Haftarah: Shoftim 4:4-5:31 (Ashkenazi) | Shoftim 5:1-31 (Sefardi) | Shoftim 4:23-5:31 (Teimani)
[על-התורה] הפטרה: שופטים ד ד-ה לא (ע”פ כל המנהגים) | שופטים ה א-לא (ספרדים) | שופטים ד כג-ה לא (תימנים)
- By Way of Yam Suf
- Paraoh’s Pursuit
- Crossing Yam Suf
- The Song of the Sea
- Bitter Water
- Man (Manna) from Heaven
- Shabbat Observance
- Water from the Rock (Part 1)
- Amalek’s Evil
- Haftarah Summary – ודבורה אשה נביאה
In Parashat Beshalach, Bnei Yisrael are pursued by the Egyptians; by Hashem’s command, Moshe parts Yam Suf (the Reed Sea) and the people all cross safely on dry land. The Egyptians, meanwhile, are drowned when the water closes over them. Bnei Yisrael continue into the wilderness, but encounter lack of food and water which leaves them with little faith in their survival. They discover that they are fed by the miraculous man which falls from the sky, and in connection with the man, are instructed about Shabbat observance. Finally, they stave off the evil Amalek, who seeks to destroy the nascent nation of Israel.
By Way of Yam Suf
Although the route to Eretz Yisrael is closer via the land of the Philistines (פְּלִשְׁתִּים), G-d leads Bnei Yisrael through the wilderness (midbar – מִּדְבָּר), by way of Yam Suf (the Sea of Reeds – יַם סוּף),1 averting war with the Philistines. Borne along with Moshe are the bones of Yosef, per his request to be buried in Eretz Yisrael. Their first stop is Sukkot (סֻּכֹּת),2 followed by Eitam (אֵתָם). They are guided by Hashem:
וַה’ הֹלֵךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם יוֹמָם בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן לַנְחֹתָם הַדֶּרֶךְ וְלַיְלָה בְּעַמּוּד אֵשׁ לְהָאִיר לָהֶם לָלֶכֶת יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה: לֹא יָמִישׁ עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן יוֹמָם וְעַמּוּד הָאֵשׁ לָיְלָה לִפְנֵי הָעָם
Hashem went before them in a pillar of cloud by day, to guide them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, that they might travel day and night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.Shemot 13:21-22
Hashem next instructs that the people should turn back and encamp at Pi ha-Chirot (פִּי הַחִירֹת), between Migdol (מִגְדֹּל) and the sea, before Baal-Tzefon (בַּעַל צְפֹן). This is meant to trick Paraoh into thinking that Bnei Yisrael are lost in the desert, so that the Egyptians will pursue them. This will grant them another opportunity to recognize Hashem; once again Hashem hardens Paraoh’s heart.
Having had a change of heart, Paraoh orders his 600 chariots and warriors to pursue Bnei Yisrael. The people, scared, cry out to Hashem and wonder if it would not have been preferable to stay in Egypt than to die in the wilderness. But Moshe promises them that Hashem will dispense with the Egyptians.
Crossing Yam Suf
Hashem instructs Bnei Yisrael to continue forward; Moshe is to raise his arm over the sea and split it, so that the people can all cross on dry land. The pillar of cloud and fire shifts so it is behind the people, acting as a protective barrier between them and the Egyptians, who are in pursuit by Hashem’s plan:
יֵּט מֹשֶׁה אֶת יָדוֹ עַל הַיָּם וַיּוֹלֶךְ ה’ אֶת הַיָּם בְּרוּחַ קָדִים עַזָּה כָּל הַלַּיְלָה וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הַיָּם לֶחָרָבָה וַיִּבָּקְעוּ הַמָּיִם: וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה וְהַמַּיִם לָהֶם חוֹמָה מִימִינָם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָם: וַיִּרְדְּפוּ מִצְרַיִם וַיָּבֹאוּ אַחֲרֵיהֶם כֹּל סוּס פַּרְעֹה רִכְבּוֹ :וּפָרָשָׁיו אֶל תּוֹךְ הַיָּם
Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and Hashem drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split, and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians came in pursuit after them into the sea, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and riders.Shemot 14:21-23
When, in the morning, the Egyptians sense Hashem in the pillar of fire and smoke, they recognize His power and begin to panic. Hashem causes the wheels of the Egyptian chariots to lock. He then instructs Moshe to hold out his arm once again over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returns to its regular state and the Egyptians are hurled into the sea. The entire army is drowned. Seeing this, the people have awe for and faith in Hashem and in His designated leader, Moshe.
The Song of the Sea
Moshe and Bnei Yisrael break out in a song of gratitude, the famous beginning of which is:
:אָשִׁירָה לַה’ כִּי גָאֹה גָּאָה סוּס וְרֹכְבוֹ רָמָה בַיָּם
I will sing to Hashem, for He has triumphed gloriously;Shemot 15:1
Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.
