Just so you all know where I am going, I am changing from following the Full Kriyah (Torah reading cycle in one year) to the Triennial Cycle,[i] which reads the Torah in a three-year period providing shorter weekly portions. Interestingly, the Haftarah remains the same in both cycles. There is a difference, however, in some of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic choices. I will normally follow the Sephardic reading, but not always. I am also following the Chayyei Yeshua Three-Year Besorah reading cycle.[ii] With that introduction, the Parasha this week is Beshalach (when he [Pharaoh] released), taken from Exodus 13.17[iii] where the Full Kriyah begins. Rabbi Sarna comments,
The Hebrew word שַׁלַּח shillah is richly allusive. First, it reconnects with 12.33. Second, it carries the double judicial sense of divorce and of emancipation of a slave and is highly evocative. Finally, because shillah is the key term in each of the three divine promises of redemption given to Moses (cf. Exodus 3.20; 6.1; and 11.1), its presence here intimates their fulfillment.[iv]
Not only was Bnei Yisrael “sent out” but they were in essence emancipated from the slavery imposed upon them. This week’s reading is from Exodus 14.15 though 16.10. The narrative begins as Bnei Yisrael is in the process of leaving Egypt, “encamped by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth opposite Baal-zephon.” (14.9) Pharaoh, realizing that he is in the process of losing his cheap labor force, is rapidly approaching. They are seemingly stuck between an impassable barrier on one side and a rather angry former master on the other. Bnei Yisrael understandably cries out. Moshe in turn, attempts to comfort and console the concerned people, reminding them of what the LORD had already done on their behalf. Our portion begins with the words, “Then Adonai said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying to Me? Tell Bnei-Yisrael to go forward’” (14.15). Rashi notes, “There is no mention that he prayed to God concerning this, but it teaches us that Moses stood in prayer (as a mediator between Israel and external situations). Whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘it is not time now to pray at length, when Israel is placed in trouble.”[v] There surely are times in our lives when intense prayer is necessary, when we battle the enemy, “fight the good fight of faith!” (1 Timothy 6.12a), in the strength of HaShem, “Through You we push back our foes. Through Your Name we trample those rising up against us” (Psalm 44.6). There are other times when we just need to “…stand still, and see the salvation of Adonai,” (Exodus 14.13a) or “…take your positions, stand and see the salvation of Adonai with you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or be dismayed. Tomorrow go out to face them, for Adonai is with you,” (2 Chronicles 20.17). As Bnei Yisrael stood there on the shore of the sea, the time for prayer was over. HaShem told Moshe that it was time for action! He was to stand up, stretch out his staff, and then wait on the salvation of the LORD. The sea split with the sides standing up as walls. The ground dried and Bnei Yisrael walked across unhindered as the Angel of the LORD stood behind them as a barrier between them and Pharaoh’s forces. The end of the story is well known; it did not turn out well for Pharaoh and his men. Bnei Yisrael on the other hand, as one rejoiced greatly in their deliverance and salvation and in the very real revelation of HaShem, their God.
The Haftarah (Judges 4.4 though 5.31) is the scene of another deliverance. This time, however, instead of Moshe the primary players in the narrative are two women, Devorah, the prophetess and judge of Israel (4.4), and Yael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (4.17) who killed Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. Just as HaShem told Moshe to lift up his staff and Bnei Yisrael would be delivered at the sea shore, Devorah, by the word of the LORD, summoned Barak and told him what he must do in order to be the one who would bring about Israel’s deliverance from their current oppressors (4.6-7). Sadly, Barak did not have the faith or fortitude that Moshe exhibited and told Devorah that he would be obedient only if she went with him. While acquiescing to his reluctant obedience, Devorah informed Barak that he had forfeited his place in history with the proclamation “no honor will be yours on the way that you are about to go—for Adonai will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4.9). Barak did lead the men of Zebulun and Naphtali against Sisera, but is was Yael who delivered the death blow with a hammer and a tent peg. Israel was delivered and shalom was restored, but Barak fades into obscurity, and Yael and Devorah are remembered as the heroines of the day. In the providence of the LORD, His plans will be accomplished. Our choice, as with Moshe and Barak, is either to be obedient and to be His vessel, or to be disobedient and cause the blessing to pass to another.
Finally, the reading from the Besorah is Luke 7.18-35 which is the account of John’s questioning Yeshua if he was the awaited Messiah, and Yeshua’s response. Some people believe that John may have at one time either been a member of the Qumran community or at least prepared to be a member. One reason for such understanding seems to come from this interaction between John and Yeshua through his disciples. John asked Yeshua, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (7.20). Yeshua responded to John’s disciples,
“Go report to John what you saw and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, those with tzara’at are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (7.22).
A similar description is found among the scroll fragments at Qumran. Craig Evans explains,
According to 4Q521, when the Messiah appears, whom heaven and earth will obey, the wounded will be healed, the eyes of the blind will be opened, the dead will be made alive, and the poor will have the good news proclaimed to them (frgs. 2 -t 4 ii 1-12).[vi]
While this is not positive proof a relationship existed between John and Qumran, it does show that the type of activity the Messiah would be expected to perform. Also interesting are Yeshua’s last words to John, “Blessed is he who is not led to stumble because of Me” (7.23). It appears that Yeshua was offering encouragement to John not to doubt or loss faith – even though John’s situation would soon go from bad to worse. It would be safe to say that Yeshua’s words to John reverberate down to each of use today. We should not allow ourselves to stumble on account of our faith in Yeshua. Even though life circumstances and social or cultural norms may attempt to cause us to fall, stand strong and tall, like Moshe, as he held out his staff and waited for the deliverance and salvation of the LORD.
[iii] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[iv] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1991, p 68.
[v] Rabbi Silbermann, A. M., Chumash and Rashi’s Commentary: Shemoth, Jerusalem, Feldheim Publishers Ltd., 1934, p 71
[vi] Evans, Craig A. Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005, p 151.