Many years ago in Europe, a wealthy Jewish businessman made his living exporting lumber from Kovno to America. One time, an export official wouldn’t clear his shipment for export. His lumber was stuck at the port…for a long time. He was very apprehensive that he would lose a lot money because of the delay and in the interim he had to pay holding fees to store the lumber. Finally, after many weeks of aggravation and holding fees, the official agreed to release his lumber. The businessman then experienced a shock. Recent forest fires in America had now created a shortage and thus doubled the value of his shipment! He was thrilled!
Soon after, the wealthy businessman met the great Rav Chaim Volozhin and related his story of hashgacha pratis (Divine Providence.) Surprisingly, Rav Chaim responded, “As a wealthy man, you aren’t so used to seeing Hashem’s Hand coming to your rescue. For the poor man, it’s as clear as day in his daily struggles, from paying for his grocery bill, his clothes and other daily expenses. But Hashem is also involved with you — open your eyes fully and you will see the Divine Hand helping you in all your actions.”
In this week’s parsha, Hashem instructed Moshe to take a jug and fill it with Munn (manna) to preserve as a testimony for future generations that Hashem provides a person with his livelihood (Shemos 16:32). Rashi tells us that in the time of Yirmiyahu the prophet, this jug was taken out and displayed to the Bnei Yisroel,reminding them that it’s not a person’s business acumen or his connections or wealth that make him successful. Rather, it is Hashem Who provides everything we need, sending everything in ways which may seem ordinary or miraculous.
Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz, famed Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva in Poland, tells us that the open miracles which Hashem performed at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) were not just a one-time occurrence. These miracles remain for Bnei Yisroel to this day, but in a concealed manner. Indeed, the Gemara Sotah tells us there are two areas which affect us daily, which are equal to the miraculous splitting of the sea: obtaining our food/livelihood and finding our proper mate for marriage. These processes might not seem like open miracles, but if we pay attention, we will recognize Hashem’s clear involvement and guiding Hand throughout!
Think about it. Hashem is not just involved in creating the shidduch (match). The greater [daily] miracle is in keeping and maintaining harmony in the home for the couple. With regard to livelihood, Hashem’s Hand is there not only in helping land a job, but He also stays to help maintain and grow the position! We need to realize it’s the Almighty Who is causing all the pieces in the puzzle to come together…and stay together.
Rav Tzadok Hakohen says this explains why Amalek attacked Klal Yisroel specifically after the greatest open miracle of the splitting of the sea. Why not attack before the splitting of the sea or later in the desert, as opposed to before the splitting of the sea or later in the desert.
It’s because a Jew needs to recognize Hashem’s involvement in every occurrence. The nation of Amalek represented the antithesis of that. They saw everything as mere happenstance, with no divine intervention. As is learned from the words, “asher korcha baderech” — which happened to chance [upon the Jews] while they were traveling. Amalek said even an obvious miracle such as the splitting of the sea was just a freak accident. They claimed the Jews were just in the right place at the right time. The foundation of Amalek’s evil was to deny Hashem’s involvement in the world. Our function as the Jewish people is to always see Hashem’s presence and active involvement in every aspect of life.
Every shidduch, every marriage and every food bill we are able to pay — let’s take notice and realize that it is all under Hashem’s orchestration. We should strive to do this every day. Maybe keep a notebook, like a Rebbe of mine did, where he wrote down various incidents that happened to him throughout his week in which he personally was able to detect the miraculous hand of Hashem. This exercise will strengthen our bitachon and emunah – our faith and reliance – in our Creator and help us achieve a deeper, loving connection to Him.
The triumph at the Red Sea was convincing and final. Watching their former taskmasters washing up on the jagged banks of the ocean convinced the doubtful slaves that their freedom was final and that their Divine protection impermeable. This newfound confidence and faith erupted in national song and ambitious language. Their imaginations ignited, the Jews sang to their God after years of muted silence under Egyptian oppression.
Much of this jubilant song surrounded the actual drama unfolding before their very eyes: chariots and militias being tossed by the sea, furious waters being stilled on behalf of Jewish passage, and taunting threats of our enemies being easily dismissed by Hashem. Yet, the final stanzas of Az Yashir revolve around visions that their optical eyes couldn’t visually behold. The Jewish imagination quickly turned to future thoughts of entering the Land of Israel, achieving sovereignty and constructing a Temple. The final section of Az Yashir reverberates with visions of Israel and the Mikdash. What aspect of this miraculous ocean passage awakened such vision and redirected their thoughts from the seaside cliffs to the Land of Israel? How did this watery tempest ferry their spirits to Yerushalayim?
