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D'var Torah

1/17/2019 by Hazzan Ozur Bass

“Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water.” (Exodus 15:22)

Poor Israelites: they got no respite. Upon leaving Egypt Moses drove them hard, day and night, until they reached the Sea. There was a lot of anxiety and hand-wringing about being sandwiched between the Egyptians and the Sea, and then they finally crossed the Sea. After a brief period of rejoicing and dancing, Moses pushes them for another three days into the desert, and when they finally find water (Exodus 15:23) it is not potable.

Many questions arise from reading this verse in its context: first, why did Moses make the people leave the Sea immediately after crossing it? Also, the Israelites in the wilderness travel when the pillar of cloud moves; so how come Moses is the one causing them to travel this time? Finally, why would Moses not plan for the three day trip by asking the Israelites to fill up their water vessels at the Sea?

To the Israelites, while they were still in Egypt, the only thing they wanted was for their life to be easier. They had no desire to make an escape, let alone a journey through the desert. But the arc of the narrative of the Torah tells us that freedom was not the ultimate goal: crossing the Sea might have been the first step of the journey, but the goal was to live as a nation in the land of Canaan. It’s a little like a high-school graduate, waiting to hear from colleges: at this stage of their lives they can only see the next step, but we, the parents, hope that they will gain a life of independence, a family, and live as mentsches for the rest of their lives.

The Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Weisser, 19th century, Ukrainian commentator) based on earlier midrashim, explains this passage further: when the Egyptians drowned in the Sea, all their jewels and precious metals washed away on the shore. The Israelites were able to gather a greater booty at the shores of the Sea than they collected from their Egyptian neighbors as they left Egypt. Because of this, and because they were right near the Sea, in fertile territory, the Israelites were hesitant to leave. They also knew how arduous the terrain ahead was, and had a lot of anxiety about entering the desert. Moses had to practically pry them away from the Sea, because he knew that they would become complacent and not want to venture towards Mount Sinai. What the Israelites received at Mount Sinai was much greater than the treasures they might have harvested at the Sea; and being masters of your own land is an even greater freedom. Only God knew the full arc of the story; Moses, acting on Divine Guidance, compelled them to full growth.

In the course of our lives, like the Israelites, we are lured to rest on our laurels at every achievement. The pride and satisfaction we get from fulfilling a goal tempts us to stay at that level, be content, aim no higher. There’s nothing wrong with being happy with your lot; that is the definition of wealth, according to our sages. But, if Divine Guidance propels us forward - like the Israelites in the desert – then we are to defy all the hardships ahead and charge to the next level, where our gains will tremendously surpass our current achievements.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hazzan Ozur Bass


Mon, January 21 2019 15 Shevat 5779