Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat BeShalach: Water, Water but there is no Water!

0 Comments 24 January 2018

Water is traditionally a symbol of life and Torah in Judaism. In his dvar Torah to Parashat BeShalach, Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann considers a life where the waters are not flowing freely. What are we to do when there is scarcity?

By Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann: In honour of my recently deceased, beloved father-in-law Dr. Oliver French

Parashat BeShalach is read on a Shabbat known as “Shabbat Shira” in synagogues all over the world. It is so known because of the long poem or song known as “Shirat Hayam” (Song of the sea) that is read from the Torah in which the people of Israel celebrate their liberation from Egypt, the miracle of the parting of the Reed Sea, and also because of Deborah’s song that is also read as this week’s haftorah.

The great Jewish thinker Yeshayahu Leibowitz in his book of teachings from the Torah Seven Years of Talks on Parashat Shavua  points out (page 266-8) that this Torah reading neatly divides into two parts of exactly the same size – 58 verses each. The first part describes the miracle of the parting of the sea and the people’s response – the only place in the Torah in which the people are described as having faith in G-d and his prophet Moshe. “And Israel saw the great hand, which the Lord had used upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in Moses, His servant.” -Exodus 14:31

The second describes their complaints and lack of faith. He understands from this that faith cannot be based on miracles but on free choice since even a miracle as great as described in this week’s narrative only has temporary impact. In our present difficult reality here in Israel, no external miracle will save us from governmental cynicism, popular hard-heartedness or our own country’s abuses of power in our relationships to Palestinians, refugees, or other Jews who don’t fit into the nationalistic norm. To resist and overcome racism and bigotry we only have our own determined choice to act for justice and peace despite all the obstacles. Just as those who first jumped into the sea like Nachshon Aminadav had a deeper more resilient faith than the rest and were able to lead the way to redemption so must we.

What flows through both parts, as a common connecting theme, is water, either too much of it or not enough of it. In the first, water is an overwhelming power and obstacle that is miraculously overcome and then saves the people. In the second, its scarcity in the desert is the reason for most of their complaints and their almost rebellion against Moshe’s leadership. The people test Moses again and again but he in his faith and trust in G-d manages to continue the long journey with them to Mt. Sinai and revelation and on to the Promised Land.

It is a commonplace to say that without water there is no life. There is also a popular rabbinic use of water as a symbol of Torah. The Torah is often described as “Living waters” without which the Jewish people have no life. But for that Torah to be life-giving it must flow with humility, kindness and constancy to overcome the obstacles of lack of faith and lack of trust in G-d, to overcome the false Torah of those who preach and teach hatred and hard-heartedness.

And where there is no water, where there is stubborn refusal to believe or trust in a better future here we must bring hope, bring forth water from the rocks of heartlessness and build a better future. Never give in to despair.

With G-d’s help we will stand firm in our faith. We shall overcome.

Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann is the director of organizational development at Rabbis for Human Rights

Receive weekly human rights Torah commentaries to your inbox

Share your view

Post a comment

© 2018 Rabbis for Human Rights. Powered by WordPress.