Haftarah and Torah Summaries for Beshalach – Jan. 15, 2011

Torah Summary – Beshalach - Jan. 15, 2011 - p. 399 Today, on Shabbat Shirah, we read parshat Beshalach. Pharaoh sends the Israelites out before his heart hardens again and he chases them down. Protected by a pillar of fire and cloud cover, the Israelites cower at the edge of the Reed Sea with 600 Egyptian chariots bearing down on them. An east wind splits the sea, -- the Israelites walk to freedom -- the Egyptians drown. Momentarily grateful for their lives, Moses and the Israelites burst into Shirat haʼYam, the Song of the Sea. Miryam leads the women in celebratory dancing, echoing the lyrics of the song. From this lyrical poem flow words of our liturgy that we sing each morning and evening in prayer: Mi Chamocha baʼElim Adonai ("Who is like You, God, among the mighty ones?") and Adonai yimloch l'olam vaʼed ("May God reign benevolently through all reaches of time and space"). A reading-against-the-grain midrash relates that on the day that the Egyptians were drowning in the Reed Sea, the angels came before God to sing the daily song of praise. God responded forcefully: "My creations are drowning in the sea and you are singing?!" Perhaps this midrash reflects the meaning of our sense discomfort at the death and destruction described in Shirat ha-Yam -- that nothing -- not even surviving war -- is greater than living in peace. Grumbling, the Israelites trudge on. Water is an ongoing problem, but manna and quail quench their belly-aching. Amalek, the essence of opportunistic evil, attacks the Israelites before losing in the end. Although God and Amalek will always be at war, God promises to ultimately erase Amalekʼs memory. Haftarah Summary – Beshalach – Jan. 15, 2011, p. 424 This morningʼs Haftarah contains one of the most ancient sacred stories of our Tradition (dated at approximately 1175 BCE). The Sephardic version that we will read today poetically tell of the battle between the Israelites and the Canaanites. The Canaanite army is led by Sisera, a general of King Jabin of Hazor. The Israelite prophetess and judge, Deborah, persuades Barak to muster an Israelite army. The opposing forces clash. When God throws Sisera, his chariots and his army into a panic, the Israelites to prevail over the Canaanites. Sisera flees and seeks solace in the tent of Heber the Kenite. Heberʼs wife, Yael, lulls Sisera to sleep with milk and a blanket, and she kills him while he sleeps, fulfilling Deborahʼs prediction that “God will hand over Sisera to a woman.” Both parashah and haftarah celebrate Godʼs allusive and obvious roles in military victory. Both texts provide a glimpse of our historical memory. And both texts teach us about the nature and role of Biblical women – they can be divinely-inspired leaders like Deborah, clever and fierce combatants like Yael, and lithe dancers and singers like Miryam, who had the foresight to pack the timbrels that elevated the moment of praise of God to pure joy, with dance, song, and delight in the Divine deliverance from the depths of subjugation.

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