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Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach

Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach

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Chapter 13

[17] God did not lead them: This verse speaks of those Jews who were so attached to Egypt and so lacking in faith that they would have preferred to remain behind. Yet the word the Torah uses here for "lead" (nacham) implies calm, tranquil movement, implying that when God took us out of Egypt, He led even the lowest elements of the people gently and peacefully.

The same applies today: both individually and as a people, we are always leaving "Egypt" and progressing forward toward "Mount Sinai," and God leads us on this path in the easiest most painless way possible. If we do encounter obstacles, we should recall that God puts them there only because the easier way is too easy, and we would be tempted us to slide back into Egypt at the first hint that the way to Mount Sinai conflicts with our previous lifestyle. Rather, these obstacles test our devotion to our convictions and strengthen us by forcing us to summon our latent, inner powers.

By overcoming these apparent obstacles, we make it unnecessary to wage actual war against our spiritual enemies. We can proceed unhindered to Mount Sinai, free from the threat of spiritual forces that would otherwise obstruct our path. Thus, the obstacles God places in our path are truly the way He leads us peacefully to our goal.1

[18] The Israelites were armed: Although the Jews were leaving Egypt proudly and unchallenged, they still took weapons with them, for the redemption process was not yet complete. The enemy had been conquered, but still not eradicated. In contrast, after the messianic redemption, when all God's enemies will be totally vanquished, all nations "will beat their swords into ploughshares,"2 for there will no longer be any need for arms.

Everything in the physical world is a reflection of spiritual reality. At the Exodus from Egypt, evil was temporarily subjugated but still existed as a real danger.3 It was therefore necessary for the people to be spiritually "armed" as well, to be guarded against evil and wary of it. Until the final redemption, this will continue to be the case; there are times that good gains the upper hand, but caution is always warranted. Only in the messianic era will God "wipe the spirit of evil off the face of the earth,"4 fully refining the entire world and transforming it into good, so that there will no longer be any need for arms at all, physical or spiritual.5

[19] Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: From the context, it is apparent that Moses took Joseph's bones not only in order to fulfill the promise the people made to him, but also as a prerequisite for the ensuing journey through the desert.

Rather than referring to Joseph's "remains" or using some other discreet term, the Torah uses the seemingly indelicate description—"the bones of Joseph." This is because the bones are in a sense the essence of the body; they form its strong, defining frame and are the only part that remains after all else has decayed. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "bone" (etzem) also means "essence." This verse can therefore be understood to mean that Moses took Joseph's very essence with him, and this enabled them to cross the desert.

Joseph's essence is expressed in his name: "[Rachel] named him Joseph ['May He add'], saying, 'May God add for me another son.' "6 Rachel yearned to bring another Jew into the world. Allegorically, this wish includes the desire to make an "other"—an estranged Jew—into a "son," to bring him back into the fold.7 In a more general sense, it includes the desire to transform all reality from its profane state into the vehicle for holiness it was originally intended to be.

The Jewish people were about to embark on a treacherous journey through a dangerous desert, whose physical barrenness and perils were a reflection of its spiritual desolation. In order to be able to survive such a journey, Moses ensured that they were accompanied by the message and spirit of Joseph—that they were prepared to transform even the most bleak landscape into a fitting home for the Divine.

The ongoing phenomenon of exile is referred to as a sojourn through "the desert of nations."8 In order for us to persevere through such darkness, we must take our cue from Joseph's essence. We must strive to rehabilitate even the most distant and rebellious individuals, encouraging them to return to the fold and showing them that they are truly God's beloved children. If we remain true to this objective, we can be assured that in the end, no Jew will be left behind.9

Chapter 14

[5] The officers Pharaoh sent with the people saw: We are told in the Midrash10 that when three days had passed and the people showed no sign of turning back, the officers announced, "It's time to return to Egypt!"

"Do you think we left Egypt because of Pharaoh's permission?" answered the Jews. "The Holy One, blessed be He, took us out of Egypt, and we have no intention of heeding Pharaoh's commands."

"Eventually you'll have to give in," warned the officers. "Pharaoh is a mighty king, and he will force you to return!"

At that, the Jewish people arose and chased Pharaoh's officers away: "Return to Egypt, and inform Pharaoh that the Jews are confidently continuing on their path to freedom."

Moses then turned to the people and said: "If we continue on our way now, Pharaoh will assume that we are fleeing from him, implying that we still fear his might. Let us stop; indeed, let us turn back a little bit towards Egypt, to demonstrate clearly that we do not fear them at all. No matter what they do, we will not return to Egypt, because we are now on the path towards Mount Sinai."

We are all constantly struggling with our own personal Pharaoh—our evil inclination—that attempts to keep us enslaved in the chains of materialism. Moses taught the Jewish people that the way to overthrow Pharaoh is by rejecting him outright. Banish his sentries, his subliminal messages and demands. Do so with pride, and heap insults upon them. With such a confident attack upon the attackers, our progress on the proper path of Godliness and Torah is secured.11


The people had fled: After all the plagues that Egypt had suffered, especially after the tenth plague, there is no doubt that Pharaoh had no will to fight on. Why, then, was it necessary for the Jews to stoop to subterfuge? They left under the pretense that they wished no more than a brief hiatus, while in truth they never intended to return. Why could they not have told Pharaoh clearly that they insist upon leaving, rather than fleeing like fugitives?

As mentioned earlier, all of these events were the physical manifestation of spiritual struggles. The Jewish people were indeed finished with the physical Egyptians, and could no longer be held in captivity. However, there still remained "an Egyptian" within each one of the Jews themselves. They had not yet truly eradicated and transformed the evil within them—they would not do this until the revelation at Mount Sinai. Neither had they reached sublime levels of spirituality, for they were no more than the benefactors of unearned Divine beneficence. Therefore, the most they could hope to do was to flee, to leave their evil inclination "behind" and bury it under their strong desire to connect to God.

In contrast to all this, the messianic redemption will be the result of the Jewish people's struggles and achievements to refine themselves and the world around them throughout the long years of exile. At that time, therefore, there will be no necessity for flight, for physical matter itself will have been prepared and readied for elevation.

Until then, we continue to struggle to be redeemed from Egypt, from the limitations and boundaries imposed upon us by the material world in which we live. This battle must be waged in stages. Attempting to completely transform and rehabilitate evil all at once can be overwhelming and may lead to failure. It is often necessary to begin with a simple, absolute rejection of evil—even if that means fleeing from it—only afterwards making a stand and attacking it on its own terms.12

[8] The Israelites had left with arms held high: Onkelos renders the expression "with arms held high" as "with a revealed head," meaning "boldly unafraid," not bothering to shield their heads with helmets or the like.

The Ba'al Shem Tov's grandson, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim of Sadilkov, pointed out13 that the word for "with a head" (bereish) can be seen as an acronym formed from the first letters of the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, the seminal classic of Jewish mysticism. Allegorically, then, this phrase can be understood to mean that "The Israelites will leave [exile] with the revelation of [the teachings of] Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai."

Indeed, in the Zohar itself,14 the prophet Elijah is quoted as saying that those who study the teachings of "this book…the Zohar…will not need to undergo trials [before the final Redemption]. Since the Jewish people will, in the future, taste from the Tree of Life, which is the Zohar, they will, in this merit, leave exile in mercy, fulfilling the verse, 'God Himself will lead them, and there will be no alien deity with Him.' "15

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim then quotes Rabbi Eliezer Lipa of Chmielnik16 as saying that bereish can also be seen as an acronym for the Ba'al Shem Tov's name—Rabbi Yisrael ben Sarah, or Rabbi Yisrael Ba'al Shem.

