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Parashat Beshalach - 5774

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Beshalach, when Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go free. There is one more confrontation between Pharaoh and the Israelites, before the Israelites will feel that they are free forever form Egyptian bondage. That confrontation takes place on the Sea of Reeds, where Pharaoh caught up witht them. We know the story. Moses is instructed to tell the people to go ahead and walk into the sea, because the sea will part and they will be able to cross, but the pursuers, Pharaoh and his army, will drown.

This Shabbat is called "Shabbat Shirah", the Sabbath of song, because after the crossing, Moses and the Israelites break into a song. While we might think that this is a very upbeat Parasha, recalling the liberation and this great miracle by the sea, the truth is that only half of this Parasha talks about what the Children of Israel witnessed and how they believed in G-d and Moses. The second half of this Parasha describes a very angry and disappointed community. They quarrel with Moses when there is no water, they quarrel some more when they run out of food, and a second time when they run out of water. In the midst of all this quarrelling, G-d gives the people the laws of Shabbat - this is three months before the Giving of the Ten Commandments. The laws of Shabbat are given when they are told that there will be Manna, the 'bread from heaven', that will be available every day except on Shabbat. On Fridays, they will be able to collect a double portion so that they will rest on Shabbat.

The Torah was the gift of G-d to the Israelites - within the Torah, Shabbat was the greatest gift. In the midst of all their justified concerns about water and food in the wilderness, G-d gives them this great gift of Shabbat. You can worry all six days of the week, but not on Shabbat - Shabbat is a blessed day.

It is a beautiful and most positive attitude when one observes Shabbat. All week, you can worry about the physical needs - job, bills, distractions - but not on Shabbat, a spiritual day when we look up to G-d for everything.

There is a beautiful story about a famous rabbi who travelled through Africa and other countries, writing about the various Jewish communities. This rabbi was a heavy smoker and addicted to tobacco. In one of the countries, he was thrown in jail on suspicion of being a spy. In his writings, he describes how he could endure the time spent in prison even though there was a lack of comfort, food and water. What bothered him most was his urge for tobacco which was denied to him. The only day when he could rest and not have any withdrawal pains was on Shabbat. Because he never smoked on Shabbat, he looked forward to Shabbat.

This Parasha encourages us to do something special to celebrate Shabbat - it's a unique gift that we should enjoy.

Shabbat Shalom,