Parashat Beshalach – Erev Shabbat 29 January 2021
Week of 24-30 January 2021
Torah portion: Exodus 13:17-17:16 Haftarah: Judges 4:4-5:31
Theme: ‘… you have only to keep still.’ (Ex. 14:14)
The Israelites leave Egypt ‘prepared for battle’ (13:18). However, they later learn from Moses that ‘The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’ (14:14) The word translated as ‘still’ (Hebrew root ḥrš) is more literally translated as ‘silent’. The Hebrew word ‘silent’ also holds resonances with being ‘dumb’, ‘speechless’, ‘deaf’, and ‘contriving’. We might ask, ‘why is silence their best course of action?’
Let’s consider this by taking note of the events in the text; and then considering the motivations that lie behind them. When they left Egypt, the Israelites wandered aimlessly while the wilderness closed in on them (14:3); Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (14:8) giving rise to the hot pursuit of the Israelites in the wilderness (14:34); then we have the account of the Israelites collecting bread from heaven each day (16:4) and receiving water from a rock (17:6) and, finally, there is a war against Amalek (17:8-13).
In all of these narratives, we see dynamics and experiences that appear to uncover the vulnerabilities of all the characters and push them to their limits. The motives of the people include survival (Israelites) and economic growth (Pharaoh). God however has a different motive, i.e. that in their journey towards freedom, both the Egyptians (14:4, 8) and the Israelites (16:12) might know that God is the Lord. To achieve this outcome, God has a plan and God’s strategy lies hidden within the events and experiences we hear about in the text. Freedom is found in recognizing God’s authority. This can be seen in the Israelites pausing after ‘the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians’ (14:31) to sing a song of praise to the Lord before continuing on their journey towards freedom (15:1-18). It can also be seen when they stop work and rest on the Sabbath (16:29-30).
This pausing, this stepping back from action, to orient towards God provides a stillness and silence that can be transformative, even within the noise and uncertainty of life. Moses knew this too when he paused to build an altar and called it, ‘The Lord is my banner’ (17:15). A certain quality of stillness can support us in seeing where God is acting in our lives, e.g. where God is fighting for us (14:14). It can also help us to discern where we are hearing God’s Word and obeying it in our lives. Additionally, this quality of stillness can show us whether we are resonating more with the other aspects of the Hebrew word for ‘silent’, i.e. if we are being ‘deaf’ to God’s words and ‘contriving’ in our actions. Know: ‘you only have to be still’ (Ex. 14:14).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How do you discern God’s Word in your life? 2. How do stillness and silence enhance your quality of listening to God’s Word and support your relationships with other people?
Bibliography: Brown, Francis. The Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English lexicon (Hendrickson, 1996).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Thérèse Fitzgerald NDS, Ireland, Bat Kol Alumna: 2015, 2018
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