Parshat Beshalach: The Exodus and Life’s Ups and Downs
Life has its ups and downs. We have all experienced good times and bad. Just look at this week’s Torah reading.
Pharaoh, reeling from the plagues, has told the Children of Israel to get out. Exhilaration! But Moses knows they are in no position to defend themselves. So, instead of taking the quick route east towards the aggressive Philistines, he veers south, and heads toward the Red Sea and the Sinai desert. Set back number one.
Pharaoh reconsiders his position, and chases after them, with 600 chariots and scores of soldiers. He catches up with them at the Red Sea. The Israelites panic. They want to go back to Egypt. But they survive, and miraculously escape the Egyptian army. Jubilation. Did it last? Not a chance.
They got to Marah, where the water was undrinkable, and again there was despondency. Moses solved the problem. A certain type of tree absorbed the salinity, and they were able to drink. On they went towards Sinai, which meant passing through the Wilderness of Sin. And once again, they started to complain. “We remember how in Egypt we sat around fleshpots and as much bread as we could eat, why did you take us out to die here?” This time flocks of migrating quail arrived, and the Manna. But their full stomachs did not last long.
Off they went again, and once more, there was no water, and they wanted to stone Moses to death. And this was where he hit the rock, and water flowed. Perhaps he knew something about how to find water from his days as a shepherd.
Everything the people benefited from was not of their making. Yet look how ungrateful they were. They had no trust in Moses or God, despite the praise they showered on both when things were going well.
But in truth, don’t we all forget the good times when we are in trouble? Don’t we all have moments of both faith and despair?
The Torah is telling us that there is no perfect state, no utopia. Life is a constant challenge, and only by focusing on going forward and overcoming one’s trials, can we hope to cope with life. We must remember there were — and will be — good times, too.
The author is a writer and rabbi, currently based in New York.