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Torah Thought for This Week

Prepared by Rabbi Asher Zeilingold

The name of the Torah reading of this week is Beshalach (beg. Ex. 13:17). The word Beshalach means "he sent," and the Sedra begins by telling us that Pharaoh sent the Israelites out of Egypt to be come a free nation, after they had been subjected to the most brutal and degrading enslavement in his land for over two centuries.


Pharaoh's sending of the Jews was a complete reversal of his attitude, and was one of the great triumphs of the Exodus.  Pharaoh had resisted all attempts to be persuaded to let the Jews leave Egypt, and even the many plagues had not induced him to move from his hard-line position. Now, he not only was permitting them to go, but he was actually actively encouraging them to leave by sending them out of his country. Until now, Pharaoh had been the biggest obstacle standing between the Jews and their receiving the Torah and becoming a nation dedicated and committed to G-d. Now, that obstacle had become the motivating force for them to leave the land of spiritual and moral decay, and enter the world of moral and spiritual perfection. With Beshalach, Pharaoh brought them closer to the day and hour when they would stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai ready to hear the voice of G-d.


This same idea is expressed further in the Sedra, when, before the miracle of the parting of the Reed Sea, it is written "And Pharaoh drew near, and the children of Israel looked up (and they saw Pharaoh) and they prayed to G-d" (Ex. 14:10). The commentators point out that the Hebrew word hikriv (translated as "drew near") is a causative verb, telling us that he caused others to draw near. They explain this to mean that Pharaoh, by pursuing the Israelites and frightening them, caused them to come closer to G-d, for they turned to Him with prayers and supplications. They express this idea with the words, "He (Pharaoh) drew the hearts of the Jews closer to their father in Heaven." When the Jews saw Pharaoh pursuing them they realized that only G-d could help them, and so it was that Pharaoh became the instrument to assist the Jews in strengthening and intensifying their commitment and devotion to G-d.


This teaching is of great importance to us and has a practical application in our daily life. Very often we are confronted with a situation which appears as an obstacle and threatens to hinder our fulfillment of Torah and Mitzvot. The strategy to use is to transform the liability into an asset. If, for instance, we are praying and a distracting thought creeps into the mind, making it difficult to concentrate, we should then intensify our efforts and pray with an extra measure of devotion, and so the hindrance actually becomes the assistance to help us attain a level of Divine worship which we would otherwise never have been able to reach. Or also, if someone tries to discourage us from obedience to G-d’s will, we should remember that "Pharaoh sent forth" and "Pharaoh drew near". This obstacle in the form of a person (even a close friend) must become the vehicle to help us reach greater and loftier heights, and bring us closer to Mt. Sinai that we should hear G-d’s voice in everything we do.