Parshas Beshalach
Shemos 13:17 - 17:16

Connecting With The Flow Of What Is Natural ©

By Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

This study is offered in the very loving memory of my mother, Ethel Channah Sakash Belk, my mother, who passed away on 22 Kislev, 12 - 01 - 99, may she rest in peace.

We have entered our fourth week from Parshas Shemos / January 2000. Already many who made a determination to change, to do shuvah and to be free from habits... from bondage... and from problems have fallen. The past three weeks we have discussed the monsters that bring us down, that cause us to fall and that induce us to fail. Today in Parshas Beshalach we continue learning how to break away from our past / present.

When Hashem created the universe He created a natural spiritual flow which, like water, gently and conveniently flows downhill in the path of least resistance. Hashem also created the path of nature, days, weeks, months, years, spring, summer, fall, winter, etc. If asked which we are more in tune with, most of us would say nature’s flow. At first this may seem reasonable until we zoom in on the situation.

Have you ever driven casually along on some big city street, enjoying the day, feeling good about where you are, about what’s happening, just to discover you’re going the wrong way - against traffic? What a shock! All of a sudden, cars and trucks are coming at you from every direction with their horns blasting. Other drivers are swerving out of your path and screaming bad things... None of us needs to analyze why this happened. It is easy to understand. Yet, in the same way, in both our spiritual and natural direction we can find ourselves going the wrong way.

In a similar way in this parsha, B’nei Yisroel has just experienced what might seem to us like the most incredible year. They lived through ten inconceivable plagues. They observed Hashem’s massive power over nature with water turning to blood; with multiplication of frogs everywhere; with lice coming out of nowhere; with vicious animals in their front yards; with the death of Mitzriam’s livestock everywhere; with the outbreak and infection of boils covering the bodies of all of Mitzriam’s people; with hail fire raining from the heavens and destroying crops, fruit trees, shade trees and vegetation; with infestation of locusts eating what the hail fire didn’t destroy; with paralyzing darkness for three days in which no person of Mitzriam could move even one inch; and finally with the death of each firstborn in Mitzriam.

If we had been living in Mitzriam at the time, it would have been quite obvious that someone was going against the flow of traffic. Hashem sent his novie, Moshe, to deliver His people. B’nei Yisroel wanted to be free. B'nei Yisroel wanted to serve Hashem. Yet there was something standing between them and their desire to serve Hashem. This is not so unusual! Most of us face interruptions in our path to serve Hashem. In Mitzriam it was a very powerful ruler, a very powerful army and a very determined people standing in the way of B'nei Yisroel.

Eventually, after B'nei Yisroel was set free, they finally had the opportunity to serve Hashem. They had the opportunity to do what for years they prayed, hoped and dreamed, to serve Hashem with their entire hearts! Within a few days of being presented with this magnificent opportunity many failed. Does this feel familiar?

Last week in our parsha study I stated,
‘B'nei Yisroel received part of Moshe’s revelation. Moshe held back some... Never again do we read that Moshe withheld anything from B'nei Yisroel that Hashem gave him or told him to speak...’ Yet in this parsha some say that Moshe held back Hashem’s revelation to him regarding Shabbat. Rashi states that Hashem became angry with Moshe because of this oversight which resulted in Hashem asking Moshe, ‘How long will you refuse to keep My commandments and my teachings?’ Shemos 16:28

The point here is, even though Moshe did not convey the entire revelation to B'nei Yisroel about gathering manna and about the seventh day, it was not intentional like the first instance discussed in Parshas Bo. There Moshe deliberately withheld revelation from B'nei Yisroel. Yes, this was an extremely serious oversight! When asked, Moshe immediately instructed B'nei Yisroel regarding gathering manna and the seventh day. This is another example of going against traffic, but here it results from simply too much on Moshe’s plate.