Evidently, their vision was awakened by the “gathering” effect of this event. Wild and untamed ocean waves were neatly gathered to enable safe passage of Jews, the surging swells of water were likewise “packed” to engulf the Egyptian columns: “U’veru’ach apecha ne’ermu mayim nitzvu k’mo neid nozlim, Through Your Spirit the waters were heaped, fluids stood at attention, and depths were frozen [and solidified] in the ocean abyss.” Something about this gathering of water was deeply resonant and stirred their imaginations.
In truth, all of human history began with a similar “gathering.” Human experience begins when God gathered the original primal waters, which had previously covered the entire Earth. By collapsing global waters into particular oceans, God created continental peninsulas to enable sustainable human life and prosperity. Initially, when humanity squandered this privilege through moral degeneracy, God restored the waters to their original, unrestrained sweep and Man had no space under these flooding waters. The great mabul wasn’t an indiscriminate punishment but merely a reversal of the original gathering; humanity no longer deserved their carved-out peninsulas.
The original gathering during creation, responsible for the launch of human experience, established a historical pattern—collecting scattered elements into specific areas. The Divine gathering of water provided a metaphor for a human mission of gathering. What are humans meant to gather in parallel to the Divine gathering of water?
For one, we strive to gather God’s presence and to condense it into one saturated presence. This has very distinct meaning in kabbalah and the consequent human task of collecting the divided presence of Hashem and integrating it into one indivisible wholesomeness reflecting His indivisibility. However, even in the world of empirical religious experience (niglah) we strive to “gather” Hashem’s all-pervasive presence and to align it within a specific location—the Land of Israel, Yerushalayim and of course the Mikdash. The saturated presence of the Shechinah is experienced more deeply in these areas of “gathered” presence.
In fact, King David senses the manner by which the original “water gathering” serves as a metaphor for the gathering of Divine presence. In a well-known chapter of Psalms (24), King David considers the creation of mainlands through water contraction: “ki Hu al yamim yesada, God founded the continents upon the [previously unbounded] water.” Abruptly, his attention shifts toward the actual Temple and the mountain upon which it rested: “mi ya’aleh behar Hashem… who will ascend the mountain of God?” The Zohar detects the seamless transition in this Psalm—from reflections upon the original repositioning of primal waters to thoughts about the repositioning of the Shechinah atop the mountain of God. The Jews at the sea evidently sensed the same innate parallel that King David intuited. Watching these gathering waters reminded the Jews of creation waters and in turn of the prospect of gathering before a Mikdash; ultimately, Az Yashir turns away from the gathered sea waters and imagines the ultimate gathering in Jerusalem.
In fact, both the Jews at the sea and King David employ the very same word to describe the Mikdash. The term “naveh” typically refers to the Temple based on its aesthetic beauty. In a similarly themed Psalm (93), which unites thoughts of water with dreams of Mikdash, King David writes “To Your beautiful and holy house—l’veitcha na’avah kodesh—employing this term “na’avah’ to describe the Temple. He employs the exact same term that was twice uttered by the Jews at the Sea. In the end of the song at the sea we referred to the Mikdash as “Neve Kodshecha” while in the beginning we alluded to it through the term “V’anveihu,” which stems from the same root of “nava.” For King David as well as our ancestors at the sea, the gathering of waters—both at the point of creation and during our safe passage from Egypt—suggested Temple construction and the centering of Divine presence in our world. Their employment of the exact same term to describe the Mikdash merely highlights their common association between gathered waters and Yerushalayim.
Not only did King David sense the metaphor of water gathering, but Yirmiya grasped it as well—not just as a template for the gathering Divine presence but also for the amassing of human assemblies. Describing the flocking of all humanity to Yerushalayim during the Messianic era (3:17), Yirmiya employs the term v’nikvu (they will gather), which is the exact word utilized to describe the gathering of Creation waters—yikavu hama’im. For Yirmiya, gathering Divine presence and centering it within Yerushalayim is only one aspect of “gathering.” For the Divine Presence to be fully expressed in the human realm, an entire civilization must rally around that presence and assemble in this location. For Yirmiya, gathered waters imply a Temple, but more so, the gathered waters represent throngs of human beings eager to be inspirited by the Divine presence.
There is great irony in this dual symbolism of the gathered waters—irony that yields an important message. The water imagery at the sea was associated with the death of our enemies and their deserved suffering. However, as Jews, we don’t delight in this misery and we certainly do not envision our role in history as the “defeaters” or “drowners” of other nations. We are meant to represent God in this world, draw His presence to our Homeland and draw a convocation of the entire planet to Jerusalem. The gathered waters represent our attempt to gather the presence of God, but also every human being to celebrate that presence.
