This week’s parasha is Beshalach, Exodus 13:17 – 17:16.1 The haftarah is Judges 4:4 – 5:31 which covers the rule of the prophetess and judge, Deborah. The reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 6:52-71 that concludes this session of Yeshua’s teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum as well as the rift his teaching caused among his disciples causing some to leave his company.
The following is a story which happened to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya. He recounts, “One time I was walking along the path, and I saw a young boy sitting at the crossroads. And I said to him: On which path shall we walk in order to get to the city? He said to me: This path is short and long, and that path is long and short. I walked on the path that was short and long. When I approached the city I found that gardens and orchards surrounded it, and I did not know the trails leading through them to the city. I went back and met the young boy again and said to him: My son, didn’t you tell me that this way is short? He said to me: And didn’t I tell you that it is also long? I kissed him on his head and said to him: Happy are you, O Israel, for you are all exceedingly wise, from your old to your young,” (b. Eruvin 53b).
The above story is reminiscent of where Bnei Yisrael find themselves in this week’s parasha.
After Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, although that was nearby, for God said, “The people might change their minds if they see war and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Sea of Reeds, and Bnei-Yisrael went up out of the land of Egypt armed. (Exodus 13:17-18)
There are a number of interesting points in the first two verses of this week’s reading. First, it has been noted that had HaShem though Moshe led Bnei Yisrael to the coast then along the coast to Canaan, it would have been much shorter – though those who had just escaped Egyptian bondage may well have lost heart and fled back to Egypt if they had to fight their way through the Philistine lands. It is true that HaShem could well have fought for them but even he recognized the frailty of their faith and resolute. Sometimes, it is better to go around a bad situation than to plow right through it but note that it clearly was HaShem who “led the people by a roundabout route.” Rav Shaul wrote to the believers in Corinth,
No temptation has taken hold of you except what is common to mankind. But God is faithful—He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can handle. But with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so you will be able to endure it.(1 Corinthians 10:13)
Rav Shual’s words here have provided strength and courage for many as they struggled with temptation. However, it is important to recognize that while the word peirasmos (Greek) does have the connotation of temptation which we often see as a negative aspect, it can also have the understanding of being a trial, or a calamity, or affliction.2 Bnei Yisrael were not potentially entering into temptation but after all the years of Egyptian bondage having to fight the Philistines, even with the help of HaShem, was just too large a trial to overcome, so ADONAI provided them a way of escape.
A second aspect of the leading of HaShem will become clear after Bnei Yisrael crosses the Sea of Reeds. Remember, it was HaShem that led Bnei Yisrael to the Sea of Reeds. Suddenly there is water before them and a not so happy Pharaoh replete with army coming up from behind. Also remember that the pursuing Egyptians probably were not in the best of moods. Not only were they losing a source of cheap (slave) labor, but the Egyptians had been looted by Bnei Yisrael as they fled the country, after of course, all the first-born of Egypt died. It is said, you don’t want to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, but that is exactly with Jacob’s children now found themselves, trapped, unable to go forward or back – having been led there by HaShem. You know the story, Moshe raises his staff, the waters stand up as walls and instead of being trapped, Bnei Yisrael crosses over on dry land.
The waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen and the entire army of Pharaoh that went after them into the sea. Not one of them remained. But Bnei-Yisrael had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were like walls to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:28-29)
This was a great miracle, a deliverance that is still remembered everyday as the Song of Moshe is sung or recited daily in synagogues around the world. But think about what else the leading of HaShem has now accomplished. Instead of the Egyptians behind them, there is now water. Regardless of their grumbling and complaining over the next years of their journey, they cannot go back. HaShem moved them from standing between the water and the Egyptians so that they are now standing between the water and Mt. Sinai.
One last observation on HaShem’s leading of Bnei Yisrael to the longer path instead of the shorter one. Ibn Ezra comments,
God did not want them to arrive too soon. Having been slaves all of their lives, they would not have been prepared to conquer Canaan until they had the lengthy experience of freedom.3
There are no short-cuts in our journey with the ADONAI. There may be detours of our own making or there may even be times when ADONAI’s leading seems to be contrary to common sense. I suggest that the bottom line is, since HaShem has our best in mind, we can trust his leading of our lives, even if we don’t totally understand the how’s or why’s. Sometimes the shorter is longer, sometimes not – but all the time we are in good hands when we walk with the LORD.
1 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.
2 Gleaned from Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testamentedited by William D. Mounce with Rick D. Bennett, Jr. Copyright © 2011 by William D. Mounce. All rights reserved.
3 David I. Lieber, Senior Editor. Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary. New York, The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001, p 399