In this week's Parsha Beshalach, the Israelites have been granted permission to leave Egypt. However, soon after their departure, they find themselves being chased by Pharaoh. It says that G-d had hardened the heart of the Pharaoh and the heart of his people in order for them to reconsider letting the Israelites go. The Israelites find themselves trapped between the sea and Pharaoh's armies and immediately begin to despair. However, G-d tells Moses to take his staff and split the sea. Then once again, G-d hardens the heart of Pharaoh. The Israelites cross the parted sea, and the water closes behind them onto Pharaoh's army who tried to follow them.The children of Israel rejoice in G-d and his servant Moses, and sing songs of praise to G-d. Miriam and the other women take out instruments and play (because they had more faith in G-d and they had the foresight to bring celebratory instruments).
Later on, the people begin to complain to Moses about their thirst and hunger. G-d again, through Moses, aids the people by sweetening the water of Marah, and later telling Moses to speak to a rock in order to produce more water. He also rains mana down from the heavens. However, the Israelites are still not satisfied and cry for more. G-d then also gifts them with quails each day.
They wander in the desert until the Amalekites come to invade them. Joshua takes the men to fight while Moses stands on top of a mountain holding his staff up towards G-d. With the staff raised, the Israelites win; if he sets it down, the Amalekites would begin to win. Moses' hands become heavy and the people pile stones underneath to keep them up.
The Mishna (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, chapter 3) cites the verse: “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed” (Exodus 17:11). The Mishna then says: It may be asked: Did the hands of Moses make war when he raised them or break war when he lowered them? Rather, the verse comes to tell you that as long as the Jewish people turned their eyes upward and subjected their hearts to their Father in Heaven, they prevailed, but if not, they fell.
The Mishna tells us that the Israelites were successful only when they remembered what and who they were fighting for. We sometimes expect our teachers, parents - and others we might look up to - to do the job for us. This parsha makes us acknowledge that they are there to guide us and give us direction, but the hard work is on us. If we can remember that - our success is guaranteed.
Ethan, Grade 12