Commentary for Beshalach

10 Jan

While they were wandering in the desert, the Israelites earn quite the reputation as grumblers and complainers, and most of that starts in this week’s parshah.  When the Egyptian army is bearing down on them, they complain that it would have been better to remain as slaves in Egypt.  After crossing the Red Sea, they complain first that they don’t have any water, and after God gives them drinkable water, they start to complain that they don’t have any food.  Many commentators both modern and ancient have criticized the Israelites for their lack of faith in either God’s ability or intention to provide for their physical needs, even after all of the miracles God has thus far preformed for them. While it is easy for us who were not there to criticize the Israelites lack of faith, many of their complaints do not seem so out of line for people in their position.  After all, God had provided them with freedom and protection by way of various miracles and displays of Divine power, so why would they not expect God to also provide them with food and water the same way?


Even so, for Moses, Aaron, and even God to get angry over this (Moses and Aaron get fed up with their complaining in Ex. 16, among other places, and Arachin 15a lists these incidents as some of the ten times the Israelite community tried God’s patience, mentioned by God in Num. 14:22), they must have done something wrong.  Some commentators have interpreted “They travelled three days in the wilderness and found no water (Ex. 15:22)” to mean that there was water, but the Israelites didn’t see it because they were so busy complaining.


When the Israelites finally do find some water, it is too bitter to drink (or at least they perceive it to be so.  Some commentators have stated that were the Israelites in a better mood, the water would have tasted just fine to them), and it is only after another miracle that the water ceases to taste bitter to them.  The Israelites were waiting for water to miraculously spring out of the ground, but in doing so, completely ignored the fact that water had already miraculously sprung out of the ground.  Just because there was no thunder or booming voice from Heaven or seeming defiance of the laws of nature doesn’t make the existence of food and water any less of a miracle of God.  The mere fact that our complex bodies can function properly is a miracle of God.  The Israelites ignored these common everyday miracles.  They took them for granted and refused to see God’s presence in the world unless it was accompanied by pillars of flame and smoke, and thus they upset God.  We must never forget that God’s presence is all around us.  We only need to put in the thought and effort to recognize it.

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