know, my son, that the Jews you despise are G-d’s chosen people. I believe that their religion is right and just. You should know, my dear, that Christianity and Islam feed off ideas borrowed from Judaism.” Never expecting to hear such words, the boy stared at his mother and asked, “Why did you never act on your convictions and become a Jewess?” The mother thought for a moment and chose her words carefully. “After all is said and done, I think that a person ought to follow in the path of their parents and to continue the traditions and beliefs that they were brought up with.” It did not take long before people began to notice the improved behavior of the rich, spoiled orphan boy, but nobody knew what had caused the change. In truth, since that heart-to-heart conversation with his mother, he was besieged by troubled thoughts that gave him no rest. Years passed, and one day the boy (now a teen) left home without a trace. He wandered until he chanced upon the house of a melamed (Torah teacher) in a village outside of Lublin. The teacher agreed to help this young Christian lad who demonstrated a genuine yearning to learn. A short time passed, and the young man went through a full conversion and chose the name Dovid. He began to advance in his learning and soon became a noted Torah scholar with a large and devoted following. People did not know his background, but his brilliance and eloquence were unparalleled. One day two police officers stormed the study hall and arrested Dovid. In the church’s dark cellar, Dovid was charged with contempt for the Christian religion and was subsequently burned at the stake. Some time passed and two priests disappeared from a church in Warsaw. After a few months, a letter arrived from the Holy Land. In the letter, they recounted the long conversations they had with Dovid, and admitted that, as a result, they had converted to Judaism. The second episode was even more embarrassing to the church than the first. The church leaders met and decided that the cause of all this trouble was the poor education the widow Zimorsky gave her child. In light of this, they determined that her wines could no longer bear the symbol of Christianity on their labels. Years passed, concluded Reb Yechezkel Shraga, and the winery was bought by a G-d-fearing Jew, a member of my congregation. At first, he was also shocked when he saw the labels and wanted to alter them. But when he heard this story, he chose to keep the labels to immortalize the sanctification of G-d’s name by Dovid, the son of the widowed Zimorsky. Look again closely at the label and you will see that it is not a proper cross, it is only similar, as the church forbade the woman to use the symbol of their religion

By Rabbi Fridmann * * 305.985.3461

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