This accords with the Ba'al Shem Tov's account of his famous spiritual ascent on Rosh Hashanah of 1746,17 when he met the soul of the Messiah, who then told the Ba'al Shem Tov that he would descend to redeem the world "when your teachings will be publicized and revealed throughout the world, and 'your wellsprings spread outward.' "18

Remarkably, bereish can also be seen as an acronym for the names of two other sages who played pivotal roles in the dissemination of the teachings of Jewish mysticism: Rabbi Yitzchak ben Shlomo Luria (the Arizal) and the previous Lubavitcher RebbeRabbi Yosef [Yitzchak] ben Shalom Dovber, or Rabbi Yosef [Yitzchak] ben Shterna [Sarah].

The Arizal, in addition to revealing new levels of understanding in the teachings of the Zohar, declared that the time had come to promulgate these teachings to the masses, rather than restricting their study to the spiritual elite, which had been the practice until his time.19

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated the translation of these teachings into modern languages, thereby making them accessible to an even wider public.20

Each of these individuals thus revealed the Torah's secrets to a greater extent than had been previously accomplished, and thus brought the redemption closer.21

[10] Pharaoh drew [himself] nearer: The Midrash offers another interpretation: by chasing them, Pharaoh drew the Jews nearer to God, as evidenced by their crying out to Him at the end of this verse.

Even though these interpretations may seem diametrically opposed, in truth they are compatible. It is often the presence of opposition that awakens our very deepest reserves of energy. Pharaoh's exertions, despite his being evil incarnate, caused a reciprocal arousal on the part of the Jewish people; they, too, realized that desperate measures were called for.

Similarly, whenever we are confronted with a challenge, we should view it as an opportunity for spiritual growth rather than try to evade it. When we are comfortable and complacent, we are apt to lose sight of priorities or lose our sense of urgency in our Divine mission. Physical or spiritual adversity can shock us out of this indifference, enabling us to climb to the sublime spiritual heights possible through repentance for our callousness. The challenge of difficulties undermines our egotistical self-assurance and affords us the opportunity to advancement in our relationship with God by breaking through the obstacle.22

[13] But Moses said to the people: The Jews were in a dilemma. They were standing without rafts in front of the Sea of Reeds and the Egyptians were fast approaching. Four factions developed among them, each with another plan of action:

  • "Let us drown ourselves in the sea!"
  • "Let us surrender and return to Egypt!"
  • "Let us wage war against them!"
  • "Let us pray!"

Moses replied to each faction in turn:

  • Stand firm and witness the deliverance that God will perform for you today. —do not jump into the sea.
  • For the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see again. —do not return to Egypt.
  • God will do battle for you. —do not wage war against them.
  • Your shall remain silent. —do not pray.

What, then, were they to do? Let them journey forth! —continue along on the path to Mount Sinai and all will be well.23

These four factions reflect four erroneous attitudes that we, too, are liable to adopt in our confrontation with spiritual darkness:

  • At times we wish to "jump into the sea," to immerse ourselves in the pure waters of Torah and prayer and shut our eyes in oblivion to the darkness around us.
  • At times we do better saying, "let us return to Egypt"—we will deal with the darkness, but as slaves. We resign ourselves to our fate of living in a dark world; we do our job but without hope.
  • Even better is when we say, "let us wage war"—we feel the power of light and aspire to conquer the Pharaohs of dark our world. But when God instructs us to go on to Mount Sinai, it is not time to do battle. Furthermore, our motives for battle are questionable: do they stem from a commitment to goodness or from a desire to fight?
  • The fourth path is the highest—"let us pray." During prayer we become one with God, losing our sense of self, and desiring only to fulfill His wishes. We would not think of secluding ourselves from the world or losing hope that light will ultimately prevail. We would not think of waging self-strategized wars not commanded by God. But alas, prayer is passive, and this, too, is not the path.

Rather, God commands us to journey forth, to continue on our path to Sinai, to bring ourselves and the world around us closer to the Torah, one good deed at a time.

The common denominator among the four factions was that their plans of action originated in their own psyche. They lacked the absolute surrender to Divine consciousness that would have allowed them to hear the voice of God. When we reach the level of total surrender and "travels forth," the sea is split: the hidden becomes revealed. The deepest dimension of the soul—the aspect that is absolutely one with God—is manifest.24

There is indeed a time for prayer. On a personal level, it is the highest form of connection to God. However, when action is called for, prayer is the wrong response. When the sea is waiting to be split, when God demands forward movement, it is not time to stop and worry about personal levels of connectedness.

This lesson is eternal, continuing to resound nowadays.

The sea is home to as much or more life as is dry land. The major difference is that its life forms are concealed by the water. There comes a point in our lives when we must "split the sea"—we must be able to see beyond the physical trappings and recognize the all-pervading Godly vitality that is the source of all life. Every person is capable of this; all that is needed is the will. Assisting someone else in this process often enables us to accomplish it for ourselves as well.

This is God's message: now is a time for action. Sequestering oneself in a synagogue or study hall, as personally fulfilling as it may be, is not the proper approach. There are people who need our help; they are waiting for their personal Splitting of the Sea. It is necessary to go out, to "journey forth" and help ensure that the entire world joins in the victorious march through the challenges of the Sea of Reeds toward the final and complete redemption.25

[13] For the Egyptians whom you have seen today you will never see again: This statement is viewed not only as an assurance, but also as a commandment: It is forbidden for Jews to settle in Egypt;26 we are only allowed to visit there for the sake of business.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria explains the reason for the prohibition to travel to Egypt as follows: Every journey we take—indeed, everything we do—must serve some Godly purpose. There are "sparks" of holiness scattered throughout the entire world; our mission is to return them to their source by utilizing our physical surroundings to fulfill God's plan for reality. When the Jewish people left Egypt, they took everything that could be elevated out along with them; Egypt was totally emptied of its holy sparks.27 Therefore, since there is no mission left to be accomplished in Egypt, it is indeed forbidden for Jews to travel there, since everything that a Jew does must have a purpose.

This explains why business travel is permitted. Although the sparks from Egypt itself were all elevated, objects continue to be brought into the country from elsewhere through trade, together with their corresponding spiritual content. It is therefore permissible and even necessary for some people to conduct trade there, thereby gathering those elusive sparks as well.28

[15] Speak to the Israelites and let them journey forth: According to the Midrash,29 the sea had not yet split when God told the Jews to enter it. The people hesitated, until the prince of the tribe of Judah, Nachshon ben Aminadav (Aaron's brother-in-law) jumped in. Only then did God tell Moses to raise his hand and split the sea.

Nachshon knew that God had instructed the people to travel to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. He was therefore singularly unimpressed with the obstacles that stood in the way. The fact that a sea stood between the people and their final goal did not faze him. If he had to jump into the sea and keep going until he would reach Mount Sinai, so be it.

Nachshon did not enter into any of the discussions mentioned above, nor was he impressed with any of the four factions' plans, since none of them led to Mount Sinai. He did what was to him the only logical thing: to jump into the sea and move one step closer to Mount Sinai. In his merit, the sea split.30

[15-16] Let them journey forth…take up your staff and raise your arm over the sea: The splitting of the Sea of Reeds is generally viewed as the archetype of a miraculous and supernatural event. Yet even in this case, there had to be a natural action to catalyze the miracle: God instructed the people to journey forward and Moses to lift his staff over the water. God always demands some human act first and only then does He perform miracles.

Simply stated, this is because events that occur without our involvement do not truly affect us; we may adjust to the changes, but we are not internally affected. Only when we expend some effort do we truly appreciate and assimilate the miracle.

The same applies in all areas of life. Asking for God's blessings is not sufficient; we must do something that can serve as a conduit for the blessing. Whether it is a visit to the doctor or performing an extra good deed, the blessing requires an expenditure of effort on our part.31

[20] There was cloud and darkness, but [the pillar of fire] lit up the night: The literal translation of the verse is: "there was cloud and darkness and it [i.e., the cloud and darkness] lit up the night," implying that the darkness itself became a source of illumination.32 This revelation was a precursor to the Splitting of the Sea, where the concealment of the sea would also be "peeled back" to disclose the great treasures hidden within.

Darkness—the apparent absence of Divine revelation and clarity—is only such from our limited perspective. From God's perspective, "Darkness does not obscure anything for You; night is as bright as day, and darkness as light."33 Darkness is a challenge we are meant to overcome and thereby reap the benefits that are to be had by overcoming it.

We can approach this challenge in two ways. One is to repel the darkness by taking whatever light we do have and forging ahead with it. Ignoring the darkness and focusing on the light will dispel the darkness, even if the darkness is seemingly much greater than the little light we possess. This strategy is certainly better than succumbing to the depression and despair of darkness, and will even suffice, in most cases, to carry us through the dark periods of life.

But the ultimate objective is not merely to dispel the darkness but to transform it into light by turning its negativity into a positive force in our lives. When we succeed in this, the resultant light is infinitely brighter than the light that was shining as such all along.34

[21] And God drove back the sea with a powerful east wind throughout the night: In other words, God had to keep the wind constantly blowing in order to keep the walls of water erect. Had God let the wind stop, these walls would have collapsed and the sea would have reverted to its natural level.

When God created the world, He also acted against the "natural" state of things: He created existence out of non-existence. Analogous to the Splitting of the Sea, God has to keep His creative force constantly "blowing" into reality in order to keep it from reverting back to its original, default state of non-existence. Reality is therefore not something that exists on its own, nor is it even something that exists by virtue of the property of existence with which God imbued it when He first created it. It exists solely because God is actively and continuously infusing it with His creative force.

The implications of this truth are both profound and far-reaching. If God is constantly recreating the world, then the world right now is, in a very real sense, an entirely different one than the world that existed a moment ago. It is a fresh, new world, and we are brand new people, not necessarily straitjacketed by any cause-and-effect relationship with the past. We have complete freedom to choose between good and evil at any given moment, unencumbered by precedent or habit.35

[21] And the waters split: The Splitting of the Sea was the culmination of the Exodus for several reasons:

  • The Egyptian army still remained intact after the Exodus, so the threat of re-enslavement still existed. At the sea, the people were being pursued by an army that naturally should have destroyed them. According to the Midrash,36 there were 30 Egyptians to each Jew. Only when the sea split and swallowed the Egyptians alive was the process of the Exodus truly complete.
  • God had promised Abraham that his descendents would leave their exile with great wealth. Although the Jews took a large amount of wealth out of Egypt, they technically only borrowed this wealth from the Egyptians. It did not actually belong to them until after the Egyptians drowned in the sea. Furthermore, the Egyptian wealth that the Jews took at the sea exceeded that which they took with them from Egypt.37
  • Spiritually, God's promise to Abraham was that the Jews would liberate all the sparks of holiness trapped in Egypt. Since it was primarily at the sea that the wealth of Egypt became theirs, it follows that the primary release of the sparks also occurred at the sea.
  • Finally, the ultimate goal of the Exodus, the receiving of the Torah, could only have been achieved by first experiencing the spiritual revelations at the Splitting of the Sea.38

Spiritually, leaving Egypt means freeing the Divine soul from the shackles of the animal soul. The Divine soul is free when it realizes that although we are surrounded by "pharaohs," we need not be servants to them; we are free to be servants of God alone. But the soul cannot experience this freedom fully until "the sea has been split," until the true, Divine nature of reality has been revealed.

Even without being aware of the true nature of reality, we can "leave Egypt," break out of our bondage to materialism and dutifully fulfill our responsibilities. But such uninspired commitment is vulnerable. If our mind and heart are not in it, Pharaoh and his armies can give chase. We truly left Egypt and Pharaoh behind only after the sea is split, when God's presence is revealed and obvious and the lie of Egypt has been exposed.

It is for this very reason that, just as we are required to mention the Exodus from Egypt in our daily prayers, we are also required to mention the Splitting of the Sea, since it is an integral part of our daily spiritual exodus.39

[22] On dry land: It is related in the Midrash that God caused fruit trees to instantaneously grow in the middle of the sea and bear fruit; the children plucked the fruit of these trees and fed them to the birds, which then joined the Jews in their song of praise to God. Although God is generally loath to tamper with nature, He caused trees to grow miraculously to teach the fledgling Jewish nation an important lesson: whenever there is an opportunity to utilize some part of creation in fulfilling God's purpose, it should be taken advantage of. Thus God caused the seabed—which for the brief time during the Jew's passage was capable of producing trees—to give forth fruit. These fruits in turn enhanced the people's song to their Creator. The miraculous trees teach us that even the most fleeting opportunity can and should be used to a Godly end.40


On a deeper level, God caused fruit trees to grow and bear fruit because this was an integral part of the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. The Splitting of the Sea was the revelation of reality's hidden side, its potential to express the Divinity pulsing within it. This revelation had to occur at all levels of creation: in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, as well as in humanity.

The earth possesses the potential to sustain plant life, so when the sea split, the earth manifested this potential. Plant life has the potential to sustain animal life, so the trees that sprouted from the seabed bore fruit. Animal life has the potential to sustain and enhance human life, so the birds ate from the miraculously-produced fruit and thus were enabled to join the Jews in the Song at the Sea.

As we will explain shortly,41 the sea would not have split unless the Jews first revealed their hidden Divine potential; the seabed revealed its potential to produce fruit-bearing trees because the people revealed their inner Divine potential.

Similarly, when we repeat the experience of the Splitting of the Sea in our daily lives by revealing our hidden Divine potential, we affect the very fabric of reality. Since we are still in exile, we do not always see the effects of our actions, but eventually, when the unseen changes in reality reach a critical mass, they will usher in the messianic redemption. Then, even the inanimate kingdom will openly reveal its hidden, Divine potential.42

[22] And the water formed a wall for them on their right and on their left: Allegorically, too, we need to be protected from the floodwaters of life on both the "left" and the "right." When the evil inclination attempts to lead us astray from the proper, Torah-true path, there are two tacks it can take.

It can attack from the "right": When we are doing well, financially and otherwise, it attempts to convince us that we have no need for Divine assistance. "When the Jews were in the desert, without anything at all, they needed God's help for food and sustenance. But you are doing quite well all on your own. Your charm/business sense/trading savvy is all that you need. Why bother with old-fashioned rituals and constrictions?"

Or, it can assault us from the "left": When things aren't going so well, it attempts to convince us that we have no time for eliciting Divine assistance. "This is no time for restrictions," it says. "As soon as things get better, when you've got the time and the money, then you will be able to worry about such things as Shabbat observance, ethical business behavior, and the like. But right now you've got to work. You're in the rat-race, and you need to concentrate solely and fully on getting ahead."

We therefore need God's protection on both sides, for only with it can we be assured of successfully traversing the turbulent waters of life and staying on the tried and true path of the Torah.43

[29] While the water formed a wall for them on their right and on their left: The repetition of this fact underscores its centrality to the miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. Indeed, it serves to indicate that this encompassing protection served not only to protect the Jews from the Egyptians—for if that were the case, it would only have been needed earlier on, when the Egyptians were still alive—but also from some other peril endangering their journey towards the Giving of the Torah.

The Midrash44 describes the Splitting of the Sea in the following terms:

As the Jews were passing through the sea, the angels appeared before God, complaining: "How can it be that idol worshippers such as these should be able to walk on dry land through the sea itself? What merit can they possibly have that makes them worthy of such a great miracle?" God answered: "Their protection is derived from the right—the Torah that they will soon accept, and from the left—the prayers they will recite and the tefilin they will don."

Why the necessity for a double merit?

As mentioned, the purpose of the sea's splitting was not merely to escape from the Egyptians; it also served as a foretaste of the Giving of the Torah and a preparation for it. At the Giving of the Torah, the Godliness latent within the physical world would be fully revealed.

This revelation was elicited by a parallel occurrence within the Jews themselves. Under normal circumstances, the restrictive, material context in which we live our lives forces us to develop our personalities in a limited way, emphasizing one or another character trait or propensity to the exclusion of others. When we respond to God's call to join in the work of rectifying the world, we naturally gravitate toward those aspects of the Divine mission that align with our dominant personality traits. We try to respond to God on our own terms.

But the Torah requires us to enlist all possible facets of human nature in performing God's work, even those that are of opposing natures. For example, we are required at times to draw Divinity into the world by studying and teaching the Torah's rules for life or fulfilling God's commandments. At other times, we are required to do just the opposite: to renounce this world and lose ourselves in the ecstatic rapture of prayer. By advancing toward accepting the Torah, the Jews displayed their essential connectedness to God, reflected in their willingness to serve Him on His terms. As such, the Jews were protected on both the "right" and the "left," i.e., they accrued the merit of their willingness to serve God in conflicting directions.

This willingness revealed and reflected their very essence, which transcended whatever particular personality each of them had developed. As a result, they merited the Splitting of the Sea, a similar act of revelation within nature.45

[31] Israel saw…they believed in God: Generally, after seeing something, we no longer need to accept it on faith. If so, after seeing God's great hand, why did the Jewish people still need to believe in God and Moses? The answer is that once they had seen and validated what they had previously only believed in, they were able to "upgrade" their belief and believe in that which remained beyond what they had seen; they believed in what they had not seen.

The potential to do this is infinite. We struggle to perceive what we currently believe; when we succeed in doing so, we realize that there is still more about God to believe in. In this way we perpetually broaden the horizons of our faith and our capacity to relate to God on ever-higher levels.46

And in His servant Moses: The Midrash47 deduces from this verse that belief in Moses is an integral component of belief in God and that, conversely, doubting his credibility is a breach in one's belief in God.

Here we find reference to the concept of a Rebbe—a leader the belief in whose existence is in some way on a par with our belief in God—and the imperative to identify him. The Zohar states that God provides every generation with a preeminently righteous individual who is "an extension of Moses."48 This "Moses," just as the original Moses, serves as a link between his generation and God.49 Faith in this extraordinary person fortifies our faith in God, and commitment to his guidance deepens our commitment to God.

In addition to being a channel through which we can reach God, Moses is also the channel through which God's blessings reach us. As it is stated in the Talmud: "One who has an ailing person in his home should go to a sage and ask him to pray for him."50 The sage's prayers can accomplish for someone ailing physically or spiritually what our own prayers cannot. This sage is our connection with God in both directions.

Belief in the power of the Moses of the generation does not contradict the fundamental Jewish belief that there are no intermediaries between God and man, for in order to qualify for this role, the sage must be, like Moses, devoid of ego and completely transparent—"the humblest man on earth."51 As opposed to a bridge, which connects two banks of a river, the connection he provides to God should be visualized as a knot, which simply serves to tie two pieces of string together. While a bridge is a third entity interposed between the two banks, the knot is nothing in and of itself; it is simply the connection joining the two pieces of string.52

Chapter 15

[1] He cast both horse and rider into the sea: Interestingly enough, the song does not focus primarily upon the people's salvation, but rather on the destruction of their enemies. The Jews had no need to affirm their spiritual connection to God; that was never in any doubt. Instead, they thanked God for revealing that connection in the physical world, where there were real enemies who were attempting to destroy them. Such a manifestation of their intrinsic connection could not be taken for granted, and for that they raised their voices in song.53

[2] This is my God and I will glorify Him, my father's God and I will exalt Him: The letters of the word for "I will glorify Him" (anveihu) can be permuted to form the words for "I and He" (ani vehu). Based on this, Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz explained this verse as follows: When we work at understanding God, internalizing the reality of His existence, He becomes "our" God. Each one of us can say, "This is my God." When God becomes this real to us, we come to understand how the world and everything in it—including ourselves—are part of Him. "I and He" are one. But if He is just our fathers' God, i.e., our relationship with Him is based only on tradition, then He remains aloof and "exalted." His presence in our lives is abstract and impersonal.54

In other words, in addition to possessing supra-rational faith, we must also develop a rational understanding of God as much as possible. As King David instructed his son Solomon, "Know the God of your father"55—come to know the God in whom you already believe.

Nonetheless, both the Song of the Sea and King David's instruction to Solomon predicate accepted faith, "the God of your father," before the God of reason. Only when our reason is based on faith are we certain that it will not be influenced by the imperfections of human logic and the limitations of human intellect. Grounded solidly in the faith we inherit from our forebearers, our reason will lead us to goodness and truth.56

[16] Creeping dread upon those who are far away from us, and immediate terror upon those who are near us: In our spiritual lives, too, we are beset by two types of enemies: "distant" and "close." The "distant" enemies are the temptations that we naturally disdain and recoil from. We are usually invulnerable to these (except, perhaps, when we are depressed or our spiritual senses are particularly dulled). The "close" enemies are the temptations we struggle with daily and that threaten us on an ongoing basis.

Without God's help, we would be incapable of overcoming either type of temptation.57 We therefore ask of Him: "May dread and terror fall upon them." We ask God to restrain the evil inclination so that it cannot influence us.58

A CLOSER LOOK

[15] They will still be distressed over all our glory and jealous of it: Esau and Moab were especially jealous for they were related to the Israelites. Esau was Isaac's son; Moab was Abraham's nephew. They felt that they, too, deserved to be the patriarchs' heirs, and therefore were particularly bothered by the sudden resurgence of the Jewish people.

The Israelites' other relative-nations, however—the Ishmaelites, the nations descended from Abraham's concubines, and the Ammonites—were not jealous of the Israelites' success. Ishmael repented and recognized that he and his progeny would be subordinate to Isaac and his progeny.59 Abraham had sent his concubines' children away,60 so they had no pretenses about inheriting along with Isaac. As for Ammon, their mother was embarrassed by the fact that she had cohabited with her father, Lot,61 and transmitted this embarrassment to her progeny. The nation of Ammon therefore did not lay any claims to the Israelites' inheritance; on the contrary, they were ashamed of their familial connection with the Israelites.62

[17] Your hands, O God, will establish this Sanctuary: Moses and the people assumed that they were soon to enter the Land of Israel (the decree to wander for forty years in the desert had not been made yet) and build the one, everlasting Temple that would usher in the messianic Era. Although events did not unfold this way, their prophetic song remained true—its fulfillment was merely postponed.63

[17] Your hands, O God, will establish this Sanctuary: Historically, we see a progressive increase in the human involvement in each Temple:

  • Although the Tabernacle was built by the people, God instructed Moses to build it, gave him precise instructions regarding how to fashion each component, and even made the Candelabrum Himself.
  • The first Temple was also built by God's instructions as transmitted through the prophets, but because of its size, it took much longer and much more human effort to build it than it took to build the Tabernacle. Also, the prophetic revelation of its site came only after King David painstakingly sought an appropriate location for it.64
  • The initiative for building the second Temple did not (openly) come from God at all, but rather from the non-Jewish King Cyrus of Persia. Furthermore, although its location was a given—the same site as the first Temple—the people were uncertain about the details of its design and included some elements from Ezekiel's prophetic description of the third Temple.
  • Finally, although the Zohar states that God will build the third Temple, God will build it only in the cumulative merit of the work we will have done in refining the world in the meantime. Since this work has taken so long (the entire length of our protracted exile) and has been much more difficult (since we have had to do it mostly under adverse circumstances), the third Temple will be the result of the most human effort of all.

The length of the Temples' existence is directly proportionate to the amount of human effort invested in them. Thus, the Tabernacle never had a permanent location; the first Temple lasted longer (410 years) and established a permanent Temple-site forever; the second Temple stood longer still (420 years); and the third Temple will be eternal.65

[18] In the future, when they will be resurrected, Moses and the generation of the Exodus will again sing this song to God: As we have noted, at the Splitting of the Sea, transcendent Divinity was revealed and the limitations of time and space were temporarily suspended. The Song of the Sea therefore became also the Song of the Future. This underscores the timelessness of the Splitting of the Sea, an event that we experience every day as an integral part of our daily exodus from our spiritual Egypts.

We can access this timelessness by rising above our self-orientation and self-awareness, losing ourselves in God. Like God, we then transcend time: past, present, and future converge and we experience the ecstatic, Divine rapture of the Song of the Sea as a contemporary event.66

[20] With timbrels and dancing: The joy of the women surpassed that of the men: both the men and the women sang, but the women danced and drummed as well. This was because the women, led by Miriam, felt the bitterness of exile more intensely than the men; as we have seen,67 Miriam's very name expressed the bitterness of the exile. Her sensitivity to the pain of exile led her to prophesy the birth of Moses,68 the redeemer, and to take an active interest in her prophecy's fulfillment.69 Because her anguish over the exile and her yearning for its end was so great, her joy over being liberated surpassed the men's.70

[22] Moses had to forcibly make the Israelites set out from the Sea of Reeds: The Israelites had just experienced an intense Divine revelation during the Splitting of the Sea, and were already counting the days to the Giving of the Torah. It is thus clear that they tarried at the shore for spiritual reasons rather than out of sheer greed. They were assiduously fulfilling the commandment "and you shall empty Egypt,"71 whose spiritual dimension was the endeavor to salvage all the sparks of holiness present in Egypt.

Although Moses had informed them that it was time to move on, the people found it hard to leave. They were so thoroughly involved in fulfilling God's command that when that when He issued a new directive that conflicted with past directives, they simply froze.

From this we can learn two lessons: First, that once we know what our Divine mission in life is, we must be so devoted to it, so consumed by it, that doing something else seems unthinkable. On the other hand, as soon as it is clear that it is time to change direction—either because Jewish law requires it or because we receive a directive from someone we recognize as our spiritual guide, the voice of the Torah in our lives—we must not hesitate. We should apply ourselves to our new mission with the same devotion and enthusiasm we gave to our previous mission.

For example, those engaged in full-time Torah study must metamorphose into people of action when they are called upon to save lives—physically or spiritually—and do so gladly and enthusiastically. Conversely, people who have full-time jobs or are involved in communal work must transform themselves into devoted Torah scholars when engaged in their daily study sessions.

The second lesson: just like the Israelites at the sea did not want to leave one item unclaimed, one "spark" unelevated, our desire to bring others closer to God should be uncompromising. Until we receive a clear directive to focus on something else, either temporarily or permanently, we must view every individual estranged from God as a priceless pearl waiting to be redeemed from Egypt.

This desire applies both to Jews and non-Jews, but inasmuch as we are taught that every Jew is like a whole world,72 we should view every estranged Jew as a whole world waiting to be redeemed and brought to a life of fulfillment and holiness.73

[23] They could not drink water at Marah for the water was bitter: Literally, the latter part of this phrase means, "for they were bitter." This may be understood to mean that the people, rather than the water, were bitter. In this context, the whole phrase reads, "they could not drink water at Marah for they were bitter."

When one is bitter, everything tastes bitter. Only when the people themselves were "sweetened" did the water begin to taste sweet as well.74

[25] God showed him a tree; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet: According to the Zohar,75 this tree was the Tree of Life, the epitome of goodness. According to the Midrash,76 however, it was an extremely bitter tree; some sages even say that it was poisonous.

These seemingly conflicting opinions reflect the various stages in the process of neutralizing evil.

There are several steps in our war against evil. The first is to refuse outright to do anything forbidden or wrong. We may very well still desire to do these things, but we control our urges and avoid giving in to them. This is the spiritual level the Jews had reached when they left Egypt, as mentioned earlier.77

The first step leads naturally to the second. Our success at continuously controlling our urges to do evil and refusing to give into them, coupled with our effort to do good, refines us. Eventually, we not only avoid wrongdoing but also rid ourselves of the desire to do wrong. Allegorically, this corresponds to sweetening the water by means of a sweet tree: we simply overpower the improper aspects of our personality and drown them in goodness. This is a major stride forward from merely reining in our desire to do evil, but it is not yet a complete victory. The strength and energy of the forces of evil have not yet been harnessed to serve God.

The final stage is when we not only subjugate or even eradicate our evil desires but rather harness their energy and channel it in a constructive manner. Allegorically, this corresponds to taking a bitter tree and throwing it into bitter water, thereby making it sweet. The bad itself becomes good; we are now truly fulfilling God's desire of transforming the physical world into a spiritualized one.78

[26] I am God who heals you: Unlike a mortal doctor, who cures an already-sick person (or immunizes him against future sickness), God has the capacity to prevent disease from attacking in the first place.

This applies to spiritual "diseases," as well. A person who has rid himself of evil and devoted himself entirely to God's will—a tzadik—is immune to spiritual disease. Unlike the average person, he does not need to be cured of spiritual maladies.

Although we may not have reached the spiritual level of a tzadik, each of us nonetheless possesses an inner tzadik, an inner point of purity that—unlike our everyday selves, which must be constantly cured of the spiritual maladies afflicting it—is unsusceptible to spiritual harm.

The initials of the words for "I am God who heals you" form the word Iyar, the name of the second month of the Jewish calendar.79 Iyar follows Nisan, in which we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. Nisan is a time when we are redeemed from exile; Iyar is a time when we can reveal that part of ourselves that was never afflicted by exile.80

Chapter 16

[4] So that I may test them as to whether or not they will follow My teaching: The word for "test" (אנסנו) is from same root as the word for "uplift" (להתנוסס).81 The purpose of the manna was to uplift those who ate it and heighten their spiritual consciousness. As a result of this spiritual boost, the Jews were able to "follow My teaching"—to receive the Torah, as it is indeed stated in the Midrash:82 "The Torah could only have been given to those who had partaken of the manna."83

They must not save any from one day for the next: We might tend to think that our "bread from the earth" (regular physical sustenance) is acquired solely through our own effort. Although we believe that everything is truly in God's hand, we still entertain the notion that our own physical effort also plays a role, even if only because it is God's desire that we work for our living. In contrast, manna, the bread from heaven, left no room for such misconceptions. Manna was clearly not acquired by human effort, but was rather bestowed by God as a gift.

For this reason, God did not allow the people to collect more than one day's worth of manna at a time. If He had allowed them to collect food for several days at once, this would have left room for some feelings of self-assuredness. During those days that the pantry was full, the people would not feel dependent upon God. The very point of manna, therefore, was to serve as a test to see if the people could throw themselves completely at God's mercy, ending each day with nothing but their reliance on God to provide for them on the morrow as He had done today.84

On the other hand, the manna prepared the Jews for their eventual entry into the real world. The manna taught them that sustenance comes from heaven; even when it appears to be the fruit of one's labor, it is in fact a gift from God. Therefore, although the manna was entirely heavenly, and they were only to collect enough for one day at a time and rely upon God to provide more the next day, some degree of human involvement was required in collecting it. If the manna had not required any human effort, the people would not have applied its lesson to their earthly existence once out of the desert. They would have written the manna off as an isolated, miraculous phenomenon, irrelevant to real life. By being somewhat involved in collecting the manna, they learned that human effort and Divine beneficence are not mutually exclusive.85

[8] You should only eat bread to satiety: Allegorically, bread signifies the exoteric dimension of the Torah, its laws and lessons for life; meat signifies the esoteric dimension of the Torah, its teachings regarding the inner workings of the universe and the spiritual life of the soul. Quail meat is especially fatty, and oil/fat is another metaphor for the esoteric dimension of the Torah; quail meat thus represents the most spiritual secrets of the Torah. As a form of meat, quail meat signifies these sublime secrets becoming "digestible," i.e., taking on a form in which they can be understood, applied, and appreciated.

True, manna also descended from heaven, and therefore also signifies the inner dimension of the Torah, but since it is a form of bread, it more precisely signifies how the inner dimension of the Torah is felt within the study of the exoteric dimension of the Torah. The quails allude to the inner dimension of the Torah itself.

This explains why everyone received equal portions of manna, just as the laws and lessons of the Torah apply to all equally. The quails, however, "covered the camp"—there was no specific quantity per person, for each of us plumbs the depths of the inner dimension of the Torah differently—quantitatively and qualitatively—in accordance with our spiritual disposition.

For this reason, too, the manna did not fall on the Sabbath, for on the Sabbath we are intended to devote ourselves almost exclusively to the spiritual life, whereas the quails began to descend for the first time not only on the Sabbath but at apex of the Sabbath, its most sublime moment, Sabbath afternoon.

The Jews had plenty of cattle, so when they asked for meat and God rebuked them for asking for what they already had, it is clear that they were asking for red meat. Allegorically, this means that they sought to understand the inner dimension of the Torah with even their "animal" minds, the intellect of the animal-part of their personalities, which is normally occupied with devising ways to satisfy material needs (or perceived needs). This may be praiseworthy, but it is also problematic. Trying to translate the sublime insights of the esoteric dimension of the Torah directly into terms intelligible to the mundane animal intellect runs the risk of oversimplifying and de-spiritualizing the message.

God therefore gave the people quail meat—a more refined type of meat than red meat—indicating that they should first assimilate the Torah's inner dimension into the intellect of the Divine aspect of their personalities.

God also chastised the Jews for asking for meat because it is possible to live without meat altogether. The lesson here is that, indeed, that generation—who witnessed the great miracles of the Exodus and the giving of the Torah and were taught by Moses himself—could get along without "meat," i.e., without delving into the inner dimension of the Torah. But, with the passage of time, the memory of the revelations which that generation experienced recedes into history and it becomes increasingly imperative to bolster the weak spiritual health of the people with "fatty meat," the successively more explicit revelations of the inner dimension of the Torah tailored to the needs of each generation.86

[17] They gathered it, some more and some less: There were those who recognized the lofty nature of the manna and wished to gather as much of it as possible, and there were others who lacked this spiritual sensitivity and were less interested in the manna. There were even those who disregarded Moses' commands and hoarded manna for the next day or went out to gather it on the Sabbath. Yet, all of them, from Moses himself down to the rebel, were provided with the same measure of manna.

The reason for this equality among such disparate groups of people is because the manna, as we shall see,87 related to the essence of the soul, which is equally extant in each person.88

The lesson for us here is that we must not presume to judge who is more or less "deserving" of whatever spiritual or physical nourishment we are in a position to share with them. Rather, we should seek to provide for our brethren's spiritual and physical needs equally. Even someone who may not appreciate the value of what we have to offer him, or might even abuse it, deserves the very best that we can give him.89

[23] Tomorrow will be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath unto God: This is the first explicit mention in the Torah of the obligation to observe the Sabbath. It is appropriate for this commandment to be introduced specifically in connection with the manna, for the Sabbath and the manna share a common purpose—to underscore our complete dependency upon God as the true source of all sustenance. Belief that human effort is the sole determining factor for success makes it hard to justify giving up a full day's income. Not working on the Sabbath is a clear affirmation of our faith that sustenance lies in God's hands and that our work is no more than a vessel through which God's blessings can flow.

In fact, it is stated in the Zohar90 that the manna's thematic connection to Shabbat is why it may not be hoarded from one day to the next. Specifically because the manna underscores our total reliance upon God, it is counterproductive to put any of it aside for future consumption.91

INNER DIMENSIONS

[25] Today you will not find it in the field: Interestingly, Moses does not tells the Jews that the manna will not be in the field, but only that they will not find it there. And indeed, the manna was esoterically present on the Sabbath as well. The Sabbath is the source of all blessings, including those of material sustenance. In this sense, the manna of the other six days descended as a result of the "spiritual manna" that was produced on the Sabbath.92

The physical manna gathered during the week "materialized" out of this spiritual manna. It therefore had to be acquired through physical effort: it had to be gathered, cooked, and so on. In contrast, the Sabbath manna was not manifested physically and therefore could not be "accessed" by any physical means.

Similarly, our physical livelihood is spiritually "produced" by our observance of the Sabbath. During the ensuing week, we have to gather the material blessings of the Sabbath by engaging in our weekday work. But on the Sabbath itself, we must refrain even from thinking about our livelihood.93

[29] See that God has given you the Sabbath: By saying that "God has given the Sabbath to you," Moses implied that God has given it to every person individually. Although the external form of Sabbath observance is the same for everyone, the nature of the inner, spiritual experience of the Sabbath differs from person to person. The amount and quality of spiritual inspiration we will experience on the Sabbath is dependent largely on the amount of physical and spiritual effort we expend preparing for it during the preceding workweek.94

[33] For safekeeping throughout your generations: The manna should not be viewed as a one-time phenomenon that occurred in the distant past. God told us to treasure it throughout the generations, for its lesson is eternal. True, we no longer dwell in the desert and, for the most part, can no longer rely on purely miraculous means of sustenance. Yet it is always imperative to remember the message of the manna: human endeavor is merely the instrument through which God's is channeled to us; in truth, livelihood is granted by God.95

[36] The omer is a tenth of an ephah: Throughout the account of the manna, the size of the manna-portion is simply called an omer, which is a complete unit. At this point, after mentioning that the Jews ate manna until they came to the border of Canaan, the Torah describes it as a part of a greater measurement—"a tenth of an ephah." These two descriptions reflect the two types of sustenance manna provided.

Food keeps body and soul together in two ways:

  • it keeps the body alive by sustaining and enhancing the general life force pulsing throughout it.
  • it enables each of the body's limbs, organs, and faculties to function in its particular fashion.

The body's general life force is indiscriminate: a newborn child is just as alive as the tallest and strongest adult; the brain is as much alive as the elbow. Similarly, food's ability to give life is uniform and irreducible. It is a complete unit, equally present for every person.

The second property of food affects each person and limb individually. This property is a composite of varied elements and forces, and is therefore referred to as being a part of a larger measure.

In the Talmud,96 manna is referred to as "the food of angels"—spiritual food—for it reinforced the people's connection to God by sustaining and developing their souls as well their bodies. Just as the body has to be fed in both a general and particular way, so does the soul.

The essence of the soul is equally extant in every person, while the particular elements of the soul are manifested differently from person to person. When they first left Egypt, the Jews were like spiritual newborns: their religious consciousness was at its most basic and had not yet differentiated into all of its various mature forms. God took care of all their needs "as a nurse carries a suckling":97 when we look at babies, we see that they are alive; we do not see the individual aspects of their minds and personalities in formation. Thus, the primary function of manna throughout the 40 years in the desert was to strengthen the people's essential connection to God. The manna is therefore referred to throughout this period as a complete unit (an omer), alluding to the irreducible nature of the essence of the soul.

Only at the end of the journey—"at the border of Canaan," when the Jews were about to enter the Holy Land, where the essence of their souls was to express itself and manifest itself through their deeds in the physical world—is the manna referred to as a part of a whole (a tenth of an ephah), emphasizing the particulars.98

Chapter 17

[6] You shall strike the rock: Allegorically, God is also called a "Rock."99 Just as a flint stone possesses the abstract potential to produce fire, so does God constitute the primordial and embryonic source of all existence and revelation. Coercing sparks of fire from a stone requires great force, and so does eliciting Divine sparks of revelation from their Source. The force Moses used to "strike" the "Rock" was his powerful "staff"—his unswerving and resolute devotion to God.

By "striking" the "Rock" with his "staff," Moses succeeded in providing both corporal and spiritual sustenance for the body and soul of his entire people.100

If determinate devotion can actualize potential Divine revelations and draw forth hidden Godly revelations, it can also ignite the Godly spark within every Jew. Oftentimes, we encounter people who appear too intimidating to inspire. Their spiritual condition is much like our ancestors' physical condition in the wilderness of Refidim: devoid of the spiritual fluid of life, bone-dry and stonehearted, vulnerable to the apathy and indifference of Amalek. Apprehensive about attempting to motivate them, we tend to shy away, considering it a futile or even hazardous task. After all, we reason, even Moses feared such a confrontation, saying, "Soon enough they'll stone me!"

God's response to this scenario is unequivocal: "Approach ('strike') this individual, who appears as spiritually lifeless as a rock, with your 'staff of God,' your unshakable faith in the Torah and your resolute devotion to it. Its intensity will hit home and tap into the reservoir of 'living waters' at his core. You will see his inherent goodness gush forth."101

[7-8] "Is God present among us or not?" Amalek then came: The nation of Amalek's physical attack was the outer manifestation of the spiritual attack of the inner Amalek that had already infected the people. The numerical value of the word Amalek (עמלק) is the same as that of the word for "doubt" (ספק). The people doubted God's involvement in their lives when they said, "Is God present among us or not?"

This inner Amalek continues to plague us today, attempting to sow doubt and cool our religious fervor. "Of course God exists," he says. "I'm not denying that. But is He really present among us? Does God really care what is happening in your pots and pans? God is so great and omnipotent, so beyond nature and the physical order, that He couldn't possibly care about such picayune details!"

"I'll go even further," the inner Amalek continues. "I'll admit not only that God exists, I'll even admit that He is constantly recreating the world every second. But you must admit that He does not dwell among us, in the details of our lives; He is involved with the world in only the most general way."

This is Amalek's first step, planting in us dangerous cells of doubt that then blossom into a malignant growth. This type of doubt eventually leads us to believe that God has totally abandoned life on earth. That, in turn, leads to the worst of all possible outcomes; it causes us to abandon our search for Godliness and spirituality. When we no longer seek God, Amalek has been truly successful.102

[8] In Refidim: According to the Midrash, this place was called Refidim because there the people "loosened (rafu) their hands' grip on the Torah."103

Torah study is a pursuit of the intellect, yet the Midrash speaks of loosening the grip of the hands. This is because the Torah is not intended to remain "in the head" as a theoretical study; it must be translated into action, to "the hands." At Refidim, the Jews let their natural materialistic outlook on life get the better of them and could not see how God was making His presence known in the physical world; they wondered, "is God among us?" Amalek therefore pressed his advantage, in an attempt to further weaken the Jewish people's practical commitment to bringing the Torah into the physical world.104


Amalek then came and fought against Israel: Amalek was the second enemy the Jews faced after they left Egypt. The first was the Egyptians, who pursued them into the Sea of Reeds. There, Moses said, "God will do battle for you and you shall remain silent." In contrast, God had the Israelites fight against the Amalekites themselves.

This is because the Egyptians stood in back of the Jews; they were not blocking their path to Mount Sinai, while the Amalekites were impeding their progress. Similarly, whenever we are confronted with adversity, we must determine the nature of its threat: does it stand as a barrier between Mount Sinai and us or is it merely a spiritual nuisance? The latter type of battles should be left to God, while those that stand in the way of bringing light to the world must be tackled head on.105


As we have explained, the Exodus from Egypt is allegorically understood as the birth of the emotions from the intellect. Egypt signifies constricted Divine consciousness, while receiving the Torah and entering the Land of Israel signifies the acquisition of expanded Divine consciousness.

Throughout the Egyptian exile, our ancestors held on to their perfect, simple faith in God, but could not progress beyond this. Their faith was strong enough to keep them from assimilating into Egyptian culture altogether, but their servitude to Egyptian materialism kept their faith from filling their hearts with active love and awe of God. Bringing faith into emotion is possible only when the mind is free and directed to contemplate God's reality, magnificence, transcendence, and immanence. This expanded Divine consciousness engenders expanded Divine emotions that fill the heart with love and awe; these emotions motivate us in turn to uphold God's commandments and lead good and holy lives.

It is nearly impossible, however, to pass directly from constricted consciousness to expanded consciousness. Even if we profess to eschew our inborn materialism, our newly liberated intellect is not initially strong enough to fill our consciousness with love and fear of God, overtaking and supplanting all other desires, loves, and fears. Old habits linger; old ways of thinking are hard to uproot. Therefore, an intermediate stage is necessary wherein the intellect is required only to motivate us to control our behavior, cognizant of God's reality and its implications in our lives.106

Allegorically, this is the desert we traverse between Egypt and the Land of Israel. The untamed desert alludes to the spiritual state in which we have not yet totally "civilized" ourselves, but neither are we in control of an alien value-system that endeavors to enslave us to its materialistic lifestyle.

Yet, here a new enemy confronts us: Amalek. Amalek seeks, as we have seen, to dissociate the intellect from the emotions, preventing our developing intellectual ties with God from influencing the way we feel and thereby the way we act.107 Just as the nation of Amalek brazenly attacked us despite the miracles God had just done for us, the inner Amalek is the insolent voice within us that bids us to ignore the implications of what we know and act in capricious disregard of our convictions.

Thus, just as the Exodus from Egypt allegorically reoccurs every generation and every day, so does the war with Amalek. Every day, we must release ourselves ever further from the yoke of materialism and silence the voice of insolence that seeks to halt our spiritual progress. This is why are required to remember both these events daily.

Once we successfully leave Egypt and overcome Amalek, the way is clear for the Giving of the Torah and our entry into the Promised Land. Successfully implementing this process of spiritual growth on an individual basis will hasten its collective fulfillment, bringing the world to its messianic redemption. Once we truly enter the Promised Land, both physically and spiritually, Amalek will be finally annihilated, no longer to annoy us with its brazen call to insolence.108

[9] Moses said to Joshua: Although this was Moses' war, Joshua was the one to actually go into battle. This was because Joshua was more the spiritual opponent of Amalek, as is seen in the prophetic statement: "The house of Jacob will be as fire and the house of Joseph as the flame, while the house of Esau will be as straw."109 Joshua was a descendant of Joseph, while Amalek was a member of Esau's family.

Amalek attacked the spiritually weak, whom the clouds of glory had expelled. It was in the spirit of Joseph, whose bones (and essence110) had been brought out of Egypt by Moses himself, that his descendant Joshua took up this battle on their behalf. Despite the fact that they had marked themselves as "others," far removed from Godliness, Joshua treated them as God's "sons," and went out to war against Amalek.111

INNER DIMENSIONS

[16] He said, "The Hand is [raised in oath] on God's Throne…": Rather than the full word for "throne" (כסא), a truncated version is used here (כס). Furthermore, a shortened form of God's Name is used (י-ה) rather than its full spelling (י-ה-ו-ה). This is what indicates that both God's Name and His throne remain incomplete until Amalek will be totally eradicated.

The first two letters of God's name indicate the intellect and the emotions—the knowledge of God's existence and love and fear of Him, respectively. The final two letters reflect the study of the Torah and the fulfillment of its commandments, respectively. The goal of our inner Amalek is, as mentioned, to weaken our study and application of God's word. He realizes that he has no chance of attacking the higher faculties outright, so he attempts to weaken us in areas of practice.

