Parshas Beshalach and Tu Beshevat
Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
“When Pharaoh sent out the people, G-d did not lead them by way –
baderekh- of the land of the Philistines…… perhaps the people will see war
and return to Egypt. [Rather] He turned them through the desert way, to the
Red Sea” (Shmot, 13: 17). Did Pharaoh send them out? After all Hashem took
them out. “G-d takes them out of Egypt” (Bilaam. Devarim, 23:22). What are
we to understand from the use of baderekh rather than the simple derekh,
through? What is the connection with the Philistines, whose land lies to
the north of Har Sinai to which the people were to travel in order to
receive the Torah, as G-d told Moshe, “You will worship at this Mount”?
Were the people so stupid as to willingly go back to the slavery and
oppression they had only just left?
[The last part of the question must be seen in the perspective of the
treatment by Chassidic thinkers of the various rebellions and backslidings
of Israel in the desert. They did not explain these as did the Rambam,
Rashi and others as an effect of their slave mentality or of the need to
wean them from that relationship with Egypt. Rather, in accordance with
Chazal’s view of them as dor deah, a wise and knowledgeable generation,
they saw all of them, throughout the Torah as the errors in religious
thought or the spiritual misunderstandings of a great generation who, more
than any other in our history, merited miracles and Matan Torah].
When one accompanies somebody it is as though one has sent
them. The midrash tells us that Pharaoh accompanied them and the Maharal
teaches that ‘baderech’ is a connection. So the Avnei Nezer explained that
he wished to accompany them on their way so that he could retain his evil
connection with them even though they were no longer his slaves. Through
this he would be able to infuse them with the evil spirit that our sages
taught can distort a person’s mind and remove one from this world; thereby
Israel could indeed return to Egypt. At the same time, there was the
danger from the Philistines whose characteristic was tzchok, the levity
that leads above all to the sexual immorality that permeated Egypt. They
would therefore strengthen the evil relationship that Pharaoh desired and
Israel would be exposed to a spiritual war with the evil spirit. If Israel
would have been fully purified when they left Egypt, they would have easily
been able to win this war. However, because the full period of the 400
years of exile had not been completed, it was necessary to further arm them
against the evil spirit. In the Mechilta, Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Ishmael
relied on the second verse above to show two different ways this could be
done. Rabbi Elazar thought this could only be achieved through the
suffering that would refine and purify. So, there is Baderech as in ‘He
chastised you on the way’ (Devarim, 8:2); there is desert as in, ‘Who led
you through the great and terrible desert’ (Devarim, 1:19); and there is
the Red Sea to test them. Rabbi Ishmael saw the verse as ennobling and
elevating Israel above the natural order. In this way Pharaoh would be
powerless to forge any connection with them. So, there is ‘Baderech to give
them the Torah as, ‘in all the way that G-d commanded’; there is the desert
to give them the Manna as, ‘Who fed us manna in the desert’; and Yam Suf to
give them miracles. The Torah purifies the mind, the manna purifies the
body since it is the food of the angels and the Sea is a combination of
mind and body as the waters came to the soul. In these ways Israel became
above nature and Pharaoh was unable to connect with them.
“If the chazzan forgot the splitting of the Red Sea, we do not make
him repeat the prayers. However, if he forgot the Exodus, he repeats the
prayers” (Shmot Rabbah 22).
This statement is strange since we know that the miracle at Yam
Suf was greater than at Yetziat Mitzraim. Regarding the former, we are
told, “And they saw the great hand”, while of the latter, the Egyptians
said, “the finger of G-d”. So, in Egypt there were 10 plagues and on the
sea, 50. At the beginning of Pesach there is a Shabbat and at its
conclusion there is one. The Avnei Nezer taught that Shabbat has 2
contradictory qualities. There is a Shabbat where all the spirituality and
religiosity descend from Heaven, as Mankind has no merits nor is able to
create on their own. Then there is a Shabbat where everything is earned
through the efforts of the 6 days of the week. In the first luchot [Shmot,
Yitro], Shabbat comes because G-d created during the week. The second
commandments [Devarim, Vaetchanan], however, refer to the Exodus that came
to Israel purely as chesed since they had no merits as we read in the
Haggadah, “And you were naked”. At the sea, Israel earned its redemption.
