Parashas Beshallach

Parashas Beshallach begins with the following verse (Shemos 13:17): “And it was, when Pharaoh sent the people out, that God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines (דרך ארץ פלשתים), for it was near.” The Maggid examines a Midrash on this verse that builds on the fact that the Hebrew word ארץ can mean land or earth, and the phrase דרך ארץ is a standard Hebrew expression which is used (among other uses) to mean the way of the world (i.e., the way the world ordinarily operates). The Midrash states as follows (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 226):
It is the way of the world that water comes from above and bread comes from below. But here, bread comes from above, as it is written (Shemos 16:4), “Behold, I will cause bread to rain down from heaven for you,” while water comes from below, as it is written (Bamidbar 21:17), “Then Yisrael sang this song: ‘Rise up, O well’” [referring to the miraculous well that followed the Jewish People through their travels in the wilderness and provided them water].
The Maggid explains this Midrash in terms of two modes of operation that Hashem uses to provide us with our needs. The first mode is through our efforts in serving Hashem, particularly during the time when we were well settled in our land and had the Beis HaMikdash, where we brought offerings that generated closeness between us and Hashem, and caused blessing to flow down to us. The Maggid refers to this mode as “ordinary providence,” likening it to the situation of a father providing his son with a sum of money and teaching him the ways of business, so that he can support himself through his own efforts. The second mode is a mode of special compassionate care that Hashem puts into effect when we lack the means to sustain ourselves through our service to Him. The Maggid refers to this mode as “transcendent providence,” and likens it to the situation of a young child who lives in his father’s house and has all his needs provided for him by his father. We have previously presented an essay from Ohel Yaakov, parashas Vayeitzei where the Maggid discusses these concepts. Transcendent providence is the mode that was in effect while we were in the wilderness, before we settled into Eretz Yisrael and were in a position to obtain our sustenance through ordinary providence. And this is the mode that is in effect at present, when we are in exile and unable to serve Hashem at the level at which we served Him when we had the Beis HaMikdash.
Now, if we had gone through oppression in Egypt for the full length of time that Hashem initially designated, we would have gone directly into Eretz Yisrael and entered the framework of ordinary providence. But because we could not withstand the severe oppression that Pharaoh imposed upon us and the exposure to Egyptian decadence, Hashem was led to redeem us before the designated time. We were not yet worthy, however, of entering Eretz Yisrael. Accordingly, Hashem led us into the wilderness and cared for us through transcendent providence. We can understand in this vein our parashah’s opening verse. When Pharaoh sent the people out – Pharaoh caused us to leave Egypt before designated time, because he made the yoke of slavery extremely onerous – God did not lead them according to the way of the world – it was not possible for Hashem to deal us with through the mode of ordinary providence, but instead it was necessary for Him to care for us through the mode of transcendent providence.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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