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The Expression of Inner Good

A Name Should Be Telling

The division of the Torah readings is not random, nor are the names chosen for them a chance phenomenon.

The name of every reading is a capsulized statement, encompassing the reading as a whole and expressing its fundamental theme.

This week's Torah reading contains many significant narratives demonstrating G-d's love for the Jewish people, and the Jews' response to Him.

It tells of several of the more striking miracles in our people's history: the splitting of the Yam Suf, the descent of the manna, and the victory over Amalek.

And with regard to the Jews' response, it includes the Shirat HaYam - song of the Red Sea, an acknowledgment of G-d's hand so powerful that it enabled even the most common person to attain peaks of prophecy.[1]

And yet seemingly, these wondrous dimensions are not at all reflected in the name of the Torah reading!

The Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah ("the Shabbos of Song") recalling the song of the Red Sea, but the * name * of the Torah reading, Beshallach, meaning "When he sent forth," has no obvious reference to these positive qualities.

On the contrary, if anything Beshallach has negative connotations, implying that the Jews had to be sent forth from Egypt against their will. And the Torah attributes their being sent forth to Pharaoh; it was * he* who motivated them to leave Egypt.

Why It Was Pharaoh Who Sent Forth the Jews

Describing Pharaoh as the agent of the Exodus points to one of its purposes, and in a larger sense, alludes to the ultimate purpose of creation as a whole.

To highlight this factor, at the very beginning of the process of Redemption, G-d told Moshe: [2] "With a strong hand, [Pharaoh] will drive them from his land."

For the intent of creation is that this material world and all of its elements be transformed into a dwelling for G-d. [3]

This includes all elements of existence, even those which oppose the forces of holiness.

There is no aspect of being which will not serve a positive purpose.

In certain cases, as in the example of Pharaoh, a transformation is necessary. In their immediate state, they cannot serve a positive purpose, and "their destruction is their purification;" [4] i.e., only when they are broken will their positive nature be revealed.

Nevertheless, ultimately, this transformation will take place, and the positive energies they contain will surface.

This concept is highlighted by the prophecies of the Redemption which state, [5] "And I will rid the land of dangerous animals."

Our Sages interpret this to mean, [6] "they will be transformed, so that they will no longer cause harm, as it is written, [7] 'The wolf will dwell with the lamb.'"

In this era of ultimate good, the predatory animals will continue to exist, but "they will neither prey, nor destroy." [8] Their negative tendencies will be eliminated, and they will serve a positive purpose.

G-d's intent in creation was not merely to reveal unbounded spiritual light within the context of material existence.

Were this His purpose, He would not have created a material world, for the revelations in the spiritual realms are far greater. [9]

Nor is His purpose merely to nullify the influence of those entities which oppose holiness, for then their creation would not contribute anything.

Instead, G-d's desire is that every aspect of existence become part of His dwelling.

And just as a mortal's dwelling reveals the character of its owner, every element of His dwelling is intended to reveal a different facet of His Being.

As a foretaste [10] of this ultimate state, the name of our Torah reading focuses on the transformation of Pharaoh.

The other miracles it mentions involve the negation of undesirable influences and/or the expression of wondrous spiritual forces. By directing our attention to Pharaoh's role in sending forth the Jews, however, the name Beshallach underscores a deeper purpose, that even most perverse elements of existence can generate positive influence. [11]

Looking Beyond Exile

A question, nevertheless, remains unresolved:

Why was it necessary for Pharaoh to send the Jews out of Egypt? Why weren't they eager to leave?

One might say that they had no reason to hurry.

After the initial plagues, more than six months before the Exodus, the enslavement of the Jewish people had ceased. [12]

The Jews were living in the most select portion of the land of Egypt [13] and the Egyptians were ready to give them anything they wanted. [14]

Moreover, they also had spiritual fulfillment, for our Sages relate [15] that the existence of the yeshivos was never nullified throughout the Egyptian exile.

Why then should they have desired to leave Egypt? What did they have to gain?

This, however, was not the case.

Our Sages state that all the people who did not want to leave Egypt died in the plague of darkness. [16]

All the Jews who remained wanted to leave. They realized that living in exile, even amidst security and prosperity , is not a Jew's purpose.

Why then did Pharaoh have to force them to go?

