Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Parsha Notes Beshalach 5771

What everyone should know
When God leads the Jewish people out of Egypt, in the beginning of this week’s parsha, He takes them the ‘long way,’ purposely bypassing the shorter route since it would lead through the land of the Philistines. Rmbam and Ramban argue about the significance of this in ways that relate to the underlying philosophy of commandment-keeping.

As you may have noticed, the Song of the Sea says nothing about the sea being split. What this might mean is discussed here.

Much much more after the jump

Great moments in Parshanut
The gift of the mon is described by the bible as a test, and the Rishonim give five different explanation of what the test might have been. Suggestions include: (1) Would the Israelites refrain from taking mon on Shabbos (Rashi) (2) Would they trust the strange food? (Ramban) (3) With their needs now supernaturally fulfilled, would the Israelites put their free time to good use? (Sforno)

Why did Moshe's hands become heavy? (1) Because he sinned by appointing Joshua to lead the war  (Rashi) (2) Because he sinned by putting the war off until the next day (TPJ) (3) For assuming the supernatural protections had ended, as evidenced by his decision to appoint Joshua (Lubovitcher Rebbe)

What was powerful about Moshe's hands?

Internal Parallels
Exodus 17:13 says Joshua overwhelmed the Amalekites using the word וַיַּחֲלֹ֧שׁ; in Deuteronomy when Amalek's attack on Israelite stragglers is recalled the word used is הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִ֣ים. (Robert Alter)

The Song of the Sea is introduced with the phrase אָ֣ז יָשִֽׁיר־; forty years later when the sun stands still Joshua celebrates the miracle with a song that begins with the phrase אָ֣ז יְדַבֵּ֤ר.

All of Egypt's male warriors die at the sea; earlier in the story Pharaoh sentenced all male Israelite infants to death by drowning.  (Rashi)

The text announces that Miriam is a witness at the water when Moshe is saved, and again when he splits the Sea. (Everett Fox)

Women are depicted as celebrating a military victory at the Sea and also in the Book of Samuel.

The wind blowing on the water, followed by a division between the sea and land is strongly reminiscent of the beginning of creation. (and the Lord led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split.)

External Parallels
In the Song of the Sea God is called a Man of War. In Canaanite poetry he is also represented as a warrior

Word play
Throughout the Exodus story, the word Kaved is used to describe the labor, and the king's heart. Later it is also used to describe Moshe's hands.

Contra Midrash
Who was first into the water? Sota 36b gives two opinions, quoting one Tanna who says Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah was first into the water, and another who says the glory should go to the entire tribe of Benjamin.

What is the significance of the famous fleshpots (flesh being an old English word for meat)? Mechilta says the Israelites ate well when they were slaves; Shmos Raba says they merely sat by the fleshpots, smelling the food, but were not allowed to take from it.

Number Games
The Israelites rest at a spring that has 12 streams and 70 trees; both are magic numbers in the bible

The word "yad" appears exactly 7 times in the Amelek episode. (Cassuito)

When the Jews complain to Moshe in Exodus 14:11-12 Egypt is mentioned 5 times, and the wilderness is mentioned twice.

Passing between walls of water is a strong bit of birth imagery. (Ilana Pardos)

When Pharaoh has his back against the wall his speech is short and urgent. וַיְמַהֵר פַּרְעֹה לִקְרֹא לְמֹשֶׁה וּלְאַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמֶר חָטָאתִי לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְלָכֶם׃ [Exodus 10:16] At other points in the story, he demonstrates confidence and imperiousness by speaking in verse: ואמר פרעה לבני ישראל נבכים הם בארץ סגר עליהם המדבר׃ [Exodus 14:3]

Narrative units in the Bible are frequently bookended with long poems. The Song of the Sea marks the conclusion of the Exodus story, and the beginning of the Wilderness tales.

Ashira l'hashem is consistent with ANE literary convention of making announcements at the beginning of poems. (Alter)

Which parts of the Song are really parts of the poem, and which are not?

horse and rider may be an anachronism: At the time Egypt used chariots, not cavalry.

Who is like you among the gods possibly indicates that the Israelites weren't quite yet monotheists when then song was first composed.

You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, The place, O LORD, which You have made for Your dwelling, The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established seems like a clear reference to the Temple, and can be understood as either prophesy or evidence of later tampering. Sarna, incidentally, uses this to explain away the problem of the too-large multitude that was said to have participated in the Exodus.

As is well known, (see this and this) (and don't miss serious counterarguments in the comments) nothing that we know about the ancient world, and nothing that archaeologists have found in the Sinai lends even an iota of support to the idea that 600,000 (or 3 million) people left Egypt. Sarna's solution is ingenious. He says that Temple in Jerusalem was the point, or goal of the Exodus. At the time the Temple was built, the population in Israel was about 600,000. Saying that 600,000 left Egypt is a literary way of connecting the Exodus with the Temple, similar to how even the children of immigrants speak of their "American forefathers.

Rashi and Ramban read a verse to accommodate their belief in spontaneous generation 

Kee goah goah is a great pun. It means "to be exalted" and is also the word for a sea surge.

Azi v'zimras is another pun. Zimrah means both song and power.

We're told all of of Israel sang at the Sea. How did everyone know the words?

In Exodus 14:13 Moshe promises the Israelites that Egypt will never afflict them again, yet Egypt is depicted throughout the Book of Kings as a threat.

Exodus 13:17 says: It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by the] Way of the Land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt.   The "Way of the Land of the Philistines" was a fortified coastal highway, lined with armed Egyptians deployed there to protect the trade route. (Nahum Sarna)

Inside Rashi's Bes Medresh
Exodus 13:17: "...for it was near and it was easy to return by that road to Egypt. There are also many aggadic midrashim [regarding this]. "What are those midrashim?
(a) for it was too near (in time) to the promise Abrahma had made Abimelch [See Gen 20]
(b) For it was too near (in time) to when the Canaanites had taken the land, and they weren't yet deserving of genocide/expulsion etc.

Why doesn't Rashi use these midrashim to interpret the verse? Because they don't solve text problems.

Exodus 14:21 "...and the waters split All the water in the world." — [from Mechilta Exod. Rabbah 21:6]

Why does Rashi say this? Look at the verse: And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord led the sea with the strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split.

The verse uses the word "sea" three times, but when the miracle happens the language switches and we're told "the waters split."

(Whether or not Rashi actually thought every body of water in the world split at that moment  is left as a question for the reader) (I think he's just proposing a solution to what some might see as a textual anomaly. I don't think he's attempting to provide a history lesson.)

A polite reminder for the Orthodox clergy: In your speeches this shabbos, please do not tell us that Moshe or the Jewish people "sang Az Yoshir." We know what you mean, but its imprecise. The first words of the song are not "az yashir" but "Ashira l'hashem kee goah goah" and the proper name of the song is "Shirat Hayam"

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