This week marks the conclusion of our seventh year of Derech Tsofeh. Thanks to our readers and guest writers. Join us next week for the beginning of year eight with a d’var by a special guest writer.
In Parsha Beshalach, we see the final events of the Egyptian captivity. The shortest route to Canaan crosses the land of the Philistines who would fight the Israelites, and the Children of Israel might want to turn back to Egypt. So God sends them into the Wilderness (Midbar) to the Sea of Reeds.
Pharaoh and the Egyptians regret letting the Israelites leave, and they race to bring the Israelites back. The Jews have nowhere to go but forward into the sea. Moses stretches his hand over the sea and Nachshon, a prince of Judah, takes the lead by plunging into the sea. The sea parts to allow the people to cross. The Egyptian chariots follow, but God makes their wheels fall off, and then makes the sea close upon them.
The Israelites sing a great song to celebrate God’s victory over the Egyptians.
The people continue trekking into the Wilderness. After three days without fresh water, they arrive at Marah (“bitter”), where there is bitter water. The people complain, saying “What shall we drink?” God instructs Moses to throw a certain tree into the water, he does so, and it becomes sweet.
Further along, the people fear they do not have enough food and complain it would have been better to remain in Egypt than to be killed by famine. God sends manna, a thin layer of food that appeared every morning with the dew.. It was white, and tasted like a cake fried in honey. It fell on six days. On Friday, the people gather two portions, and the extra stayed fresh for Shabbat, because the manna did not appear on Shabbat.
At another stop, Rephidim, the people find no water and complain to Moses again. God has Moses strike a certain rock with his staff, and water comes forth from the rock.
At Rephidim, the nation of Amalek attacks Israel. The people fight under the leadership of Joshua and spiritual guidance of Moses, and Amalek is weakened and retreats.
What can we Scouts learn from these first steps on their journey in the Midbar? We see that the Children of Israel encounter many challenges there. The Midbar lacks water and food. It is a place where other nations may attack.
Midbar is spelled by the Hebrew letters Mem-Dalet-Bet-Resh. The last three letters also spell the word Dever, which can mean “word” or “commandment”. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) noted that when Mem is added to a word describing a thing, it means the place from which that thing comes. Thus, the Midbar is the place from which holy words come.
We have seen people in the Midbar receive words from God. Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the Midbar to keep Ishmael from being a bad influence on Isaac. When Hagar thinks Ishmael is going to die, God directs her to some water and says her son is to become a great nation. (Genesis 21:14) After God tests Abraham in asking him to sacrifice Isaac, God blesses Abraham and tells him his descendants will be numerous and a blessing to the Earth. (Genesis 22:11-18) Jacob dreams of angels going up and down a ladder, and God promises to give Jacob and his descendants the Land of Israel, and to protect him. (Genesis 28:12-15)
So one way to understand the Midbar is as a place where we are tested and may learn God’s plan for us. It is unlikely that we will hear God’s words, either directly or through an angel, as happened in Genesis. But when we go into the wilderness hiking and camping we face tests by having to provide for our needs and those of our fellow Scouts. Sometimes we have little food or water, or face other difficulties. If we follow the examples of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs and the leaders of the Exodus such as Moses, Aaron and Miriam we will act in ways that are Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Kind and Cheerful and Be Prepared for whatever comes our way.