There is just so much going on in this week’s parasha, Beshallach. In a nutshell, the people leave Egypt, cross over the Sea of Reeds, Moses sings a song, Miriam leads women in song, the people complain about being thirsty and hungry, they get manna and water, they get some rules (and disobey them), Moses strikes a rock, more water, and they fight the Amaleks.
Like I said, this is one busy parasha. So, rather than focus on any one part of this story, I want to talk about language. The astounding language of the Torah, Hebrew, is one that give insights, makes connections, and reveals understanding, and just plain makes for fun study.
So, have fun with this. Stated: Beshallach mirrors Creation, employing the language of Genesis. There is plenty to work with, with the image of birthing a people through the waters of the Sea. But to break it down further, let’s start with the fact that the waters are parted, as stated in Genesis, when God created the worlds above and below, separating the waters to make room for the land. At the moment of crossing, we read of wind, fire, water –a real sound and light show, just like in the depiction of Creation (and I might suggest, what happens at Sinai, another seminal moment in the life of the nation.)
As in the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the people are sent out into the wilderness from Egypt. Now, I’m not comparing Egypt to Eden; far from it. But the language and imagery are similar. We don’t know about those first moments outside of Eden, but one would have to guess that Adam and Eve cried out to God for protection, as did the Israelites here. Both were led out into a place where there was no food or water, but for what they could gather for themselves. No doubt, God’s hand was present for Adam and Eve, like the manna and water appeared for the Israelites.
We read, “In the evening you shall know….and in the morning you shall behold….” (Ex 16:6-7) Remember, this text was an aural experience, and hearing “evening” and “morning” in the same breath, in that order, like Genesis…that’s Genesis language, and it’s designed to remind us of that. Beshallach 16:13 starts with , “vayihi erev”, and it was evening. “And it was evening and it was morning,…” each day of Creation ended this way. It’s supposed to sound familiar.
So what’s to be made from this short exercise? Is it just a mind game? True, that sort of thing is enormously enjoyable to Torah geeks like me (and done with far better skill, by others) But moreso, if the purpose of studying Torah is to find meaning in the words, then what meaning do we find here? The words trigger memories of earlier times in the story when other word images were evoked. Any good storyteller knows how that works, and this is a Storyteller extraordinaire. It’s no accident that Genesis language is throughout this parasha. God was dealing not with individuals now, but rather with an entire community, and this was a-birth, a creation of a people. If Genesis told the creation story of humanity in general, Beshallach is telling us of the creation of a nation. The beauty of the Hebrew is in the rhythm of the words, which lead us back to Genesis, and asks us, the listeners, to make our own connections. In both moments, we are setting out on a journey that will forever connect the human to the Creator God, and the Israelite to the Redeeming God. Creation. Birth. Beginning.
By the way…consider this a way of encouraging you…yes, you…to bring some Hebrew into your life. Knowing the language of the story deepens the experience. It’s not too late. You’re not too old. It’s not so hard. Go ahead – try.