Parshat Beshalach: A Test of Faith

This week’s parsha is dedicated
in memory of Shlomo Fredman z”l
שלמה חיים אריה לייב בן שמואל נחמו הכהן, ז”ל

Parshat Beshalach: A Test of Faith

Tzippy Ross

Tzipora (Fredman) Ross (Midreshet Lindenbaum Overseas Program ‘89-90; Bruria Scholars ‘94-95) is currently the Judaic Studies Coordinator and in her 24th year of teaching at Ramaz Middle School, New York, NY.

This week’s parsha is a transition when B’nai Yisrael leave behind their lives as slaves and travel to their ultimate goal of receiving the Torah.  They must throw off what is often referred to as their “slave mentality.”  Over a period of weeks between the Exodus from Egypt and arriving at Har Sinai, B’nai Yisrael endure several tests.  First, they are chased by Pharaoh’s army, then they arrive at Mara and cannot find potable water; in Midbar Sin they no longer have food, in Refidim, again they don’t have water, and finally they are ambushed by Amalek.  Each of these events can be seen as a test: how will B’nai Yisrael, just recently freed from generations of slavery, respond to these challenges?  

In focusing on the story of the Man, we see how dramatically B’nai Yisrael change in both their appreciation of their daily needs, as well as how they view time.  Hashem explicitly tests their faith in whether they will accept the Torah.  Unlike in Mara, where Hashem immediately sweetens the bitter water, here Hashem says, (16:4) “Behold I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion—that I may test them, to see whether they will follow My Torah or not.”  What in fact is the nature of this test?  If B’nai Yisrael wish to eat, they will need to go daily to the field to collect the Man that falls!  However this is not just a chore or task to be completed in order to fill their stomachs.  Collecting their food will be a daily reinforcement of their faith.  Rashbam explains that, since each day, their eyes will be dependent on Hashem, from the act of gathering the Man, they will believe in Him and follow His Torah.  

If we examine the story further, we see that it is not enough for B’nai Yisrael to gather Man each day; there are several rules that apply to this miracle, namely how much they can take, that they cannot leave any overnight, and that they cannot take any on Shabbat.  

In discussing the test of the Man, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that there are several life-lessons for the Jewish people.  By having to go into the field to collect each morning, they learn diligence and hard work.  By only taking enough for one day, they learn a powerful lesson of emunah; once they have finished that day’s food, they do not have a scrap of food left and must wait and hope that tomorrow, they will receive food again, lest they starve.  While they had learned the lesson of hard work in Egypt, their basic needs were provided for them by their masters.  Now the work they are doing is for the survival of themselves and their families, yet it is balanced by an active reliance on Hakadosh Baruch Hu.   

Tied into this episode is the first mention of Shabbat since Creation.  As we know, B’nai Yisrael receive a double portion on Friday, a portion that does not spoil and is waiting to be consumed on Shabbat.  While the rest of the week, they only eat what they labored for on that day, for Shabbat, they must labor on the day before so they can have complete rest.  This is another display of faith.  During their years as slaves, B’nai Yisrael did not have control over their own time.  They worked when they were told to, and they rested when they were told to.  By accepting Shabbat and refraining from creative work, B’nai Yisrael acknowledge that how one uses time also shows belief in Hashem.  Unlike the way they followed their earthly masters in Egypt, here in the desert, they show adherence to the Creator of the entire world.  

In the 21st century, we can use the lessons of faith and value of time as well.  With the many demands in our own lives, we may feel like we do not control our own time.  Whether it is work, school, family, or friends, we may feel like we don’t have time for ourselves.  Perhaps a daily act to reassert our faith, whether that is learning, davening, or chesed, can elevate our time and make it something holy.the Egyptians, and much more besides, given the oppression they had visited upon us.  Doing so, as the verses show us, was therefore a crucial part of the Exodus.

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