top of page

The Hand of God

In Parashat Beshalach (Ex.13:17-17:16), HaShem leads Israel away from the direct route to the Promised Land for many reasons, for the most part they were not yet a nation, lacking the maturity and strength to take the land as evidenced by the fact that they would likely flee in fear when they see war, a reference to mounds of skeletal remains from the tribe of Ephraim who miscalculated the end of their exile, and departed Egypt 30 years earlier and were slaughtered on that route by the Philistines. That tragedy is mentioned in 1st Chron. 7:20-22. In the Talmud, Rav states that some from the tribe of Ephraim miscalculated the time of the end of the enslavement and the redemption from Egypt. Instead of counting from the Covenant Between the Pieces, they counted from the birth of Isaac. They left before the appointed time and were killed, as it is stated in 1st Chronicles 7:20--22: “And the sons of Ephraim; Shuthelah, and Bered his son, and Tahath his son, and Eleadah his son, and Tahath his son. And Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead whom the men of Gath that were born in the land slew, because they came down to take their cattle”


The Creator leads Israel to Yam Suf, pursued by pharaoh’s army. By faith, they leap into the waters of Yam Suf (Reed Sea) and the “…deeps froze in the heart of the sea.”(Ex.15:8) providing an escape between the walls of water, which later thaw and drown the Egyptians. Their chariots became mired in the mud and Rashi suggests that it was a particularly sticky variety of mud so that the Egyptians were being punished measure for measure because they forced Israel to work in mud and slime for their brickwork.


Yam Suf can be rendered as “reed sea” or even “sea of the end”. Certainly a sea of reeds is where pharaoh’s army met their end. Later prophets would call Egypt a “splintered reed” The unwavering faith of Israel’s women is celebrated in the Song of the Sea, led by Moses’ sister, Miriam—a prophetess. This is the first time her name appears in the Torah.


Despite witnessing the Hand of God, Israel’s doubts later return when attacked by the terrorists we know as Amalek. The extensive commentary Me' Am Lo' Ez reveals that prior to the attack, Amalek stormed into Egypt and looted the Egyptian hall of records, taking away the census lists of the 12 tribes. Also, Midrash Tanchuma, relates:


"What did Amalek do? He went down to the Egyptian hall of records and obtained the records on the tribes, where their names were inscribed against them for the number of bricks. Then he would stand outside [Israel's protective] cloud and call out to them, ‘Reuben, Simeon, Levi, come out, for I am your brother; and I want to transact business with you.’ When they came out, he killed them.


This is quite remarkable when you consider, the ancient Egyptian text known as The Ippuwer Papyrus, which offers an extensive list of woes that befell Egypt in their past. It was written after the fall of the Old Kingdom Era and describes a foreign tribe terrorizing the Egyptians, marauding and even looting their records:


"Forsooth, public offices are opened and their census-lists are taken away. Serfs have become lords of serfs..."


Despite Amalek’s trickery, Israel defeats them, under God’s direction. All of the pivotal events in Parashat Beshelach offer a profound lesson for every Jew making tshevua: Return to Observance will appear fearful, neither simple or easy. The path will be unexpected--in hindsight, miraculous. But complete return is only possible by wiping out the influences of living in a world still under the sway of Amalek—a world gripped by hatred and denial of the God of Israel.  For Jew and gentile believers (B'nei Noach, HaShem allows us to face challenging experiences, so that we will grow as souls and cast away doubt. That growth comes from recognizing that we have a partnership with God in shaping our destiny by clinging to the miracle of God’s unseen Hand in our lives.

Related Posts

See All

The Bondsman

Israel Accepts the Service of Torah

bottom of page