Known as “The Song of the Sea,” this text is uniquely laid out in Torah scrolls. It is composed with notably poetic Hebrew and spans verses 1-19. Then, Miriam the prophetess leads the women in this same song with her hand-drum (תֹּף – known as tof Miriam, Miriam’s drum, conventionally rendered in English as “timbrel” and often associated with the tambourine). The Israelite women go out after her with their own hand-drums and dance.3
Moshe now leads the people from the Reed Sea to the Desert (or wilderness) of Shur (מִדְבַּר שׁוּר). After three days, they haהק found no water. The people arrive at Mara (מָרָה), which means “bitter” and is so called on account of its bitter, undrinkable water. Bnei Yisrael begin to complain (וַיִּלֹּנוּ) to Moshe. Moshe cries out to Hashem, Who shows him a piece of wood that, when thrown into the bitter water, turns it sweet and potable. This is seen as a test and establishment of rules for Bnei Yisrael. Hashem says that if His laws are obeyed, He will keep Bnei Yisrael healthy, “for I Hashem am your healer” (כִּי אֲנִי ה’ רֹפְאֶךָ). Moshe leads the people to Eilim (אֵילִם), where there are twelve freshwater springs and seventy palm trees, and they encamp near the water.
Man (Manna) from Heaven
We are told explicitly that on the 15th day of the second month from their departure from Egypt, i.e. the 15th of Iyar, Bnei Yisrael reach the Desert (or wilderness) of Sin (מִדְבַּר סִין), which is between Eilim (אֵילִם) and Sinai (סִינָי). Once again, the people complain (וילינו [וַיִּלּוֹנוּ]) to Moshe and Aharon, saying:
מִי יִתֵּן מוּתֵנוּ בְיַד ה’ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם בְּשִׁבְתֵּנוּ עַל סִיר הַבָּשָׂר בְּאָכְלֵנוּ לֶחֶם לָשֹׂבַע :כִּי הוֹצֵאתֶם אֹתָנוּ אֶל הַמִּדְבָּר הַזֶּה לְהָמִית אֶת כָּל הַקָּהָל הַזֶּה בָּרָעָב
If only we had died by the hand of Hashem in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.Shemot 16:3
Hashem tells Moshe He will “rain down bread from the sky” (הִנְנִי מַמְטִיר לָכֶם לֶחֶם מִן הַשָּׁמָיִם), but as a test to see if Bnei Yisrael will follow His instructions carefully. They are to gather each day’s portion only, except for on the sixth day, when they will see that whatever they bring in is miraculously double the amount they need for one day. Moshe and Aharon inform that people that G-d has heard their complaints and chastise them for their irreverence. Turning, the people encounter the Presence of Hashem (כְּבוֹד ה’). Hashem then tells Moshe that He will also provide meat for the people to eat, as well as bread.
וַיְהִי בָעֶרֶב וַתַּעַל הַשְּׂלָו וַתְּכַס אֶת הַמַּחֲנֶה וּבַבֹּקֶר הָיְתָה שִׁכְבַת הַטַּל סָבִיב לַמַּחֲנֶה: וַתַּעַל שִׁכְבַת הַטָּל וְהִנֵּה עַל פְּנֵי הַמִּדְבָּר דַּק מְחֻסְפָּס דַּק כַּכְּפֹר עַל הָאָרֶץ: וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו מָן הוּא כִּי לֹא יָדְעוּ מַה הוּא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֲלֵהֶם הוּא הַלֶּחֶם אֲשֶׁר נָתַן ה’ לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה: זֶה הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ לִקְטוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִישׁ לְפִי אָכְלוֹ עֹמֶר לַגֻּלְגֹּלֶת מִסְפַּר נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם אִישׁ לַאֲשֶׁר בְּאָהֳלוֹ תִּקָּחוּ
In the evening quail appeared and covered the camp; in the morning there was a fall of dew about the camp. When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” —for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “That is the bread which Hashem has given you to eat. This is what Hashem has commanded: Each household shall gather as much as it requires to eat—an omer4 to a person for as many of you as there are; each household shall fetch according to those in its tent.Shemot 16:13-16
The people discover that no matter how much or how little they gather, the foodstuff (as yet unnamed) is exactly equal to what their household needs for sustenance. Moshe explains that they may not leave any of it over until the morning. Those who do so anyway discover that the substance turns to maggots and begins to stink. After this experience they gather only what they need, and when the sun grew hot, any excess would melt away.
On the sixth day, the people gather two omers of the food substance. Gathering the elders, Moshe explains why:
שַׁבָּתוֹן שַׁבַּת קֹדֶשׁ לַה’ מָחָר אֵת אֲשֶׁר תֹּאפוּ אֵפוּ וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר תְּבַשְּׁלוּ בַּשֵּׁלוּ וְאֵת :כָּל הָעֹדֵף הַנִּיחוּ לָכֶם לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת עַד הַבֹּקֶר
This is what Hashem meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy Shabbat of Hashem. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.Shemot 16:23
When they do so, Bnei Yisrael discover that the food does not rot the next morning, but stays pristine. Moshe adds that none will fall on the seventh day, because it is Shabbat. However, some people, lacking trust in what he says, go out to collect food anyway; Hashem expresses frustration to Moshe.
