Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Parashat B'Shalach- Growing the Sabra


Vay’hi b’shalah Par’o et ha’am v’lo nacham Ehlohim derech eretz P’lishtim ki karov hu ki amar Ehlohim pen yinacheim ha’am bir’o’tam milchamah v’shavu Mitzraima.
And it was when Pharaoh sent the people that God did not lead them by way of the Philistines, although that was near, for God said, lest the people repent when they see war and return to Egypt.
This week we celebrate Shabbat Shirah. Moshe leads the people Israel in song as they cross the seabed of Yam Suf. Commentary throughout our history has wondered at the reasons the Israelites required such a miracle upon their exodus from Mitzraiyim. For a wonderfully victorious moment the parasha does not start out inspiringly. The Israelites are standing on the shores of Yam Suf. The Egyptians are in pursuit. There is a short path to Israel through the land of the Philistines. After the miracles in Egypt, couldn’t God have helped the Israelites to conquer the Philistines as He had in Egypt?
Rabbi Gunther Plaut, in his commentary, wrote of a tradition reported in Targum Yonaton that 20,000 members of the tribe of Ephraim had attempted to flee earlier by this sea road, but they were slaughtered by the Philistines. With this knowledge the Israelites may have had a change of heart. In Egypt they had a chance to live and fight another day. Would this have been superior to death at the hands of the Philistines? This fear can be inferred from the second half of the verse.
Rambam takes a different tack. He taught that God had a superior reason for taking the Israelites through the wilderness rather than by the regular sea road. The Israelites had been enslaved for 400 years during which time their stamina and determination had eroded. Their experiences in the wilderness would serve to harden them for the conquest of Israel. It would build endurance and heroism among them.
Native Israelis have been known as sabras. The sabra is the fruit of the cactus. It is prickly on the outside. Even after the spines have been removed, small prickles may remain. But once you have cracked the hard outer skin, the inside of the sabra is soft, colourful, and bursting with flavour. This is development of our people. Through the experiences in the wilderness our people have developed into the sabra. Through necessity we are tough, often prickly on the outside. Israel is a strong and solid ally filled with the tasty fruit of technological advances she is willing to share with those who take the time to crack our skin.