After centuries of suffering and servitude, the Jewish people were liberated and set free. The pasuk describes that when leaving, while everyone else was packing up his or her personal belongings, Moshe had only one concern. On his deathbed, Yosef made his children swear that when they would finally leave Egypt they would bring up his bones for burial in the land of his forefathers. Moshe made good on that promise, vayikach es atzmos Yosef imo, while everyone else schlepped their luggage, Moshe took Yosef’s remains.
The Abarbanel wonders, why is the Torah first telling us about this now in Parshas Beshalach after they left Egypt and not in Parshas Bo where they are preparing to leave?
This newly emancipated nation barely had a moment to celebrate their freedom before their former oppressors were in pursuit boxing them in with the sea. When the Egyptian military and their chariots drowned in the sea, their wealth, gold and silver floated to the Jews. As they stood on the other side of the sea watching and welcoming their salvation, they bent down and collected the spoils. All of them that is, except one. Moshe, says the mechilta, had the wisdom and righteousness to collect the greatest wealth at that moment. He didn’t pick up gold or silver; vayikach es atzmos Yosef imo, he took the bones of Yosef Ha’Tzadik.
While the rest of the nation used their newfound freedom to pursue wealth, pleasure and a brighter future, Moshe was unwilling to look only to what lay ahead. He recognized that they could not go without Yosef. Yosef is part of them: he is their history; he is their connection to the past, he reminds them where they come from and their roots.
The Kli Yakar notes it doesn’t just say vayikach es atzmos Yosef, but rather vayikach es atzmos Yosef imo. Moshe didn’t just carry the bones of an old ancestor. He took Yosef imo, with him shaping who he was and who they were to become. The Itturei Torah encourages us to read it not as atzmos Yosef, the bones of Yosef but atzmus Yosef, the essence of Yosef, his narrative, personal story of courage and heroism, remarkable accomplishment of rising to greatness, extraordinary ability to raise a proper Jewish family within a foreign culture and land. Atmus Yosef, it was the essence of Yosef that Moshe carried not only that day, but for forty years as they wandered the desert.
As we live in the present and look towards the future, we can never forget our past and the people and values that helped shape us into who we are.
These weeks we read form the Torah the Exodus of klal Yisrael from Egypt. Hundreds of years of slavery and persecution come to a climax where God himself takes us out of Egypt. However, before the actual Exodus, we find something puzzling. HaShem told Moshe that he would be the one to take Klal Yisrael out of Egypt. He gave Moshe certain signs so that when he would approach the Jews, they would realize that he was telling the truth about himself.
At first, Moshe was received warmly. The Jews were ecstatic! Finally, it’s over, this suffering is over! However, when Moshe approached Pharaoh, he wasn’t met with the same excitement. Instead of sending out the Jews, Pharaoh increased their suffering. He forced them to make the same amount of bricks, but he withheld the necessary ingredients to make them. Instead of the redemption that all the Jews were waiting for, they were met with greater suffering.
Why did this happen? God could have brought the plagues right away without increasing their suffering! He could have begun the redemption without making their lives even more miserable! So why would he set up the redemption in a way where they experienced even greater suffering first?
I think the answer could be explained with a parable. A very wealthy individual won a raffle which allowed him to spend a night in the nicest luxury suite in the most expensive hotel in town. It was nice for this man to spend his little vacation, but since he was so wealthy he had already frequented this particular hotel numerous times. He enjoyed his stay, but afterwards he didn’t think much of it. The next week, however, a poor beggar won the same raffle. In contrast to the wealthy man, when he showed up to the hotel he couldn’t believe his eyes! Such magnificence and grandeur! To that poor beggar, that night was one he would remember and cherish for the rest of his life.
The same basic psychology is true with us. Although the Jews didn’t understand why their torment was increasing, it was specifically because their pain increased that they were able to experience and enjoy the redemption in a way which would last millennia. Until this day we remember the Exodus every morning when we wake up and every night before we go to sleep. It’s become a part of us, a deeply embedded niche in our Jewish conscience. But it only became that way because we knew how hard the other side felt. We knew what suffering felt like. We knew what it meant to be a real slave. So when we finally experienced the Redemption, the memory stuck and will remain with us until the end of days. The suffering of slavery and persecution forced Klal Yisrael to have a deep and unshakable appreciation for the freedom of redemption.