Seventh day of Passover - Weekly Torah Portion

The human mind tends to forget quite quickly, especially when things go south. This Shabbat we read the Song on the Sea, which ends with, “Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took the tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam answered them, ‘Sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; The horse and his rider He has hurled into the sea.’” We can only begin to imagine the thrill, relief and the feeling that all perils are no behind them, that filled the hearts of the Israelites and their leaders at that time. But “[t]hen Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, because they were bitter; for that reason, it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” They have experienced a great miracle a mere three days ago but now it is time to cope with the lack of water. What happened until now becomes irrelevant. It is time to provide a solution, and preferably fast.

It actually comes quickly, Moses cries to God and is shown some kind of a tree, “and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.” In comparison to the salvation from a great enemy’s army chasing them, this was not the most grandeur of miracles by far, even though it similarly saved the people’s lives. If the water would remain undrinkable, they would have perished just like they would have if no miracle would have occurred on the shores of the Red Sea. In this case, though, there is no fine poetry or efforts to rejoice. Rather, a warning is provided, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and listen to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.” It is an early warning that attempts to direct the gang who is maturing into a People to realize the consequence of their behavior and the results of not meeting the expected level of personal conduct.

The Song of Moses and Israel that we read on this Shabbat begins with the words, “hen Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying: ‘I will sing to the Lord’”. We also read in the Haftarah the song of the will be King David, “Now David spoke the words of this song to the Lord on the day that the Lord had saved him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” Again, we find a contrast between these two cases. The Song on the Sea is the praise from a nation being born while David’s song is of personal salvation. The first is a sigh of relief from an existential threat to the nation, while the latter speaks praise for a personal rescue. Seemingly different, almost opposite, it is important to realize that in every national saving also involves the rescue of individuals. The poet Zelda put it succinctly, “Every person has a name”, even when they are part of a national group, even when it is sometimes difficult to separate one from another. The liberation of an individual is as important as that of the group.

This coming Thursday we shall commemorate together the Holocaust and Bravery Remembrance Day יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה. Of the ashes of the second world war individuals who were spared could sing like David but unlike him had to mourn and lament over their family, friends and communities. The unfathomable numbers of murdered people are hard to grasp even now over seventy-five years since cessation of hostilities. We too were offered a tree to sweeten the bitter water of those days. That tree is the State of Israel that immediately changed the existence of the Jew. An existence that for some two millennia was doubtful and at the mercy of many a foe. Now it became possible to defend ourselves in our own state but also elsewhere. Nevertheless, we must remember the warning that our ancestors received near the waters of Marah. We were not told that we can do as we may see fit but rather “do what is right in His sight”. This is an elusive proposition, not always clear, and lacking official interpreters such as our bygone prophets, it is upon us to carefully ensure that we check and recheck ourselves and our deeds. We must always remember the lessons of the exodus out of the land of Egypt. This lesson requires us to do to the weak of society, to the strangers within our society, in the same way we would have wished we would have been treated before we left Egypt. We must act differently.

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Passover and wishes for Good Health.

Reuven Marko, 3 April 2021, 21 Nisan, 5781

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