Moshe is also told, “Let everyone remain in place: let no one leave the vicinity on the seventh day” (שְׁבוּ אִישׁ תַּחְתָּיו אַל יֵצֵא אִישׁ מִמְּקֹמוֹ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי).5 The people obey this commandment. They also give a name to the miraculous foodstuff:
:וַיִּקְרְאוּ בֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת שְׁמוֹ מָן וְהוּא כְּזֶרַע גַּד לָבָן וְטַעְמוֹ כְּצַפִּיחִת בִּדְבָשׁ
The house of Israel named it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers in honey.Shemot 16:31
Moshe instructs Aharon to take a jar and fill it with man “to be kept through the ages” (לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם). It was later6 placed next to the Edut (Pact – הָעֵדֻת), i.e., Luchot ha-Brit, the Tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved.
וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָכְלוּ אֶת הַמָּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה עַד בֹּאָם אֶל אֶרֶץ נוֹשָׁבֶת אֶת הַמָּן אָכְלוּ עַד בֹּאָם אֶל קְצֵה אֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן:
And the Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a settled land; they ate the manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.Shemot 16:35
Water from the Rock (Part 1)
In the manner commanded by Hashem, the people proceed from the Desert of Sin to Refidim. Bnei Yisrael quarrel (וַיָּרֶב) with Moshe and complain (וַיָּלֶן), demanding water to drink. In frustration, Moshe exclaims, “What shall I do with this people? Before long they will be stoning me!” (מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָעָם הַזֶּה עוֹד מְעַט וּסְקָלֻנִי).
In response, Hashem tells Moshe to assemble the elders and take his rod with which he had struck the Nile. Hashem will appear before him in the rock (tzur – צּוּר) at Chorev (חֹרֵב). Moshe is then to strike the rock (וְהִכִּיתָ בַצּוּר), causing water to come out of it for the people to drink. He does so in the sight of the elders; the place is named Masa (מַסָּה – “trial”) and Meriva (“qarrel” – מְרִיבָה).
Also at Refidim, Bnei Yisrael are attacked by the Amalekites, led by their namesake. Moshe summons Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) and tells him to prepare for battle. As Yehoshua goes to war, Moshe, Aharon, and Chur ( – Hur) ascend the top of a hill. So long as Moshe holds up his hand, Israel prevails; when he lowers it, Amalek triumphs. When Moshe becomes tired, they bring him a stone to sit on, and Aharon and Chur each hold up one of his hands. Yehoshua emerges the victor.
After the victory, Hashem tells Moshe, “Inscribe this in a document as a reminder, and read it aloud to Yehoshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” (כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרוֹן בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ כִּי מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם). Moshe then builds an altar, which he names A-donai Nisi, “Hashem tested me.” Moshe declares, “Hashem will be at war with Amalek throughout the ages” (מִלְחָמָה לַה’ בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר).
Haftarah Summary – ודבורה אשה נביאה
This week’s haftarah tells the famous story of the prophetess Devora’s routing of the Canaanite general Sisera, and Yael’s ruse which allowed her to kill. The Ashkenazi reading includes the backstory: the Canaanites under King Yavin oppress the Israelites for a long twenty years, causing many to go astray and worship Canaanite gods. In her wisdom, Devora, one of the Shoftim (Judges) who ruled Israel in the period before kingship, instructs Barak, her general, to draw the Canaanite army into a trap. The tactic works perfectly; his chariots flee (another motif the story has in common to our parsha), his army is killed off, and Sisera alone manages to survive the attack. He seeks shelter from his allies, the Kenites. However, the Kenites are known for their kindness towards Israel. Thus a Kenite woman, Yael, shelters him and then, having plied him with milk to make him sleepy, kills Sisera in his sleep. After the victory, Devora and Barak sing a song of victory reminiscent of the Song of the Sea. (The Sefardi reading begins with this song – ותשר דבורה וברק בן אבינעם.)
Image: Sabin Bălașa, Exodus.
- Note that there are other possibilities for the location of Yam Suf on the map; it is also sometimes associated with the Red Sea, although this seems inconsistent with other data in Tanach.
- Rashi on Shemot 13:20 notes that on the first day they journeyed from Rameses to Sukkot and on the second day from Sukkot to Eitam. The locations of Rameses and Sukkot are conjectured.
- See the passage in Sotah 11b, which explains that it was the righteousness of the women among Bnei Yisrael who merited redemption for Am Israel.
- At the end of this parshiya (section), we are told that an omer (עֹמֶר) is a tenth of an ephah (אֵיפָה).
- In the Chinuch, this is Mitzvah 24; it’s Lo Taaseh 321 in Rambam (although note Ramban’s disagreement; he does not count this as a de-Orayta).
- See Ibn Ezra on Shemot 16:32.