Food For the Soul
In the Parsha Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16) Pharaoh chases after the Children of Israel to force their return to Egypt. The Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s armies and the sea. G‑d tells Moses to raise his staff over the water; the sea splits to allow the Israelites to pass through and then closes over the pursuing Egyptians. Rabbi Yitschak Meir Kagan wrote the following:
“In every generation, “Pharaohs” arise who share the evil hope of the ancient Egyptian monarch. In our own generation, Hitler, may his name and memory be erased, decimated the number of Jewish people by one-third, annihilating six million of our people physically, and destroying many of our spiritual institutions. Many of our people have structured their lives around the principle “Never again”; but they channel this powerful feeling into combating only one prong of Pharaoh’s attack — the physical. Incredibly, they fail to realize that there is another, equally effective kind of decimation of Jews; it is assimilation, the second arm of ancient Pharaoh’s attack. It has destroyed the identity of perhaps one million Jews in recent years in the U.S. and elsewhere, and the trend threatens to continue.
In a sense, all of us, regardless of age, are young; we have tens of useful years before us. Since six million of our people have been lost, we have a special task — to accomplish the work that they would have done. Every one of Israel counts. No Jew is expendable. In our daily life, as the survivors and inheritors of the Torah-nation, we must use our strength to add to the elements of goodness in the world, and through this we will gain a life of happiness and harmony — which can only be achieved through a life of Torah and mitzvot. This is an obligation that rests upon every Jew. Furthermore, G‑d has given each of us the power to carry this through successfully.”
Shabbat of Song
The Parsha Beshalach contains the “song at the sea” sung by the Children of Israel upon their deliverance from the Egyptians, when the Red Sea split to allow them to pass and then drowned their pursuers. Hence this Shabbat is designated as Shabbat Shirah, “Shabbat of song.”
Our sages tell us that the birds in the sky joined our ancestors in their singing. For this reason it is customary to put out food for the birds for this Shabbat (to avoid the possibility of transgressing the laws of Shabbat, the food should be put out before Shabbat).
Mind Over Matter
Change is possible
There is a school of thought that maintains that we are all slaves to the events and circumstances of our childhood, as well as to our genetic dispositions. All future behavior, tendencies and attitudes can be linked to one thing or another that happened to us as children. Thankfully, however, there’s a second, more optimistic, school of thought. While it’s true that we are not masters over our past, we are still not its slaves. While we cannot change what was, we can influence what is.
With the proper mentality and discipline, we can create new attitudes and patterns of behavior, and even thought, helping us to gain mastery over negative inclinations and predispositions. Real change can occur only when there is a desire for change, and the desire for change can exist only with the belief that change is possible. This philosophy maintains that our attitudes, not our circumstances, define us. It’s not the situations we encounter in life, but the way we choose to react to them, that dictate the script of our lives.
From an article by Rabbi Mendel Kalmenson
Out of the mouths of babes
It is written, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established strength… to silence foe and avenger” (Psalms 8:3). The silencing of our foes is effected precisely by the mouths of children who study Torah in times when attempts are made to prevent that study, when difficulties and impediments are put in their way. The children who fortify themselves to overcome those obstacles will be the generation of the redemption and the first to proclaim, “Behold, THIS is our G‑d … THIS is G‑d for whom we hoped… !”
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Shochet
Have I Got A Story
My six-year-old son got a mosquito bite. He scratched at it for days, and of course that made it worse. He couldn’t sleep from the pain, and he opened up quite a large sore on his leg.
I tried to help him, I really did. I held him on my knee and explained that the more he scratched, the worse he’d feel. I spoke calmly and rationally to him, and I’m positive that he didn’t hear a word I said.
The moment I left the room, he was back to picking at it again. You see, when your foot is itching, you don’t want to be told, “Think about something else and the pain will go away,” because you’re convinced that your scratching is somehow bringing you short-term relief. It doesn’t, of course; if anything, it only makes it worse, but at least you feel like you’re doing something.
We all do it, all the time. Alcoholics drink to drown their sorrows, but their sorrows learn to swim. Bankrupts scatter their remaining funds on harebrained investments and get-rich-quick schemes, only to fall ever deeper into debt. It’s as logical as my son scratching to get rid of his itch—the more you rub, the worse you’ll feel in the end.
No matter how much we try to problem-solve, a permanent solution always seems to remain tantalizingly over the horizon. The harder our wheels spin in the mud, the deeper a hole we dig for ourselves. We try to run away from our problems, only to find that we bring our problems with us. If doing what we’ve done till now is what got us into this mess, what makes us think that doing more of the same will save us?
The Jews of the Exodus thought they knew what their problem was: Egypt. As slaves and strangers in a strange land, they were positive that the path to happiness lay in leaving Egypt. Imagine their shock after escaping the land of their bondage and arriving at the Reed Sea, only to discover that the Egyptians were right behind them: “They raised their eyes, and look! The Egyptians were advancing after them. They were very frightened, so the children of Israel cried out to G‑d.”
Up to that point, they had assumed that leaving Egypt would automatically solve all past and future difficulties. They weren’t ready to admit that their problem was greater than just being trapped in the wrong land. Yet the reason why running away from our troubles never helps is because our troubles tend to tag along. We think we’re being proactive, but we’ve just kicked the can of worries a little bit further down the road.
The long-term solution begins only when we cry out to G‑d. When the Jews were ready to admit that they had a problem and submitted to a Higher Power, they were finally on the path to freedom. That’s when G‑d promised them, “You will never see the Egyptians again.”
It’s not going to be easy, and we’re unlikely to arrive at the Promised Land immediately. There will be setbacks along the way, and we have to find a positive outlet to replace the negativity. Yet if we want to able to cross the sea in safety and watch while our enemies drown on the other side, we need to stop the destructive behavior of the past, connect to G‑d, and then begin to walk forward securely into the future.
Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum