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.