The Torah Portion for Sunday 16 January 2021 is called Beshalach meaning “When He sent” is from Exodus 13:17–17:16
The General Overview in this week's Torah reading, Pharaoh pursued the Israelites into the desert. The Red Sea splits, the Israelites cross the sea while the Egyptian army is drowned. Moses and the Israelites sing a special song thanking God for this miracle. The Israelites complain about a lack of food and drink. God sends Manna and quail for them to eat, and miraculously produces water from a rock. Amalek attacks the Israelites and is soundly defeated. It’s worth reading.
We are going to look again at the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea performed by God through Moses, seven days after the Israelites left Egypt. After Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread which was a Sabbath that lasted 7 days bringing them to the crossing of the Red Sea on the Sabbath. Moses liberates the Israelites by parting the Red Sea with an outstretched hand on the Sabbath. (ii)
I quote Exodus 14: 15 “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
19 “Then the angel of God, (that was ArchAngel Michael) who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other; so neither went near the other all night long."
21 “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left."
23 “The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed[b] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”
The biblical account of the parting of the Red Sea has been a mystery for thousands of years. I discovered when researching this week’s Torah portion that at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and University of Colorado that a new computer modeling study had shown how the movement of wind, as described in the book of Exodus, could have parted the waters.
The computer simulations show that a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed back water at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with the coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a large bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across the exposed mudflats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in. As the leader of the project, Carl Drews, said, “the simulation matched fairly closely with the account in Exodus so now we have scientific evidence to support the biblical account."
Exodus 14 verses 21 “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left."
Now this passage could be understood two ways:
Firstly, the event was a suspension of the laws of nature or secondly, it was a miracle, a supernatural event that the waters literally stood like a wall and that does not happen naturally.
Our question is, Was it a miraculous and a supernatural event or was the law of nature suspended, and the exposure of dry land, at that part of the Red Sea, a natural outcome of a strong east wind and nothing supernatural about it at all?
What did make it miraculous is that it happened just there, just then, when the Israelites seemed trapped, unable to go forward because of the sea, and unable to go back because of the Egyptian army pursuing them.
There is a very significant difference with these two interpretations.
The first appeals to our supernatural feelings of wonder. How extraordinary that the laws of nature could be suspended to allow an escaping people to go free! It is a story designed to appeal to the imagination of a child, but the naturalistic explanation is wondrous at another level altogether!
What made the Egyptians, at the time of Rameses, so formidable was that they possessed the latest and most powerful forms of military technology - the horse drawn chariot, and that made them unbeatable in battle and fearsome.
What happens at the sea is poetic justice. We are reading about the only circumstance that we know of, where a group of people traveling on foot can escape from a highly trained army of chariots and horses, through a seabed which the people could walk across but the chariot wheels get stuck in the mud.
Now the tables have turned and the Egyptian army can neither advance nor retreat! The wind drops, the water returns, the powerful are now powerless and the powerless have made their way to freedom.
This Torah portion has a moral depth and resonates with the message from Psalm 147:10 -11 “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love."
The simple way the Red Sea divides in this Torah portion, is so that it can be read at two quite different levels - one is a supernatural miracle and the other as a moral tale through the lens of our modern-day scientific technology. (v)
I believe it is both miraculous and has a message for us in our everyday lives. I love to be able to draw out of a Biblical text what it means to us today. It seems to be a text deliberately written so that our understanding of it can mature as we mature.
Of course, we are very interested in the mechanics of miracles, but we are much more interested in how our freedom is won or lost through Ruach -the move of the Holy Spirit in this story manifested through the east wind.
When we find ourselves at the Red Sea moment in our Nation and in our personal lives, where we can neither move forward nor move back and are about to be brought down is when we cry out to God “Help!” “I don’t know what to do or which way to turn” is when we need to know how the division of the sea happened. God does not remove the sea but he makes a way.
There remains a depth to this biblical story that can never be exhausted by computer simulation or by historical or any other evidence and that is the deliberate move of the Holy Spirit on our behalf expressed by a physical wind that can part the waters and expose the land beneath. The Ruach – Holy Spirit moving in us can expose below the surface of our life’s journey, a deeper meaning beneath the under current of our lives.
Do we move forward on the bedrock of our faith in God on a firm foundation or do we get stuck in the mud of unbelief and a lack of faith in God and ourselves. Do we build our house on the bedrock of our faith – The Passover Lamb – our salvation through the blood of Jesus on the Cross or do we build our house on the mud flats of sinking sand in unbelief?
God separated the Hebrews from their enemy by a cloud, by His very presence, then He made a way where there seemed to be no way and as Moses stretched out his hand and the waters parted and the children of Israel went over on dry ground on the Sabbath it was, actually, a miraculous event.
Centuries later Jesus was in a synagogue on the Sabbath day and there's a man with a withered hand. I quote Mark 3 1-6 ”And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 So the Pharisee watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might [a]accuse Him. 3 And He said to the man who had the withered hand, [b]“Step forward.” 4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored [c]as whole as the other. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him."
Oh my goodness what made the Pharisees so furious that they wanted to kill Jesus for healing this man. It's the under current in the story! They wanted to convict Jesus according to Moses’ law which we bring on the Sabbath - and what do we bring on the Sabbath? The Torah.
Basically Jesus says, in a role play situation that you Pharisees can play Pharaoh and his army because of your hardness of heart, this man with the withered hand is like Moses and I will play God. I will tell this man to stretch out his hand, and he will be healed on the Sabbath day and he goes free.
You see, Jesus was playing the role of God and that is why they wanted to kill him.
That's why they were so upset with Jesus. Moses liberated the Hebrews on the Sabbath day with “an outstretched hand” and so, in turn, Jesus liberates this man, too, on the Sabbath! If Moses did it and he received the law on Mount Sinai, then it was good enough for Jesus.
Before I finish, I just want to share with you one more thing. This week I was in a Prayer meeting and the Lord took me by chance, to Isaiah 11:11 and I read this:
“On that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people’ I believe that’s the gentiles and those in the Middle East…..” We are at a Red Sea Moment here in Canada where we can’t seem to move forward or move back and the evil one is in hot pursuit. I believe we are all set for another move of God with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm for the Middle East and for us as gentiles, too. The amazing thing was that I had read this verse on the 11th Hebraic month at 11:11 in the morning.
Get ready to cross over – it’s coming.
The Torah portion starts with an enemy pursuing – the Egyptians - and ends with an enemy pursuing called Amalek. The way Israel conquers Amalek is by Aaron and Hur holding up Moses arms and they begin to win, he lowers them and they begin to lose. So they prop up Moses' arms with a stone. Moses represents the Torah. The way we fight our battles and conquer our enemies is through holding up the Torah.
The Crossing of the Red Sea ends with the amazing Song of liberation by Moses. We closed out this week’s Torah Portion with a song written, arranged and performed by Celine van Cittert called “The Song of Moses.” Celine is a member of our congregation and you can find her song on YouTube.
Shabbat Shalom Miriam
(i) Chabad Beshelach in a Nutshell (ii) El Shaddai Ministries (iii) NCAR’s Carl Drews, lead author of a paper published in September 2010 in the journal PLoS ONE. Colorado University oceanographer (iv) Song of Moses by Celine van Cittert (v) Jonathan Sacks Chief Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth