The Jews are out of Egypt, but their redemption is not yet complete. Pharaoh and his armies still pose a tangible threat to their freedom; more subtle is the slave mentality that still gnaws at their souls. In Beshalach, the process of their liberation from Egypt continues, as the children of Israel battle external and internal threats to their freedom and advance toward the raison d’être of the Exodus—to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai.
It came to pass when Pharaoh had let the people go, that G‑d did not lead them through the way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near; for G‑d said: Lest the people repent when they see war, and return to Egypt.
Instead, G‑d leads them along a more roundabout route, which takes them through “the desert by the Sea of Reeds” (Red Sea).
Moses takes along Joseph’s bones for burial in the Holy Land, in fulfillment of the oath made by the children of Israel at the beginning of their Egyptian exile.
G‑d went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them on the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light . . .
Soon, however, their newly gained freedom is under attack.
It was told to the king of Egypt that the people had fled. The heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said: “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” . . .
G‑d hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel . . . all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, and his horsemen, and his army; and they overtook them encamping by the sea . . .
Even more devastating is the Israelites’ reaction:
Pharaoh drew near. The children of Israel lifted up their eyes and, behold, Egypt marched after them. They were very much afraid; and the children of Israel cried out to G‑d.
They said to Moses: “Are there no graves in Egypt, that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you done this to us, to carry us out of Egypt?
“Is not this the word that we told you in Egypt, saying: ‘Let us alone, that we may serve Egypt’? For it would have been better for us to serve Egypt than to die in the wilderness.”
Moses says to the people:
“Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G‑d, which He will show you today. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again anymore, forever.
“G‑d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent.”
The Sea Splits
G‑d said to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel that they should go forward.
“And you, lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.”
As the children of Israel march forward, the divine cloud which had been leading them moves to their rear, interposing between them and the Egyptians. “There was the cloud and darkness, and it illuminated the night; these did not come near these all night.”
The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground; and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
The Egyptians give chase, following the Israelites into the divided sea. G‑d commands Moses to again raise his hand over the sea,
And the sea returned to its strength. . . . The waters returned, and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them.
Upon beholding the great miracle, “the people feared G‑d, and they believed in G‑d and in Moses His servant.”
The Song at the Sea
Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to G‑d, and spoke, saying:
I will sing to G‑d, for He has triumphed gloriously
The horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea.
G‑d is my strength and song, He has become my salvation
This is my G‑d, and I will praise him
My father’s G‑d, and I will exalt him.
G‑d is the Master of war; G‑d is His name . . .
With the blast of Your nostrils the waters were piled up
The floods stood upright like a heap
The depths were congealed in the heart of the sea . . .
Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d
Who is like You, glorious in holiness
Awesome in praises, doing wonders . . .
Nations heard and shuddered
Terror seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
Then the chiefs of Edom panicked
The mighty men of Moab, trembling took hold of them
All the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.
Fear and dread shall fall upon them
By the greatness of Your arm they shall be as still as a stone
Till your people pass over, O G‑d
Till they pass over, this people whom You have acquired.
G‑d shall reign for ever and ever!
Also the women sang:
And Miriam called to them: “Sing to G‑d, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider has He thrown into the sea.”
Moses takes the children of Israel from the shores of the Red Sea to the Wilderness of Shur, where they travel for three days without finding water. They then arrive in Marah, but “they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter.”
“What shall we drink?” complain the people. G‑d shows Moses a certain tree to throw into the water, and the water becomes sweet.
In Marah, the children of Israel are given “statutes and laws.” They also receive the divine promise: “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of G‑d . . . all the diseases which I have brought upon Egypt, I shall not bring upon you, for I am G‑d your healer.”
Bread from Heaven
At Elim they find “twelve springs of water and seventy date palms”; but in the Sin Desert they lack for food. Again the people complain, crying to Moses and Aaron:
“Would that we had died by the hand of G‑d in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, and when we ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness, to kill this whole community with hunger.”
G‑d says to Moses:
“I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying: At evening you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be sated with bread; and you shall know that I am G‑d.”
Each morning, “I shall rain down bread from the heavens . . . each day’s allotment on its day.” Meat will be provided in the form of quails which will come up around the Israelite camp each evening.
In the morning, the dew lay all around the camp. And when the layer of dew went up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a fine flaky substance, as fine as the hoarfrost on the ground.
When the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, “Man hu?” (“What is it?”), for they did not know what it was. Moses said to them: “This is the bread which G‑d has given you to eat.”
G‑d explains that the manna will be supplied each morning to provide food for that day; it is forbidden to save one day’s manna for the next. Indeed, no matter how much manna the people gather, they each end up with exactly one day’s ration of an omer for each member of their household.
There are those who nevertheless try to set aside some of the heavenly food for the next day; the leftover manna “bred worms and spoiled.”
But on the sixth day, each ends up with a double portion. Moses says to the people:
“This is what G‑d has spoken: Tomorrow is the resting of the holy Sabbath to G‑d. That which you will bake, bake today, and that which you will cook, cook today; what remains over, set aside for yourselves to be kept until the morning. . . . [On the seventh day] you will not find it in the field.”
Again, some Jews disobey and go looking for manna on the seventh day. They find nothing. “How long will you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?” says G‑d to Moses. "G‑d has given you the Sabbath. . . . Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”
G‑d instructs Moses to take a jar and “fill an omer of [manna] to be kept for your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out from the land of Egypt.”
The children of Israel travel on to Rephidim, where there’s no water. “The people argued with Moses, and said: ‘Give us water to drink.’”
“What shall I do with this people!” cries Moses to G‑d. “Just a while longer, and they will stone me!”
“Pass before the people,” says G‑d to Moses, “and take with you of the elders of Israel; and your rod, with which you smote the river [Nile], take in your hand, and go.
“Behold, I will stand before you there upon the rock in Horeb. You shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.”
Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
He called the name of the place Massah U’Merivah (“Test and Strife”), because of the strife of the children of Israel, and because they tested G‑d, saying: “Is G‑d among us,or not?”
Then came Amalek, and waged war with Israel in Rephidim.
Moses said to Joshua: “Choose men for us, and go out to fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill, with the rod of G‑d in my hand.”
Joshua goes out to battle, while Moses ascends a hilltop with Aaron and Hur (Miriam’s son).
It came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
But Moses’ hands were heavy; so they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur supported his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
So Joshua weakened Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
G‑d said to Moses: “Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heaven.”
“G‑d has sworn by His throne,” proclaims Moses: “G‑d is at war with Amalek for all generations.”