Beshalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16, Parashat Hashavua for Shabbat January 27, 2024

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shira (The Sabbath of Song) for the song of celebration that Moses and the Children of Israel sing after they cross the Sea of Reeds and witness Pharoah’s army drown after the sea closes back on them. Scholars think it is one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Tanach.  It begins, “I will sing to Adonai, for God has triumphed gloriously;

Horse and driver God has hurled into the sea.” (Exodus 15:1) and it concludes with these words that we sing at every service, “Who is like You, Adonai, among the celestials; Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders!,” (Exodus 15:11) These are the opening words of Mi Chamocah. Notice that in this moment of deliverance from danger and triumph over their Egyptian enemies there is no pride in their victory, just praise for God. It was God’s work and their faith that saved the Israelites from certain death. And yet, there is a midrash that complicates the story from the Mekhilta DeRabbi Yishmael, Tractate Vayehi Beshalach 6:4. It  says that Moses raised his arms for the Sea of Reeds to part and yet it did not. Standing at the shore of the sea, all the Israelites said: “I will not enter the sea first.” So they hesitated as the Egyptians drew closer. Because they stood frozen, deliberating, Nachshon ben Aminadav leaped into the sea. As soon as he did, the sea began to part. From this we learn that human agency, the willingness to act, to take a leap of faith, was the essential component for the miracle of the parting of the sea to begin. Faith, recognizing that God represents a force for good in the world that we can believe in and tap into for strength, combined with courage, the willingness to act when action is necessary and everyone around us is frozen, these were the two elements essential to make the Sea of Reeds part. With faith and courage we can face any test, no matter how hard, no matter how frightening.