They had followed Moshe for six days without question and in all their
actions they were guided by him. Then they had entered the sea till the
waters covered them to their chins. That Shabbat came in justice as a
reward for their endeavors during the 6 days. [Elsewhere, the Shem Mi
Shmuel explains that they only sang the Shirah after the crossing of the
sea and not when they were redeemed from Egypt, because that was charity,
while at Yam Suf they had earned their redemption in justice.]
Although, kriat Yam Suf was greater, yet its greatness reflects the
actions of Israel. However, our prayers are for the abundance of mercy and
chesed that comes to us from G-d. Therefore, in prayer, the yetziat
mitzrayim is greater and so if one forgot to remember the Exodus in prayer,
he has to repeat it..
Shem Mi Shmuel, 5671. 5672.
The Shem Mi Shmuel uses this duality that exists in every Shabbat,
of mercy that brings spirituality from Heaven, and of the justice that
reflects the action of human beings, to explain why we call the Shabbat
before Pesach, Shabbat HaGadol. The Tur refers this name to the miracle
that prevented the Egyptians from killing the Jews when they took the lamb,
the idol of Egypt on the 10th of Nissan. Although in that year this was a
Shabbat, this is not so every year and therefore there must be another
reason for signaling out the Shabbat before Pesach.
“Unto You HaShem is the greatness and the power”
(1Chronicles,29:13), is seen by the Midrash to refer to Kriat Yam Suf and
the Creation of the world respectively. The power of HaShem is shown
through the chesed He pours out onto the world and the Creation is the
greatest example, since there was nothing preceding it that could earn
reward for actions taken. This was the situation of Israel in Egypt where
everything was given to them in chesed. Kriat Yam Suf came as a result of
din, in return for their actions. When they took the korban Pesach on the
10th of Nissan it was their action that brought about the miracle. Chesed
and din are contradictory merits and their union is not possible under
normal circumstances. However, the two aspects of Shabbat discussed above,
provide a strength that makes the joining of such contradictions possible.
Therefore they needed Shabbat to enable them to join action and charity in
taking the korban. This means that we always need Shabbat HaGadol before
Pesach, even if it is not the 10th of Nissan.
[The Shem Mi Shmuel uses the same aspect of Shabbat to explain elsewhere,
why the shofar was sounded on Rosh HaShanah that falls on Shabbat in the
Temple but not outside it. The Temple possessed the same power of being
able to join two contradictory merits, chesed and din as does Shabbat].
Shem Mi Shmuel, Haggadah Shel Pesach- Shabbat HaGadol.
“Bet Shammai said Rosh HaShanah Le Illanot is the 1st of Shvat and
Bet Hillel, the 15th of Shvat” ( Rosh HaShanah, chapter, Mishnah ).
A tree is the connection between the soil and the fruit. Through
it the tree gets its strength to grow and produce. Spiritually Mankind is
compared to the tree, “ HaAdam etz hasadeh”. We too connect Earth and
Heaven through our mitzvot and torah study.
Physically, the connection of the tree starts to take effect
after a third of the year has past and most of the rain has fallen. The
opinions of Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel regarding the date for the trees, is
the reflection of their spiritual concepts. The former holds that the year
begins with Rosh HaShanah so that the third ends on the 1st of Shevat and
we begin our spiritual growth and power. This is their merit of din. Bet
Hillel whose merit is chesed, saw the year of our lives actually beginning
with Sukkot which is the festival of G-d’s mercy, protection and chesed.
Therefore the third of the year is Tu BeShevat. From there we begin our
growth through the 4 parshiot, Purim, Pesach and Sefirat HaOmer till Matan
Torah on Shavuot.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.