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January 30, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Beshalach

In this week’s Torah portion, the Hebrews finally leave Egypt and are pursued by Egyptian soldiers.  The two forces finally meet at the Yam Suf (variously translated “Red Sea” and “Sea of Reeds”).  A wind causes the sea to part after the Hebrews cross, and then after the Hebrews get on dry land the sea un-parts causing the Egyptians to drown.  Moses songs a song of joy; one verse is common in Jewish liturgy: “The Eternal Shall Reign Forever and Ever.” (Exodus 15:18).  Read literally, this seems like a tautology: God, to be God, must exist forever.  So what else is now?

Nachmanides has a more sophisticated explanation.  According to him, Moses is saying that “just as He [God] has now shown that He is King and Ruler by having brought deliverance to His servants and destruction upon those that rebel against Him, so may it be his will to do so in all generations forever.”  In other words, this statement is a prayer of hope- may it be God’s will to show that God in fact rules, by creating a world in which evil is punished and good rewarded. 

Is this something worth praying for?  On the one hand, we don’t know whether we would be among the rewarded good or the punished bad.  On the other, with this sort of Divine guidance maybe we might learn good from bad a lot more quickly (assuming we had not been fatally smitten).

At any rate, Ramban’s explanation makes sense not just for this phrase but for many other phrases in the Psalms and other Jewish liturgy.  For example, part of Psalm 145 states –

The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
(Psalm 145:14-16)

Does God really “raise up all who are bowed down”, give everyone “their food in due season” or “satisfy the desire of every living thing.”  At best, sometimes.  Perhaps these words too are more a wish than a reality. 

More broadly, I think we learn that the line between what we hope for and what we declare as supernatural reality can be a thin one.

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