Sedra: Beshalach

Sedra: Beshalach

With Rabbi Naftali Schiff.

AFTER LAST week’s dramatic flight to freedom from the Egyptian slave labour camps to the relative safety of the wilderness, the Jews find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

Pharaoh’s change of heart led to him mustering his forces, harnessing his horses and chariots to drive the fleeing Jews into the sea.

The newly-freed Jewish nation find themselves in mortal danger until the sea miraculously splits, allowing the Jews safe passage and drowning their Egyptian slave masters in what is perhaps the most famous biblical story of all time. The Jews’ response to this miraculous salvation is to spontaneously break into song, the shirat hayam.

The Rabbis of the Talmud note that each person experienced a revelation at that moment, zeh keli, “this is my God”, ve anvehu, “and I will glorify Him”. It is perhaps the seminal moment in the development of the everlasting relationship between the Jewish people and God. Each Jew saw the same God in their own way, through the window of their own soul, but joined together in song as one nation.

The Talmud further explains that the word veanvehu also means “and I will beautify Him”, and derives from it the concept of Hiddur mitzvah, “beautifying mitzvoth”. The Jewish journey is one that is as unique as it is beautiful and we must grasp any opportunity to take what might otherwise seem mundane or routine and create something exciting, inspiring and relevant. This week’s Haftarah, the longest of the year, is also one of song, the song of Deborah’s victory over the forces of Sisera.

Interestingly enough, when Deborah refers to her own achievements, God’s name is not mentioned. Therein lies a valuable lesson about the importance of working in tandem with those around us. When we work as individuals, for our own aims, God withdraws His presence from us. It is only when we join forces with those who have similar objectives that we can truly achieve success.

Indeed, many liken the Jewish people to an orchestra in which there are a number of different sections and many instruments, each with their own voices but enhancing the same tune.

The Jewish nation is made all the more beautiful when we each sing in our own way, but all together as one.

• Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the CEO of Aish UK

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