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January 19, 2013 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Beshallah

This week’s portion begins with the splitting of the sea: the Hebrews leave Egypt, get pursued by the king’s troops, and get saved when the Yam Suf (variously translated “Red Sea” and “Sea of Reeds”) is caused by a strong wind to open up so that the Hebrews can cross, and then un-opens in time to drown the troops.

Sarna’s most interesting points precede and follow these events.  The portion begins with the Torah’s statement that God “did not lead them [the Hebrews] by way of the land of the Philistines…. for God said ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.'” (Ex. 13:17).  What is this “land of the Philistines” and why is it dangerous?

Sarna explains that the shortest possible route to the land of Israel was a coastal road, on land later occupied by Philistines (thus the reference to Philistines).  This coastal road was full of Egyptian fortresses (or as we might call them today, military bases) so if the Hebrews had taken it, they would have had “to contend with the strongly entrenched Egyptian forces.”  Of course, they did have one confrontation with Egyptian forces- but if they had kept going along the coastal road, maybe they would have had more.

After all this happens, the Torah gives us a song hailing the miracle at the sea.  One thing about this song that has always bothered me is its reference to Philstines in “agony”, Edomites being “dismayed”, Moabites “trembling” and Canaanites being “aghast”. (Exodus 15:14-15).  Presumably, these tribal peoples did not have television, newspapers or Torah, and thus would have been unaware of the miracle.  So what’s up with these verses?

Sarna says that these groups are mentioned in geographic order.  The Philistines are closest to the Egyptian border, the Canaanites are in the land of Israel, and the other two groups are in between.  Although these groups were not upset (or even aware of the Hebrews) at the time of the parting of the sea, they later dealt with Israel and perhaps experienced these emotions now and then.  In other words, the song forecasts what the Philistines, Canaanites, etc. would experience many years later.*

 

*Of course, if you think that the Torah was written centuries after Moses, you would say that the song was describing what in fact had happened many years earlier.  But I am not going to dig into that can of worms.

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2 Comments

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  1. Shira Salamone / Jan 24 2013 11:41 am

    “Of course, if you think that the Torah was written centuries after Moses, you would say that the song was describing what in fact had happened many years earlier. But I am not going to dig into that can of worms.”

    Oh, why not? Have you no sense of adventure? 🙂 I’ve been digging into that can of wormfor years, but I guess that’s why you’re Conservadox and I’m not. 🙂

  2. Garnel Ironheart / Jan 25 2013 11:05 am

    > Sarna says that these groups are mentioned in geographic order.

    Not necessarily. Sarna is assuming the song was written after where the Torah says it was. At this point in the narrative the plan is a trip to Har Sinai, get the Torah and then straight north to Israel. Edom was southeast of Israel and Moab due east so they were only encountered when the plan changed and they had to take 38 years to get there.

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