Updated: Jan 25
Parashat Beshalach / פרשת בְּשַׁלַּח
Read in the Diaspora on 30 January 2021 (17 Sh'vat 5781).
Parashat Beshalach is the 16th weekly Torah portion in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading.
Torah Portion: Exodus 13:17-17:16
In Parashat Beshalach, we see the culmination of the plagues. Pharaoh sees that he is fighting against the power of the Universe itself, Hashem, and his resistance is useless. He finally allows the Israelites to leave Egypt along with supplies and payment from Egyptians for over 120 years of slave labor.
A few days after the Israelites have left, Pharaoh once again strengthens his heart and regrets letting them leave. He gathers up his 600 best soldiers with their chariots and pursues the Israelites. The Israelites travel to the Sea of Reeds and then in the distance are alarmed to see Pharaoh’s army pursuing them, trapped against the Sea.
Hashem has been protecting them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night and now puts those two in between Pharaoh and the Israelites. Hashem tells Moses to raise his staff, which he does. As Nachson ben Aminadab, the prince of the tribe of Judah wades into the sea up to his chest, the Sea of Reeds splits open and the ground hardens, allowing the Israelites to pass through in safety.
The pillars of cloud and fire that has been holding back the Egyptian charioteers now vanishes and the charioteers pursue into the split sea. Once in, the sea closes, drowning the Egyptians. The Children of Israel see some of the bodies wash up on the shore and know that the danger has passed.
Moses and the Children of Israel sing the “Song at the Sea”. This is a passage that is also in our daily liturgy at the end of “Pesukai D’Zimra” and one of the few sections in the Torah for which we stand when read during the Torah reading. Afterwards, Miriam, Moses’ sister who is now described as “The Prophetess” dances with some of the other women in victory.
As the Children of Israel start to continue their journey, some of them complain that they have no water or food. Hashem tells Moses to throw a specific tree into a lake and water becomes drinkable. This is the first indication that the Israelites will find water every three days and symbolic that we should not go more than three days without studying Torah, which we now do on Saturday, Monday and Thursday in our morning service. Hashem also provides food as manna, sweet cakes that the Israelites find every morning in the dew. There are, however, to collect a double portion on Friday, Yom Shishi , (6th day of the week), so they don’t have to work on Shabbat.
The portion ends with Moses having Joshua lead a defense against the attacking Amelikites. Moses goes up on the mountain overseeing the battle and when he raises his arms, with the help of Aaron and Hur, the Israelites prevail. We are commanded to always remember that the Amelikites attacked us since they thought we were helpless.