Beshalach: Encouragement

First steps in developing a mentality of freedom.

Aloh Naaleh,

Arutz 7

Eretz Yisrael is mentioned hardly at all in parshat Beshalach, with the exception of a fleeting reference in the story of the manna and in the conclusion of the poetic Shirat HaYam. Yet, the drama of developing those characteristics necessary for nation-building is very much the essence of the parsha.

The fragile and vulnerable mettle of the people of Israel that we first meet in Beshalach was such that the Lord felt it necessary to choose for them a meandering path in the desert, rather than the logical route. The logical route was the direct and short caravan route, but its choosing would have resulted in the callow nation turning on its heels back to Egypt at its first encounter with the hostile Philistines.

Later, at the shores of Yam Suf, we find a people panicked and nearly hysterical with fear crying out to Moshe that
In the modern period of return from the Galut a similar process has had to transpire.
their backs are to the sea as the menacing Egyptian horde approaches. Moshe responds: "Stand still and witness the salvation of the Lord!" But the Almighty's plans deviate from what Moshe has in mind.

"Why do you cry out to me?" He asks Moshe. "Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward!"

And the midrash amplifies this idea. Nachshon, son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah, plunged into the waters and the Yam Suf split open. (Mechilta)

The bravery, initiative and sacrifice demonstrated by Nachshon and those who followed him were but the first steps in developing the mentality of a free people, able to dedicate themselves to conquering Eretz Yisrael and living up to the responsibilities of the Lord's Torah within that land. Indeed, the transformation of the slave-mentality into the independence of spirit necessary to fight a war of conquest could not possibly occur overnight. It would, in fact, take forty years of tough wilderness conditions to harden them and teach them the requisite endurance and courage. (Rambam, Moreh Nevuchim)

In the modern period of return from the Galut a similar process has had to transpire. Rabbi Meir Simcha of D'vinsk (known for his commentary Meshech Chochmah) is quoted as having said that after the Balfour Declaration and after the San Remo Convention, "the fear of the Oaths has disappeared." Without elaborating here on the Oaths (Ketubot 111a), it is clear that his intention was to highlight that in the modern period, a new spirit had taken hold within the Jewish people - a willingness to initiate, to struggle physically for the Land, to fight for it, if necessary even to die for it, but hopefully to live, to work and to thrive in it.

That spirit inheres in the type of Jew who constantly labors to achieve and to maintain the delicate but tensile balance between self-reliance and faith, between "taking the plunge" and trust in HaShem, between acceptance of responsibility and awareness of our dependence on the Almighty.
Rabbi Shalom Kurz is the rabbi of Kehillat Etz Chaim, Bet Shemesh.