As long as Amalek exists and this malady is allowed to persist, God's very Name is diminished and incomplete; the first two letters are allowed to function, but the latter two are stymied. Similarly, God's throne—the symbol of His kingship—is incomplete, since in the interim we have only submitted our intellect to Him, not our emotions and actions. Only when the Jewish people succeed in eradicating Amalek from both within and without will Godliness be fully established and revealed.112

FOOTNOTES
1.

Sichot Kodesh 5725, vol. 1, pp. 342-343.

2.

Isaiah 2:4.

3.

See on 14:5, below.

4.

Zechariah 13:2.

5.

Sefer HaMa'amarim 5716, pp. 537, 542.

6.

Genesis 30:24.

7.

Or HaTorah, Vayeitzei 220a ff, Vayechi 386a ff, 390a ff, 397b ff, etc.

8.

See Ezekiel 20:35; R. Bachaye and Or HaChaim on Numbers 33:1 ff.

9.

This is in contrast to the redemption from Egypt, where, as previously mentioned, a large segment of the Jewish people did not merit redemption. Concerning the messianic redemption, however, there is a clear promise that "even the forlorn will not be forsaken." Likutei Sichot, vol. 26, pp. 85-89.

10.

Mechilta, as explained in the source in the next footnote.

11.

Hitva'aduyot 5745, vol. 3, pp. 1782-1784.

12.

Tanya, ch. 31; Sefer HaMa'amarim 5737, p. 193; Hitva'aduyot 5744, vol. 3, p. 1511.

13.

Degel Machaneh Ephraim on this verse.

14.

3:124b.

15.

Deuteronomy 32:12.

16.

Son of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, author of Orach LaTzadik.

17.

Described in the Ba'al Shem Tov's letter to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon of Kitov, printed at the end of Ben Porat Yosef (127cd) and quoted partially in Keter Shem Tov 1.

18.

Proverbs 5:16.

19.

Sefer HaGilgulim 32; see Igeret HaKodesh (part 4 of Tanya) 26.

20.

See Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 374-376, vol. 13, p. 180.

21.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 872-876. See also Rabbi J. I. Schochet, The Mystical Dimension, vol. 1, pp. 115-148.

22.

Torah Or ad loc.; Sefer HaMa'amarim 5721, pp. 257-8; Sichot Kodesh 5721, pp. 62-3. 5726, pp. 209-210.

23.

Mechilta.

24.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, p. 876 ff.

25.

Sichot Kodesh 5740, vol. 2, pp. 23-27.

26.

See Mishneh Torah, Melachim 5:7.

27.

See above, on Exodus 12:36, etc.

28.

Sichot Kodesh 5734, vol. 2, pp. 432-433.

29.

Mechilta, Beshalach 5; Sotah 37a and Chidushei Agadot ad. loc.

30.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pp. 135-136.

31.

Hitva'aduyot 5742, vol. 2, pp. 561-562.

32.

Sefer HaMa'amarim 5666, p. 227; BeSha'ah SheHikdimu 5672, vol. 2, pp. 934-942, vol. 3, pp. 1323-1328.

33.

Psalms 139:12.

34.

Hitva'aduyot 5711, vol. 2, pp. 42-43.

35.

Sha'ar HaYichud VehaEmunah, chapter 2.

36.

Tanchuma on Deuteronomy 12:29.

37.

Exodus 15:22.

38.

See below, on 14:29.

39.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, pp. 878-880.

40.

Sichot Kodesh 5723, 15 Shevat.

41.

On v. 29, below.

42.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 972-973.

43.

Based on Likutei Sichot, vol. 2, pp. 524-525.

44.

Mechilta ad loc.

45.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 966-973.

46.

Derech Mitzvotecha, pp. 44b-46b.

47.

Mechilta.

48.

Tikunei Zohar 69 (112a, 114a).

49.

See Deuteronomy 5:5.

50.

Bava Batra

51.

Numbers 12:3.

52.

Hitva'aduyot 5711, p. 273; Likutei Sichot, vol. 2, pp. 485, 510-511, vol. 11, pp. 172-174, 184-186.

53.

Hitva'aduyot 5751, vol. 2, pp. 213-214.

54.

Shenei Luchot HaBrit, Asarah Ma'amarot, first ma'amar (40a).

55.

1 Chronicles 28:9.

56.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 245-247.

57.

Sukah 52b.

58.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 36, pp. 68-69.

59.

Genesis 25:9.

60.

Genesis 25:6.

61.

Genesis 19:37.

62.

Hitva'aduyot 5745, vol. 2, pp. 1115-1116, 1130-1132.

63.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 31, p. 79.

64.

Psalms 132:1-5; Rashi ad loc., Sifrei, Re'eh 12:5.

65.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 30, pp. 119-121.

66.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 7, p. 271.

67.

Above, 1:13.

68.

Above, 1:21.

69.

Above, 2:4 ff.

70.

Sefer HaSichot 5752, vol. 1, pp. 303-307.

71.

Above, 3:22.

72.

Sanhedrin 37a.

73.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 21, pp. 77-82.

74.

Sefer HaMa'amarim 5720, p. 68.

75.

2:60a-b.

76.

Tanchuma 24; Mechilta ad loc.; Shemot Rabbah 50:3.

77.

Above, on 14:5.

78.

Sefer HaMa'amarim 5715, pp. 241-242.

79.

See Chidushei Chatam Sofer, Shabbat p. 147b; Sha'ar Yissachar, Iyar.

80.

Hitva'aduyot 5743, vol. 3, pp. 1372-1373.

81.

See Psalms 60:6.

82.

Mechilta ad loc.

83.

Sefer HaMa'amarim Melukat, vol. 1, pp. 238-239.

84.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 174-175.

85.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 177-178.

86.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 168-171.

87.

On v. 36, below.

88.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 26, pp. 110-111.

89.

Hitva'aduyot 5745, vol. 2, pp.1105-1108.

90.

2:63b, 88a.

91.

See Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, p. 172 ff.

92.

Zohar 2:63b, 88a.

93.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 181-182.

94.

Likutei Torah 2:2c.

95.

See Hitva'aduyot 5751, vol. 2, pp. 212-213.

96.

Yoma 75b.

97.

Numbers 11:12.

98.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 26, p. 103 ff.

99.

Deuteronomy 32:4.

100.

Sichot Kodesh 5736, vol. 2, pp. 8-9.

101.

Hitva'aduyot 5744, vol. 2, pp. 868-869.

102.

Sichot Kodesh 5739, vol. 2, pp. 144-145.

103.

Mechilta.

104.

Sefer HaMa'amarim 5742, pp. 101-102. Sefer HaMa'amarim 5744, pp. 165-166; Sichot Kodesh 5727, vol. 2, p. 7.

105.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 1, p. 144.

106.

The technical term for this stage is itkafia ("control"); the term for the stage wherein the emotions are completely transformed is ithapcha ("transformation").

107.

The name Amalek (עמלק) can be seen as a contraction of the words for "a people that severs the head from the body" (עם מלק).

108.

Torah Or 84b-85b; Sefer HaMa'amarim 5747-5751, pp. 101-105.

109.

Obadiah 1:18. Pesikta d'Rav Kahana 3; Pesikta Rabati 12.

110.

See commentary on 13:19, above.

111.

Likutei Sichot, vol. 26, pp. 87-88.

112.

Hitva'aduyot 5745, vol. 2, pp. 1363-1364; Torah Or 85a.

From the Kehot Chumash, produced by Chabad of California with an interpolated translation and commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. Copyright (c) 2008 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved. For personal use only. The full volume is available for purchase at Kehotonline.
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