This Week's D'var Torah by Jessica and Samantha Caminker

Samantha: This week’s Parsha is Beshalach. Following Bo, Pharaoh's heart is hardened and he reverses the previous decision to let the Jewish people out of Egypt. Trapped between their pursuers and the Red Sea, the nation is saved by Hashem’s miracle of dividing the water long enough for the Jews to pass through, then letting the water free once again to swallow the Egyptians as they followed them. Safely on the other side, the Jewish people begin their long journey through the desert and establish their camps, sustained by water, manna, and quails provided by G-d. After an attack from Amalek, the Parsha leaves the Jewish people in the desert awaiting the giving of the Torah, which comes the following week. 

Jessica: Beshalach is one of the Parshiot where there is so much going on that it is difficult to try to take in all of it at once. When Samantha and I read the Parsha together this week before writing this dvar, we struggled to choose a topic to focus on. And not because there isn’t enough to talk about, but because this Parsha encapsulates many events. And while there is certainly plenty to talk about when it comes to the exodus itself, some smaller details caught our attention this time through:

Samantha: The very first pasuk says, “Now when Pharaoh let the people go, G-d did not lead them by way of the land of the Phillistines, although it was nearer; for G-d said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.’” Even though it would be so much quicker simply to pass through the home of the Phillistines, G-d was worried that the Jews would witness the war there and would consequently want to run back to Egypt, even though that would almost certainly mean becoming slaves again. G-d is doubting the Jews’ belief in Him; He thinks that after all of the plagues, after all of the miracles and signs He caused to prove to the Egyptians and the Jews that He was all-powerful, He still thinks that the Jews don’t have much faith in him. Why does G-d not trust the Jewish people? And further, why does He bother with a nation he feels cannot be trusted?

Jessica: Some commentaries explain that G-d knew if the Jews were to encounter the Philistines, they would have been surrounded and captured once again. This answer would have made sense if G-d hadn’t just personally escorted the Jews out of Egypt, but it seems like capture isn’t the nation’s most pressing concern at the moment, so this commentary didn’t sit right.

Samantha: Another possible explanation offers more insight. Even despite all the wonders the Jewish people had witnessed of G-d already at that point, they had not yet demonstrated a type of loyalty to and faith in Hashem that would allow for their intentions to be trusted. Even when Hashem made food literally fall from the sky to feed the wandering nation, the Jews’ response was to say that the manna was not satisfying and ask for meat instead. G-d, aware of humans’ sometimes ignorant and ungrateful urges, did not want to tempt the people to run back to Egypt at the sight of a foreign war on their journey. This answer, while satisfying the first part of our question, still doesn’t address the more important idea of why Hashem would go through all this effort to bring the Jews out of Egypt if he felt they would abandon Him at the first opportunity. 

Jessica: Samantha and I discussed this for a little while before deciding together that it is true that the Jews’ questionable decisions up until this point have made G-d lose faith in them; however, instead of completely abandoning the Israelites as a lost cause, G-d instead decides to build His relationship with them. When G-d thinks, “The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt,” He acknowledges that His followers have little faith in Him, but He realizes that leading them through the desert would resolve that. Once the Jews are stuck in the desert, they have to rely on Him, and after forty years of wandering through the desert with only Him as a guide, the Israelites’ faith will be reinforced. When G-d chooses to lead His people to Israel via the difficult path, the Jews ultimately grow to appreciate Him and have much more faith in Him even more so than they would have if they had cut through the land of the Philistines.

Samantha: One lesson I got from this conclusion is about dealing with difficult situations in relationships. We’ve all encountered conflicts in our interactions with others, and I can promise that we’ll continue to do so in the future. When the Jews doubt G-d and act ungrateful for everything He does for them, G-d doesn’t abandon them. He instead takes them on a path that He knows will bring them closer and teach them the importance of their faith in Him. We know that this isn’t the last time that the Jews disrespect or lose faith in G-d; but still, He doesn’t leave them. He helps them renew their faith in Him. There will be many days that we all want to just give up on whatever it is we’re dealing with, but we have to remember that that is not the answer. We all have something to learn from this Parsha: the right path may not be the easiest or the shortest, but it will surely teach valuable lessons and lead us where we need to go. 

Jessica: Thank you!