To Evoke a Higher Will

To explain within the context of a parallel concept.

G-d had promised Moshe that He would give the Jews the Torah, as it is written: [17] "After you lead the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain."

The Jews rejoiced in this promise and eagerly counted the days until it would be fulfilled. [18]

When they reached Mount Sinai, they camped in a spirit of oneness, unified by their desire to receive the Torah. [19]

And yet we find, that "G-d held Mt. Sinai over them as a tub," [20] compelling them to receive the Torah.

If the Jews were eager, why was this necessary?

The point is that there are levels in desire.

G-d wanted the Jews to accept the Torah with a total commitment, feelings so powerful that it was as if their lives depended on it.

The Jews were not capable of summoning up this level of commitment on their own, and therefore, G-d compelled them to reach this peak through external means.

Similarly, with regard to the Exodus.

G-d wanted the Jews to seek to leave Egypt with a deeper desire than their ordinary will.

Therefore He brought about circumstances that awakened this more profound and encompassing commitment.

Gentle Force

Beshallach is also a lesson in our relations with others.

Every Jew possesses an inner desire to follow the Torah and its mitzvos. [21] Nevertheless, for this desire to be manifest in deed, there is often a need for a friend to gently lead his colleague to a deeper level of will.

This concept shares a connection to the Redemption.

For one of the qualities Mashiach will manifest is the ability "to compel all Israel to strengthen their Torah observance." [22]

Why compulsion?

For Mashiach will awaken a level of soul within every individual that motivates him to a commitment that surpasses his individual will.

The manifestation of this commitment on the part of the Jewish people will, in turn, enable Mashiach to continue in the fulfillment of his mission: [22] "fight[ing] the wars of G-d... and succeed[ing], build[ing] the [Beis Ha]Mikdash on its site, and gather[ing] in the dispersed remnant of Israel."

May this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 188ff; Sichos Shabbos Parshas Beshallach 5732, 5735

Footnotes:

  1. (Back to text) Mechilta, quoted in Rashi, Exodus 15:2.

  2. (Back to text) Exodus 6:1.

  3. (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.

  4. (Back to text) Keilim 2:1.

  5. (Back to text) Leviticus 26:6.

  6. (Back to text) Toras Kohanim on the above verse.

  7. (Back to text) Isaiah 11:6.

  8. (Back to text) Ibid.:8.

  9. (Back to text) For an explanation of this and the concepts to follow, see Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, p. 18ff, and the sources mentioned there.

  10. (Back to text) This was indeed only a foretaste, for the transformation of Pharaoh was not fully completed at the time of the exodus. On the contrary, shortly afterwards, he experienced a change of heart and pursued the Jewish people.

  11. (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XII, p. 33ff and other sources which offer a similar explanation in interpreting the reason the Alter Rebbe (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ch. 430) gives for the observance of Shabbos HaGadol ("the great Shabbos," the Shabbos preceding the holiday of Pesach). The Alter Rebbe states that this Shabbos commemorates the miracle of the Egyptians' firstborn rebelling against Pharaoh and demanding that he release the Jews. What was so great about this miracle? The transformation of darkness to light it represents, that the Egyptians themselves demanded the Jews' release.

  12. (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 11:1.

  13. (Back to text) Genesis 47:6.

  14. (Back to text) Exodus 12:35-36. See also Rashi's commentary.

  15. (Back to text) Yoma 28b.

  16. (Back to text) Mechilta, quoted by Rashi, Exodus 13:18, see Likkutei Sichos, Vol XI, p. 1 footnote 10 and sources cited there.

  17. (Back to text) Exodus 3:12.

  18. (Back to text) The commemoration of their counting is one of the reasons given for the mitzvah of Counting the Omer. Rabbeinu Nissim, end of Pesachim.

  19. (Back to text) Rashi and Mechilta, commenting on Exodus 19:2.

  20. (Back to text) Shabbos 88a. See Torah Or, maamar Chayav Inesh Livsumei, sec. 4, and the maamar Vikibeil HaYehudim, 5687, sec. 2 which explain that our Sages were employing an analogy. The Jews witnessed Divine revelations so powerful that they had no choice whether to receive the Torah; it was as if a tub was held over their head.

  21. (Back to text) See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Gerushin 2:20.

  22. (Back to text) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 11:4.
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