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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Beshalach 103
Torah by Profession
Posted 2008 - Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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In this week's Torah portion, Beshalach, we read about the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea. Before this took place however, the Jewish people had some scary moments when they saw the Egyptians chasing them with the intention to return them to slavery.

"Pharaoh drew near, and the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold! The Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, and the children of Israel cried out to Hashem" Rashi comments on this: "They adopted the craft of their forefathers" [i.e., they prayed]."

He continues to bring proof to this statement that the forefathers prayed.

" Concerning Avraham, it says: "to the place where he had stood before

Hashem (in prayer)"

Concerning Yitzchak, it is stated "to pray in the field".

Concerning Yakov, "And he entreated Hashem"

When we look through the many stories in the Torah about the patriarchs we will find more than once that they engaged in prayer. By Avraham it says several times that he built an altar and cried out to Hashem.

By Yitzchak we find that he prayed for a child. By Yakov the Torah gives us the full text of the prayer he said to be saved from his approaching brother Esav who was not coming with good intentions.

It is interesting to note that Rashi did not quote any of those verses but instead chose to bring verses in which there is no mention of the actual prayer!

Another question to consider is: If the Jewish people relied on Hashem's promise to take them out of Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land, they should have continued their journey without being afraid of the enemy. Then why did they stop to pray?

On the other hand, if they doubted Hashem's ability to save them, what use

was it to pray to Him?

That is what Rashi comes to explain. "They adopted the craft of their forefathers." A Jew prays simply because it is the Jewish thing to do. His forefathers did that and that is what he does. Prayer is not only requesting needs, it is also a way to connect with Hashem. When a Jew goes through a hard time he reaffirms his bond with his creator through prayer. That was the purpose of the Jewish people near the sea praying. They were confident that Hashem would save them from the Egyptian enemy.

Because they so heavily relied on Hashem at that time,they felt a need to pray to him. To prove this point Rashi quotes only those verses that refer to prayer in general, and not prayers for a particular purpose.

There is an important lesson we can learn from here. Rashi tells us that the craft of every Jew is prayer. Just like a carpenter carves wood and a plumber fixes pipes, a Jew prays. (The same would apply to Torah and Mitzvot) Therefore, even when it appears that someone is not interested in hearing about Judaism, we should remember that this is only superfluous. For inside every Jew not only believes; his Judaism is his craft!

The rest of the story is well known. The sea split and the Jewish people were saved. After they went through, the Egyptians followed them into the water and drowned. The Egyptian army used to cover their horses with gold, silver and diamonds. Hashem made the sea return all these treasures to the shore. The Torah tells us that the Jewish people took all those treasures with them. We are told that what they took then was more than what they had taken with them from Egypt. The Torah says " vayasa Moshe" Moshe had to force them to continue their journey. So occupied were they with collecting all the booty, that they didn't want to leave.

Why were the Jewish people so obsessed with money? We know that they had left Egypt loaded with treasures. Everyone had at least ninety (!) donkeys loaded with gold and silver. Moreover there was no need for money. They knew that they were going into a desert. There were no grocery stores or shopping malls. We also know that had they not sinned later they would have gone straight to the promised land where they would have built the temple and achieved a messianic state of existence. The prophets say that in such a time, money will be as readily available as dust. In such a scenario what need would there be for the Egyptian booty?

Just like we count 50 days from Pesach to Shavuot, the people also counted the days in the desert. The purpose of leaving Egypt was, as Hashem had told them, to receive the Torah on Mt Sinai. They were so eagerly awaiting this event that they counted the days leading up to it like a child counting the days till his birthday. If they were so excited about their ultimate goal of receiving the Torah, how could some gold and silver stop them from running in the direction of Mt. Sinai?

We should also take into consideration that these people had just witnessed the biggest revelation of G-dliness ever. Even a maidservant saw more revealed G-dliness at the sea than the biggest prophets in later generations. This should have left them inspired for at least a little bit of time. Compare it to going to buy a newspaper at the corner store a few minutes after leaving ne'ilah services on Yom Kippur!

The explanation is as follows. At that time there was only one thing they had been told to do. Hashem had commanded that Egypt be emptied out from all its belongings. Not only was that to keep his promise to Avraham that they would leave with a lot of riches, it was also a spiritual matter. By taking physical objects they were elevating the G-dly sparks that had been locked up in them for all those years. This wasn't about physical wealth. The Jewish people were doing the only Mitzvah they had at that time. They were told to take as much physical objects as possible to elevate them so that's what they did. It was only after Moshe told them it was no longer a Mitzvah that they left. It became like sitting in a Sukkah or blowing the Shofar on a regular day. Blowing the Shofar is only a mitzvah on Rosh Hashana. Blowing it on Purim is not a Mitzvah.

To take more gold after it was no longer a Mitzvah was completely useless. There was no more spiritual effect and there was also no physical need for it.

This explains why they were taking the treasures in the first place. But why then did Moshe have to force them to leave? If there was no longer any purpose, why continue with it?

Moshe made them go against their will. In Hebrew the words are: "hisiy'am ba'al korcham".

This reminds us of what it says "baal korchach ata chai" Against your will - you live. (Pirkei avot).

When everything but the current Mitzvah is 'against your will', then you 'live' with the Mitzvah you are doing.

The Jewish people were in the midst of doing a mitzvah with all their might. Only Moshe knew the time had come for a different type of divine service. According to the understanding of the other people however, the only thing in the world that had to be done was taking Egyptian possessions. Based on their original instruction they figured that as long as there was anything that belonged to the Egyptians that was not yet taken by them, there was a need to stay by the sea. Moshe had to force them to do something which to them was 'baal korcham'- against their will. However, after they found out that their new mitzvah was to travel into the desert, they did that with happy feelings too. They `lived' with their new Mitzvah. Atah chai.

The above applies to everyone in a different way. People who are full time involved in Torah study should know that 'against their will' i.e. against what they think is G-d's will, they should also get involved in leaving their study halls and reach out to those Jews who do not know as much as them.

People who are full time businessmen in order to give a lot of charity should know that this is also not their only purpose. They too have to make time for Torah study.

Another lesson we should learn from here is that as long as Moshiach didn't not come yet, we have to be totally given over to our job of elevating the mundane physical to its spiritual source. In those days the Egyptian 'sparks' were redeemed as preparation for the giving of the Torah. Ever since we have been working on dealing with the rest of the world as preparation for the ultimate redemption. May we soon merit to be told by Moshiach to (against our will) stop our work with the world and go all together to Yerushalayim to the third Temple.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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