Parashat Beshallach: Exodus 13:17 to 17:16

Week of Friday, January 26, 2024

The title of our Torah portion means “when he sent forth,” and refers to Pharaoh’s decision to free the Israelites. But Pharaoh changes his mind and begins to pursue our people think the Hollywood movie). The actual going out from Egypt, which began in last week’s portion, concludes this week with Israel encountering the God who brings them freedom and redemption. All of that happens at the shores of the Sea of Reeds.

This Shabbat is called “Shabbat Shirah,” as we read the great poem, the “shir” of Moses and Miriam at the shores of the sea. This text is one of the most profound poems in the Torah, and portions of it are embedded in the daily prayer service. Pharaoh chases the people at the “Yam Suf,” which literally means the ‘sea of Suf.’ In the 16th century the Bible translators rendered this term the ‘sea of reeds.’ The poem of victory is really a powerful military song. It extols the power and saving arm of the Almighty, and speaks of God as redeemer and the one who destroys the enemy. The Haggadah for Passover includes all this in its narrative, and includes countless midrashim which emphasize the boundless redemptive power of the Lord. 

The Torah sedrah leads us to Sinai. On the way, Israel fights with God, demanding food and receiving manna. The people also battle with the Amalekites, a predatory Bedouin tribe. 

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