Ron Wexler, Weekly Newsletter
January 19th, 2008
"Shabbat Shalom" is a weekly message, sent on Friday, that contains very short commentaries on the portion of the Bible that is read in synagogues on the corresponding Sabbath services.
Reading portion Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
The quickest, easiest, and most direct route from Egypt to Israel is northeast, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, a route that goes through Philistine which is on the west coast of the Holy Land. However, just as this was the easiest way to leave Egypt it would also have been the easiest way to return there. Since the war-like Philistines were sure to fight the Jewish “invaders,” God knew that the people would lose heart and return to Egypt. To avoid this, He led them on a roundabout path through the Sinai Desert, going east and then north, so that they would enter the Land from the eastern bank of the Jordan River. This would take them so far from Egypt that it would be difficult – though not impossible – for them to consider returning. Even so, there were times in the Wilderness when the Jews complained against Moses and wanted to return to Egypt; had such a return been quick and easy, they would surely have attempted it.
Although they were confronted by an attack from Amalek, this did not cause them to return to Egypt, because the Amalekites did not fight to protect their homeland from invasion, as a Philistine would have done. Were that the case, then the fearful Jews would have said correctly that the way to safety lay in a return to Egypt. But Amalek was the offspring of Esau, and they attacked Israel because of their ancestor’s ancient, implacable hatred of Jacob; they would have continued the attack even if the Jews had retreated toward Egypt. Furthermore, at the time of Amalek’s attack, Israel was already too deep into the Wilderness for an easy return.
The sages add another reason for the decision to lead them through the desert. God wanted them to be in circumstances where they would have to see constant miracles in order to survive. This would be their schooling in faith, for they would see – through the manna, the water, the constant protection from the elements, and so on – that God is omnipresent and all-powerful. As a result, for the rest of out national history we would look back and know that everything is in God’s hands, a lesson that is clearest in a desert, where human survival, - especially for a nation of millions – would have been impossible without Divine intervention.
Rabbi Shlomo Bressler in his “Dvar” depicts from this reading portion the famous splitting of the Sea (14:21), where Moses led them into the water, and the sea split for them. Psalms 114 offers that "the sea saw, and ran", and commentators explain that what the sea saw was Joseph’s remains, and withdrew in their merit. As Rabbi Shmulevitz asks, what was so special about Joseph’s remains that the sea split because of them, rather than because of Moses or the Jews?
Rabbi Shmulevitz answers by introducing a fundamental concept in Judaism: avoiding temptations. Joseph was in a position where he might have been tempted to sin (with Potifar), and rather than be placed in a position to overcome his urges, he avoided those urges altogether, even placing himself in danger by leaving an article of clothing behind! This great act is not only an example for us today, but it''''s also the reason why the Jews were faced with crossing the sea in the first place. Had human logic prevailed, the Jews would have headed straight to Israel, which would have taken them 4 days. However, that might have tempted the Jews to consider returning to Egypt, so God had them go the long way, which included crossing the sea.
The splitting of the sea and Joseph’s life join efforts in conveying a critical lesson: Avoid conflict as much as you can! Whether it''''s our internal temptations, friends, parents, spouses or those we share borders with, the Portion offers us 3000 year old advice that we still holds true today: Avoid conflict by minimizing confrontations!
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