Commanded to Remember

Commanded to Remember

Jan 14, 2022 By Nicole Wilson-Spiro | Commentary | Beshallah

In our Torah portion, after Amalek’s unsuccessful attack on the Israelites, God says to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the book and tell it to Joshua because I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exod. 17:14). Deuteronomy 25:17–19 repeats the injunction: “Remember what Amalek did to you on your way after you left Egypt . .

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Speaking of Exodus: Beshallah

Speaking of Exodus: Beshallah

Jan 29, 2021 By David G. Roskies | Commentary | Beshallah

My mother, Vilna-born, spoke a very idiomatic Yiddish. When she wanted to convey how delicious something was she would say: “ketsa-PIKH-is bi-DVASH.” Although I studied Sefer Shemot in seventh grade, in a Yiddish day school, it wasn’t until my first year as a member of Havurat Shalom, where we read, translated, and subjected the weekly parashah to open debate, that I was able to identify the source of this delicious expression: “The house of Israel named it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers in honey” (Exod. 16:31).

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Destiny in the Details

Destiny in the Details

Feb 7, 2020 By Rachel Rosenthal | Commentary | Beshallah

In life’s biggest moments, it is sometimes easy to lose track of the smallest details. I have been to more than one wedding where everything is beautifully set up, from the flowers to the catering to the band, but then when the couple being married reach the huppah, they realize that they had forgotten the kiddush cup for the Sheva Berakhot, or the pen for signing the ketubah.

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A Wall “To the Right of Them, and To the Left”

A Wall “To the Right of Them, and To the Left”

Jan 18, 2019 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Beshallah

For many years my favorite line in Parashat Beshallah—the section of Torah that I studied at age 11 while learning to chant with proper musical notation from the scroll—was the Israelites’ sarcastic complaint to Moses when they found themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army advancing from behind them, and the sea blocking their way forward.

What? There weren’t enough graves in Egypt, so you took us out to die in the wilderness? (Exod. 14:11)

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Israel: Between Tears and Songs

Israel: Between Tears and Songs

Jan 26, 2018 By Hillel Gruenberg | Commentary | Beshallah

Beshallah holds special importance for me and my family—it was the parashah of the week of my son Zeke’s bris three years ago, and that of the week of my wedding to Yael two years before that. Under the huppah, my rabbi (and brother-in-law) Aaron Brusso referenced the Zohar’s likening of the parting of the Red Sea to a wedding for having weeping on one side of the event and singing on the other (Zohar 2:170b).

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Crossing the Sea Every Summer

Crossing the Sea Every Summer

Feb 10, 2017 By Jacob Cytryn | Commentary | Beshallah

As a camp director, Beshallah speaks to me in certain rather obvious ways. It is focused on the power of song—both the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18) and Deborah’s Song (Judges 5:1-31) in the haftarah—and camp is nothing if not filled with song and music. Experience, similarly, is central to the entire endeavor, especially as recounted in the Passover seder. And Beshallah also represents the birth of possibility, the beginning of an independent community. In other words, this week’s parashah encapsulates the basic work we in the camp business embark on every summer.

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Israel’s Departure

Israel’s Departure

Feb 10, 2017 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beshallah

Rabbi Judah said to Rabbi Meir: one tribe said, “I will not be the first to go into the sea”; and another tribe said, “I will not be the first to go into the sea.” While they were standing there deliberating, Nahshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Judah sprang forward and was the first to go down into the sea. Because it was Nahshon who came forward, Judah obtained royal dominion in Israel: “The sea saw him and fled” (Psalm 114:3). (Mekhilta Derabbi Yishmael, Beshallah, Mas. Devayehi 5)

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A New Dayeinu

A New Dayeinu

Jan 22, 2016 By Gerald Cohen | Commentary | Beshallah

As we progress through the cycle of Torah readings, we come to associate certain stories with a particular time of year: the creation story in early fall, Joseph and his brothers later in that season, the revolt of Korah in the summer. The story of this week’s Torah reading, however, has a double life in the course of the year: we associate it with the winter when we read the parashah in the cycle, but it also becomes the focus of our spring Pesah celebration in a few months. 

