Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VII, p. 188ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Beshallach, 5732, 5735

A Name Should Be Telling

The division of the Torah into weekly readings was not made at random, nor is the choice of the names of those readings a phenomenon of chance. The name of every reading is a capsulized summary of the reading as a whole, and expresses its fundamental theme.

This week’s reading contains many significant narratives demonstrating G‑d’s love for the Jewish people, and the Jews’ response to Him. It tells of several of the more striking miracles in our people’s history: the splitting of the Red Sea, the descent of the manna, and the victory over Amalek. And with regard to the Jews’ response, it includes the song at the Red Sea so powerful an acknowledgment of G‑d’s hand as to enable even the most common person to attain prophecy.1

And yet the wondrous nature of these events does not seem to be reflected in the name of the Torah reading. The Shabbos is called Shabbos Shirah (“the Shabbos of Song”) recalling the song at the Red Sea, but the name of the Torah reading, Beshallach, meaning “When he sent forth,” has no obvious reference to these happenings. On the contrary, Beshallach has negative connotations, implying that we had to be sent forth from Egypt against our will. The Torah attributes the “sending forth” to Pharaoh; it was he who motivated us to leave Egypt.

Why It Was Pharaoh Who Sent Forth the Jews

Describing Pharaoh as the agent of the Exodus points to one of its purposes, and alludes to our ultimate mission within creation. To highlight this factor, G‑d told Moshe at the very beginning of the process of Redemption:2 “With a strong hand, [Pharaoh] will drive them from his land.”

For the intent of creation is that this material world and all of its elements be transformed into a dwelling for G‑d.3 This includes even those elements which at first which oppose the forces of holiness. Ultimately, every aspect of being will serve a positive purpose.

In certain cases, as with Pharaoh, a transformation is necessary first. In their original state, such people cannot serve a positive purpose, so “their destruction is their purification;”4 i.e., only when they are broken will their positive nature be revealed.

This concept is highlighted by prophecies of the Redemption which state:5 “And I will rid the land of dangerous animals.” Our Sages interpret this to mean,6 the animals will be transformed, so that they will no longer cause harm, as it is written:7 “The wolf will dwell with the lamb.” In the era of ultimate good, predators will continue to exist, but “they will neither prey, nor destroy.”8 Their negative tendencies will be eliminated.

G‑d’s intent in creation was not merely to reveal the unbounded spiritual light within material existence. Were this His purpose, He would not have created a material world, for revelations in the spiritual realms are far greater.9 Nor is His purpose merely to nullify the influence of those entities which oppose holiness, for then their creation would not have contributed anything. Instead, G‑d’s desire is that every aspect of existence become part of His dwelling. And just as a mortal’s dwelling reveals the character of its owner, every element of G‑d’s dwelling is intended to reveal a different facet of His Being.

As a foretaste10 of this ultimate state, the name of our Torah reading focuses on the transformation of Pharaoh. The other miracles mentioned also involve the negation of undesirable influences and/or the expression of wondrous spiritual forces, but by directing our attention to Pharaoh’s role in sending forth the Jews, the name Beshallach underscores the message that even the most perverse elements of existence can generate positive influences.11

Looking Beyond Exile

A question, nevertheless, remains unresolved: Why was it necessary for Pharaoh to send the Jews out of Egypt? Why weren’t we eager to leave?

One might say that we had no reason to hurry. After the initial plagues more than six months before the Exodus the enslavement of the Jewish people had ended.12 The Jews were living in the most select portion of a rich land,13 and the Egyptians were ready to give them anything they wanted.14 Moreover, they also had spiritual sustenance, for our Sages relate15 that yeshivos functioned throughout the Egyptian exile. Why then should we have desired to leave Egypt? What did we have to gain?

Our Sages state that all the people who did not want to leave died in the plague of darkness.16 All the Jews who remained wanted to leave. They realized that living in exile even amidst security and prosperity is not a Jew’s purpose.

Why then did Pharaoh have to force us to go?

To Evoke a Higher Will

This question can be resolved on the basis of a parallel concept: G‑d had promised Moshe that He would give the Jews the Torah, as it is written:17 “After you lead the people out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d on this mountain.” The Jews rejoiced in this promise, and eagerly counted the days until it would be fulfilled.18 When they reached Mount Sinai, they camped in a spirit of oneness.19 And yet we find, that “G‑d held Mt. Sinai over them,”20 apparently compelling them to receive His Torah. If we were so eager, why was this necessary?

The point is that there are levels of desire. G‑d wanted the Jews to accept the Torah with a total commitment, with feelings so powerful that it was as if our lives depended on it. We were not capable of summoning up this level of commitment on our own, so G‑d compelled us to reach this peak through external means.

Similarly, with regard to the Exodus, G‑d wanted the Jews to desire freedom with a deeper-than-ordinary will. Therefore He brought about circumstances that awakened profound and encompassing commitment.

Gentle Force

Beshallach is also a lesson in our relations with others. Every Jew possesses an inner desire to follow the Torah and its mitzvos.21 Nevertheless, for this desire to manifest itself in deed, a friend is often needed to gently lead one to a deeper level of will.

This concept is connected to the Redemption. For one of the qualities Mashiach will manifest is an ability “to compel all Israel to strengthen their Torah observance.”22

Why compulsion? Because Mashiach will awaken a level of soul that will motivate each of us to a commitment that surpasses our individual will. We will feel that something beyond ourselves is pushing us forward, and propelling us to positive efforts.

The manifestation of this commitment will in turn enable Mashiach to fulfill his mission:“ fight[ing] the wars of G‑d… and succeed[ing], build[ing] the [Beis Ha]Mikdash on its site, and gather[ing] in the dispersed remnant of Israel.” May this take place in the immediate future.