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Parshas Beshalach

01/26/2018 10:03:57 AM


The bookends of the Parsha depict battles with two enemies of the Jews, with Pharoh and Mitzrayim pursuing the Jews in the beginning of the Parsha and the insidious attack of Amalek at the end of the Parsha.  Although both sought to expunge the name of the Jews for eternity, we find a tremendous distinction in the way the Torah now mandates us to relate to Mitzrayim and Amalek.  We are taught to relate to Amalek with a no tolerance destruction policy and a specific mitzvah to obliterate them in their entirety, whereas Mitzrayim is graciously granted the opportunity of potentially converting to the Jewish nation and we have a specific mitzvah not to oppress those converted Egyptians.  How are we to understand this stark contrast?

The opening words and title of the Parsha, “B’shalach,” seem to connote that Pharoh had a role and credit in our emancipation from Egypt.  The Midrash questions this implication, because it seems that Pharoh did all he could to resist God’s actions to liberate the Jews, and it was only under extreme duress of the last plague that Pharoh wanted the Jews out.  The Midrash explains that at the last possible moment Pharoh saw the truth and accorded himself to the will of God in realizing that the Jews were special and destined to be the “chosen nation,” and he personally got off his throne to escort the Jews from Egypt.  Shockingly, though, this moment of clarity was short-lived, as Pharoh capriciously regretted what he had done and decided to pursue the Jews and destroy them.  As Egypt was drowning at the sea, continues the Midrash, Pharoh once again regained his clarity and repented at the last moment.  As bad as Pharoh was, his resistance was up to the point of total revelation of God’s hand when even he was able to “join the bandwagon” and believe.  To embellish on this theme, R’ Tzadok writes that the law that the Jews were meant to eat the Karban Pesach in Mitzrayim “B’chipazon”- in accelerated speed- was truly the entire theme of redemption.  With their “walking sticks in hand” and their quick way of eating the meat, the Jews were supposed to reflect the attitude of how growth and redemption takes place- with literal and figurative “rush” that took them to a new level.  Growth in general, explains R’ Tzadok, is not necessarily commensurate with time and effort in a proportional way.  It is difficult to take a small period of time, be it a morning or even a day, and try to find concrete evidence of growth from that time.  Growth happens in swift “moments” that are the cumulative makeup of the time and structured efforts that we constantly work on.  Just as we see that the physical growth of children cannot be seen or measured as it happens and we are only left to exclaim one day “Wow look how tall you’ve gotten,” so too redemption and spiritual growth work the same way.  Pharoh knew how to capitalize on the “Chipazton” in his capacity to appreciate a moment and connect himself to it.  Personifying the meaning of “Yesh Koneh Olamo B’sha Achas,” Pharoh found an inner ability to throw away years of sin and denial to attach to the Chipazon and run with it.

Amalek seeks to undermine the whole power of Chipazon and the high inspirational moments of redemption.  Posing a destructive threat, Amalek chooses to attack precisely at the time of Chipazon to show that they can grab the enemy at their greatest time and still win.  In illustrated terms, Pharoh may talk through davening on Yom Kippur but he will still shed tears at the climax of Neeilla, whereas Amalek will walk in to shul during Neila and tell you a joke that ruins the moment.  Moments of Chipazon are the truest moments of life, the rarities that make all of our efforts and values “worth it.”  They are the moments we remember so strongly and that we live off of even when they dissipate.  Despite all the ups and down that life invariably brings, the Chipazon times are what we hold in our minds as meaning and purpose.  Amalek is therefore the enemy within us that makes us doubt whether we will ever truly grow and cynically questions those moments for being real of not.  He cools inspiration and takes us down from the peak, and that is why he specifically must be eradicated from within.   

Wed, January 27 2021 14 Shevat 5781