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What Next? A Free People Finds Its Way

What Next? A Free People Finds Its Way

Jan 22, 2016 By Daniel Nevins | Commentary | Beshallah

From the air Eretz Mitzrayim, “the narrow land” of Egypt, reveals itself as a vast expanse of sand and stone broken only by the twisting dark line of the Nile. I saw this first hand as a student in 1985, but you can look as well through satellite photos. On either side of the great river, a thin strip of green extends for a few kilometers to the east and west. The Nile looks like a mighty green cobra whose tail points at the first cataract near Sudan, and whose broad triangular head is the delta fanning out to strike the Mediterranean Sea.

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The Song at the Sea

The Song at the Sea

Jan 20, 2015 By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary | Beshallah

The centerpiece of Parashat Beshallah is the Song at the Sea. The song gives this Shabbat on which it is read the name Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song. It is interesting to note that this is the first recorded instance in the Torah where praise of God is specifically sung rather than spoken. Dr. Joseph H. Hertz, the first graduate of JTS and the chief rabbi of the British Empire, wrote in his Torah commentary on Parashat Beshallah, “Whenever Israel has faith in God and in the Divine Mission of Moses, Israel sings” (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 270).

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Living Practice: Not “How” but “Why”

Living Practice: Not “How” but “Why”

Jan 9, 2014 By Ute Steyer | Commentary | Beshallah

“Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.’” (Exod. 13:17)

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Determination and Redemption

Determination and Redemption

Jan 8, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beshallah

Parashat Beshallah witnesses triumphant redemption.

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Decimation and Affirmation: A Tale of Two Non-Israelites

Decimation and Affirmation: A Tale of Two Non-Israelites

Jan 30, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beshallah

The opening of this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Yitro, stands in stark contrast to the conclusion of last week’s parashah, Beshallah.

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Fear to Fortitude

Fear to Fortitude

Jan 23, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beshallah

As the Israelites march toward the Reed Sea, Pharaoh has a notorious change of heart.

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“He Taught Him a Tree” (?!)

“He Taught Him a Tree” (?!)

Jan 23, 2013 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Beshallah

This week’s parashah contains some of the most memorable narratives in the entire Torah: the splitting of the Reed Sea, the miracle of the manna, the battle with Amalek. In the midst of all these narratives comes a pithily told “little tale.”

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“One Good Thing about Music…”

“One Good Thing about Music…”

Feb 4, 2012 By Charlie Schwartz | Commentary | Beshallah

One good thing about music: when it hits you, you feel no pain.” So opens Bob Marley’s reggae anthem “Trenchtown Rock.” This lyric cuts to the heart of music’s awesome power to transform one’s state of being. Music can touch something deep inside of us, can make us feel. Melodies express complex, even contradictory, emotions and ideas; they can soothe pain with joy, while adding feelings of loss or nostalgia. This emotive power of music stands at the center of this week’s Torah portion, Beshallah.

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Moving Forward

Moving Forward

Feb 4, 2012 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Beshallah

What a wonderful feature of being human, that we are so different that even our shared experiences produce in us such a wide range of possible emotions. Despair, regret, aggression, complaint—the midrash imagines that different people, standing at the shore of the Sea of Reeds with Pharoah’s army closing in from behind, felt each in different measure.

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Filling Ourselves with Gratitude

Filling Ourselves with Gratitude

Jan 15, 2011 By Lisa Gelber | Commentary | Beshallah

I’ve spent the past year watching in awe as my daughter has gobbled up her bottles of formula. From the time she arrived home from the hospital until today, she has drunk that bottle with vigor. Now she is older and can hold the bottle herself; when she’s finished, she tosses it to the side with a flourish, a ceremonial conclusion to her meal. The process has been and continues to be amazing, awe-inspiring, and, admittedly, somewhat entertaining.

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Protective Paralysis

Protective Paralysis

Jan 15, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Beshallah

Have we become like Pharaoh in the midrash above: both an oppressive captor and a powerless captive of his own psychological blindness?

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Innovation and Tradition

Innovation and Tradition

Jan 30, 2010 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Beshallah

I’d like to suggest that from the first words of this week’s portion to the last, we find lessons of direct relevance to issues of revelation and commandment, faith and covenant that have been on the minds of thoughtful Jews for centuries and remain matters of concern today.

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