Parashas Beshallach

This week’s parashah recounts the miracle of the splitting of the Sea of Reeds. The Jewish People are trapped, with the Egyptians chasing them from behind and the sea in front of them, and they are terrified. Moshe says to them (Shemos 14:13-14):
Do not fear! Stand fast and behold the salvation by Hashem that He will bring about for you today, for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again. Hashem will wage war for you; you remain silent.
The Maggid sets out to explain this statement. He builds on a passage in Tehillim (106:7-14):
Our forefathers in Egypt did not reflect on Your wonders; they were not mindful of Your abundant kindnesses, and they rebelled at the sea, the Sea of Reeds. And He saved them for the sake of His Name, to make known His might. … Swiftly they forgot His deeds; they did not await His counsel. And they craved a craving in the wilderness, and they tested God in the desert.
He develops his explanation through a parable. A rich nobleman happened to come across the son of a certain pauper. He saw that the young man was of exceptionally fine character, and he chose him as a husband for his daughter. On the wedding day, the nobleman decked him out with a splendid suit and a gold chain, in the manner of men of the upper class. He invited to the wedding all the dignitaries in his family. For the wedding feast, he set the table with expensive tableware and a lavish array of delicacies. He did all of this to impress the groom and make him aware of his august stature, his wealth, and his distinguished lineage. But the groom, accustomed to being in a state of hunger, focused only on eating and paid no attention to all the magnificence. Some time later, the idea arose in the young man’s mind to inquire into his father-in-law’s financial condition and family background. The father-in-law was incensed. He roared at his son-in-law: “Why did you not pay attention at the wedding, where I set before you glory of the kind neither you nor anyone in your family ever saw?”  
The parallel is as follows. At the time Hashem redeemed the Jewish People from Egypt, He knew in advance all the doubts and questions they would later raise about Him, and how they would test Him to ascertain His might. Accordingly, in the process of redeeming them, He performed for them an array of awesome miracles, in order to show them what He is able to do. He explained His intent to Moshe (Shemos 10:1-2):
Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, and his servants’ hearts, so that I might set these signs of Mine in their midst, and so that you may relate in the ears of your son, and of your son’s son, what I have wrought upon Egypt, and My signs which I have placed among them, so that you may know that I am Hashem.
But the Jewish People, because of the foolishness they suffered from at the time, did not reflect on these awesome acts, but concentrated only on their being released from Egypt. The Gemara puts the point as follows (Berachos 9b): “It is like a person who was in prison, and people told him: ‘Tomorrow they are taking you out of prison and giving you a large sum of money.’ He replied: ‘I beg of you, take me out today, and I’ll ask for nothing more.’” Consequently, when they were in the wilderness, the idea arose in their minds to test Hashem to determine His nature and capabilities. Hashem was incensed. He exclaimed (Bamidbar 14:11): “How long will they fail to believe in Me, with all the signs that I have wrought in their midst?” And shortly afterward He declared (ibid. 14:21-23): “As I live … all the men who have seen My glory and My signs that I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tested Me these ten times and have not heeded My voice – if they will see the land that I swore to give to their forefathers! And all who angered Me will not see it.” Hashem is expressing His anger over the fact that the Jewish People did not take notice of the wonders He performed at the time He performed them, but afterward sought pretexts to test Him to gain an understanding of Him. The passage from Tehillim quoted above describes the Jewish People’s lapse: “Our forefathers in Egypt did not reflect on Your wonders.” That is, they did not arouse their minds to contemplate and learn from the wonders Hashem performed. As a consequence, “they tested God in the desert.”
We can now understand the statement by Moshe quoted at the outset. As the Jewish People approached the sea, Moshe warned them: “Do not fear!” As we well know, fear interferes with a person’s ability to reflect on what he observes. By way of analogy, if a person is running away in fear, he will not notice any valuable items lying on the ground for the taking; in his rush, he will not see even items lying right in front of him. Accordingly, Moshe exhorted the people: “Stand fast” – confidently, without trepidation – “and behold the salvation by Hashem that He will bring about for you today.” And then Moshe explained to the people why it was essential for them to reflect on the miraculous salvation they were about to experience: “For as you have seen Egypt today” – the awesome wonders and the great might that Hashem directed against the Egyptians at that point in time – “you shall not see them ever again.” Moshe was telling the people: “Later you will seek to test Hashem to induce Him to display His power, but you will not be privileged to behold wonders of the kind He is performing now. So you must pay careful attention to what is going to take place before you.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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