Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
We encourage publishing commentaries on this site, from respected rabbinical authorities to individual Jewish Scouts. The National Jewish Committee on Scouting recognizes all branches of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – and considers each of equal importance and worthy of inclusion.
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February 6, 2020 – Parsha Beshalach
This week marks the completion of eight years of Derech Tsofeh. Thanks to our readers and guest writers.
This week, Parasha Beshalach deals with a recurrent theme in the Torah – water.
Recall a few weeks ago, when we learned Pharaoh tried to control the strength of the Israelites, who he feared were growing too numerous, by having the baby boys drowned. To save her son, Jocheved placed Moses in a little ark made of reeds and pushed him out onto the Nile River, where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace. The river meant to be a place of harm for Jewish boys became a place of refuge for the greatest of Jewish boys.
The tables are turned in this week’s parasha. The shortest route from Egypt to Canaan goes along the land of Philistines. God knows the Philistines are likely to attack the Israelites, and directs Moses to enter the Wilderness (Midbar) toward the Sea of Reeds. The Egyptians, having forgotten God’s miracles for the Israelites in the form of the Ten Plagues, decide they want their former slaves back, and begin pursuing them.
Now the Israelites are caught between the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind them. Moses begins praying, but a prince of Judah, Nachshon ben Aminadav (whose many-times great grandson will be King David) realizes he must believe that God will help them, and starts walking into the sea. When it rises up on his neck, the sea parts. The Jews begin walking safely along the sea bed, with walls of water on each side. The Egyptians follow. When the Israelites reach the other shore, the sea comes back together, and drowns the Egyptians, leaving only Pharaoh.
So water – which Pharaoh wanted to use to destroy the Jewish people – saved them and destroyed Pharaoh’s army.
This reminds me of a lesson I encounter many times each week – the same thing can be used for good or ill.
I lived this lesson again today. A friend sent me a strong message; it hurt my feelings. Instead of sensing something must be bothering my friend for him to write to me this way, I replied with a strong message of my own. He wrote again, this time telling me things that made me understand what he was feeling. I felt bad for having been so quick to criticize him, and apologized. He wrote back and apologized for saying something hurtful, and we exchanged more messages in a more sympathetic tone.
The words we used were not well-considered. Each of us could have used words that expressed how we felt without making the other feel badly. The words could have been used for good or ill, just as the water was used in the parasha. Be Prepared to understand why someone acts or speaks as they do, and be Kind and Courteous with a response that brings out understanding instead of conflict.
January 30, 2020 – Parsha Bo
Last week, we learned of the first seven of the Ten Plagues. This week, in Parasha Bo, God sends the last three plagues upon Egypt: swarms of locusts that covered the entire land; six days of intense darkness; and the death of the first born of all people and animals, except the Israelites.
The first verse of our parasha explains why God has sent the Ten Plagues upon Egypt: “Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart and the heart of his servants stubborn so that I can put these signs of Mine in his midst; and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them – that you may know that I am God.” (Exodus 10:1)
The Egyptians merited such terrible punishments because of their pride.
Pride can be a fine thing, mostly when connected with the accomplishments of others. When you do something well – take a beautiful photo, or complete a great school project, or go out of your way to help someone – your parents are proud that they raised such a great kid. When your group does something fine – your science class successfully completes a complex experiment, or your patrol makes a great campout dinner – you feel pride in being part of your group.
Pride can also be a good reward for hard work. When you make a good grade after hours of study, or see little children enjoying some playground equipment you fixed, you feel pride in what you have accomplished.
But the Egyptians became prideful for all the wrong reasons. Pharaoh “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). That is, he forgot the Israelite who saved Egypt from famine by storing food during the seven years of plenty so the people would not starve during the seven lean years. (Recall that Joseph himself was not proud of the success he had as prime minister of Egypt; he credited God with showing him how to interpret Pharaoh’s dream about years of plenty followed by years of famine.)
Forgetting Joseph’s example, Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites and took pride in the power he had over them. He caused them to toil endlessly to build cities, sometimes on unstable land so that the buildings would fall and have to be rebuilt over and over. He felt threatened by how numerous the Israelites had grown, and thought his rule was so important he had the right to kill Jewish children.
So God sent ten plagues that not only made the Egyptians suffer, but showed God ruled even the forces of nature the Egyptians thought were controlled by their idols.
This lesson was not only meant for Pharaoh and his servants. Remember the second part of the parasha’sopening sentence, “and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your son’s son that I made a mockery of Egypt and My signs that I placed among them – that you may know that I am God”. We must recall the lessons of our deliverance from Egypt, and teach them to our children. We will carry out this mitzvah in a couple of months, when we retell the story of the miracles that brought the Exodus at the Passover seder.
By being Reverent we remember to be thankful for all the good God has bestowed upon us.
January 23, 2020 – Parsha Va’era
Parasha Va’era teaches us about the first seven of the 10 Plagues:
– The water in the Nile and everywhere else in Egypt except Goshen, where the Israelites live, turned to blood.
– Frogs came up from every body of water.
– Lice came up from the dust.
– Beasts swarmed freely throughout the land.
– Cattle, horses, sheep and other farm animals died.
– Boils and blisters caused pain to the Egyptians and their animals.
– Hail mixed with fire came down from the sky, killing crops, animals and people.
Each plague was preceded by Moses and Aaron telling Pharaoh to let the Israelites go into the Wilderness for three days, so they can worship God. In some cases, Moses and Aaron warned Pharaoh of the plague that would come if Pharaoh did not permit the Israelites to go. Pharaoh refused each request.
After the first few times, Moses and Aaron probably started to feel somewhat defeated. Moses was not eager to leave Midian, where he had married and had a son, to return to Egypt to carry out God’s plan to free the Children of Israel. He pointed out to God that his speech was not good – to which God answered that Aaron would help deliver God’s message. After the first encounter with Pharaoh, instead of letting the Israelites go, Pharaoh ordered that in addition to building a city the Israelites would now have to gather their own straw to make the bricks. The people suffered more. Moses was so upset he even told God the plan had backfired because it made things harder on the people. Things seemed to be going in the wrong direction.
But, each time Pharaoh refused to listen to Moses, Moses came back and followed God’s instructions again.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his essay on the parasha points out that continuing to press forward with an important task after several failures is one sign of a great leader. Instead of giving in to defeat, “They keep trying. They learn from every mistake. They treat failure as a learning experience. And from every refusal to be defeated, they become stronger, wiser, and more determined.” (from “Va’era, Overcoming Setbacks,” in LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP: A WEEKLY READING OF THE JEWISH BIBLE)
Scouting’s founder, Lord Baden-Powell, told many stories of mistakes he made along the way, often out in the field camping or hunting. He usually made fun of his failures, but always learned something. When he went on his next adventure he could Be Prepared to do better.
So look out for those learning opportunities other people call “failures”. They can lead to great success.
Derech Tzofeh, the Path of the Scout, is brought to you by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. ©2017 Nelson R. Block. Prior Derech Tzofeh are available at the J-Scouts message repository on Yahoo! Groups.