Light from the Sidra

Beshalach (when he had let go...')

Torah: Exodus 13:17-17:16. Haftarah: Judges 4:4-5:31

Stand still!

Israel's victory in the Six Day War, when its army was outnumbered by hundreds to one in terms of manpower and weaponry, remains unparalleled in annals of warfare. A few weeks ago, Israel’s Interior Minister Eli Yishai compared the 1967 Six Day War with 2006 Second Lebanon War, saying the IDF fared better in 1967 because Israel’s soldiers ‘raised their eyes to God’. During the 2006 Lebanon conflict, said Mr Yishai, Israel’s soldiers trusted in their own abilities.

When God delivered Israel from Egypt, the Israelites had no choice but to look to him. God fought for them, laying waste the land and its gods. At the ‘Sea of Reeds’ (Yam Suph), no conflict between Israel and the Egyptians took place; Moses simply commanded to people, ‘Stand by and witness the deliverance the LORD will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The LORD will battle for you…’ (Ex 14:13, Tanakh-The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text).

After safely crossing the Sea of Reeds, Miriam led the people in a song of victory: ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;/Horse and driver he has cast into the sea … the LORD, the Warrior—/LORD is His name! Pharaoh’s chariots and his army/He has cast into the sea…’ (15:1, 3,4, ibid)

It seems incredible that the people should forget their supernatural deliverance from Egypt, but they did. They grumbled at Marah (Ex 15:24) and at Elim (16:3), and, when God provided bread supernaturally, some Israelites ignored his instructions and disobeyed him by trying to gather manna on Shabbat (16:27-29). They also put God to the test at Rephidim when they had no water (17:1,2).

When the Amalekite army attacked Israel at Rephidim, the Israelites defeated them through the intercession of Moses. When Moses held up his hands, Israel got the better of their enemies. When his hands were down, Amalek prevailed. In spite of their grumbling and rebellion, God granted his people victory over their enemies.

The parallels between the Torah reading and the Haftarah are striking. According to the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, during Barak’s battle against the forces of Sisera a ‘raging torrent’ swept away the chariots of the king of Canaan. Most of the Book of Judges consists of a cycle of Sin, Suffering, Supplication and Salvation. The people rebel; God punishes them by sending enemies who conquer them; they cry out to God in their misery and he raises up a saviour to deliver them.

In this respect, Interior Minister Yishai’s comments are very apposite. The tragedy of modern Israel is two-fold. On the one hand, although God kept his promises to bring the people back to their ancient homeland and gave them astonishing victories over their enemies in 1948, 1967 and 1973, the country remains largely secular and many Israelis are atheists. Over 20,000 Jews are killed in Israel each year by Jewish abortionists, and pornography and drugs are a blight on the nation. On the other hand, many religious Jews are opposed to the very state that feeds, houses and supports them and their families, on the basis that, according to their theology, Israel cannot exist as a sovereign nation until Messiah comes (if such is the case, the very existence of the state of Israel is evidence that Messiah must have come!). 

So it is not only secular Israelis who have taken their eyes off God but also the pious. Nevertheless, even if the nation has to suffer further for not ‘raising its eyes to God’, he will not reject them. The day will come when, just as the Israelites in Egypt had to recognise the LORD and Moses as his appointed deliverer, they will also recognise their God and his true Messiah.

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