Parshas Beshalach is very special to me seeing that it was on the Shabbat of Parshas Beshalach that I began my return to Judaism many years ago. I was davening in a Messianic congregation when my mind lit up with these words, ‘The children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath and observe it throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the L-rd made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested.’

‘This precious blessing of the Sabbath, O L-rd our G-d, Thou didst not grant to the heathens of the earth, nor didst Thou, O our King bestow it upon idolaters, nor can the unrighteous enjoy its rest. But Thou didst give it in affection to Israel Thy people, the seed of Jacob, whom Thou didst love. May the people who sanctify the seventh day be sated and delighted with Thy bounty. For Thou didst find pleasure in the seventh day, and didst sanctify it, calling it the desirable of days, in remembrance of creation.' {Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book 1963 p.98}

As I prayed this prayer several things became very evident to me:

First, it was the seventh day that was special, honored and holy from all the other days of the week.

Second, I was commanded to observe the holiness of this day.

Third, if I failed to honor Shabbat I was no different than the nations of the earth that desecrate the seventh day.

Fourth, I was chosen by G-d to receive, honor and enjoy this precious blessing. During Parshas Beshalach, like B’nei Yisroel thousands of years earlier, I was removed from bondage to observing Shabbat. Immediately my mind was flooded with the beautiful light of honoring Shabbat.

Fifth, I realized that I had never enjoyed the Shabbat as G-d had intended.

Sixth, if I chose to remain in violation of Shabbat, in sin, going against traffic, I would NEVER experience or enjoy the beauty of Shabbat.

Seventh, the beauty of Shabbat is only given to B'nei Yisroel. Only we have the ability to enter into Shabbat with full delight! Only we are given a second neshamah for Shabbat pleasure.

Eighth, honoring Shabbat was my source of potential blessing / different blessing!

Ninth, I felt the pleasure of Shabbat for the first time.

Tenth, immediately I had the desire to sanctify Shabbat and to clean up my Shabbat observance. My neshamah leapt for joy. I began to enter into the joy of Shabbat. My entire life has wonderfully changed since that day! Thank G-d!

Let’s zoom in to a little closer range... How is Shabbat in your life? Are you going against traffic?

Jewish people must understand that they were created by Hashem to completely observe and enjoy Shabbat. Even very assimilated Jews were created by G-d to observe Shabbat. Even Jews who want to run and hide from Judaism were created by G-d to observe Shabbat... Every Jew was created to observe Shabbat! Anything short of full Shabbat observance is going against traffic for Jews. It is an internal / external spiritual, physical struggle for what was intended to be natural for Jews.

Think about this! Six days ago you were a slave in Mitzriam. Shabbat, what’s that? A day of rest? Whoever heard of such a thing in slavery? However that is not the situation anymore. B'nei Yisroel is not in slavery now. B'nei Yisroel is free to serve Hashem with their entire heart now. Wouldn’t a day of complete rest, a day of total rest seem wonderful after all those years of struggle and slavery? It would seem wonderful but...

In other words, we determined to make changes in our lives. Shabbat was not a part of those changes. We are trying to do shuvah on some level but not in regards to Shabbat. We are making an effort to turn over a new leaf but the struggle seems incredible. It is at this point we need to look at Shabbat. What about observing Shabbat?? What about connecting to what was intended to be natural for Jews? What about going with the natural flow of Yiddishkeit?

I remember driving home that day so filled with the presence of Shabbat. I could see years into my future. It was clear to me on Parshas Beshalach that my {former} spouse would reject and divorce me, that my parents would forsake me, my brothers would forsake me, that I would probably lose my businesses, possibly my sons and probably the family home, that I would be terminated from the congregation I led, that I would be removed from the executive board which had authority over eighty congregations and that all my friends would forsake me. All this ran through my mind as I drove home on Parshas Beshalach.

Years later, after most of this did happen, after reality set in, I remember one day being very bitter. I was angry! I was hurt! I was living in the wilderness. I blamed the boys’ mother! I blamed my parents! I blamed my friends! I blamed! I blamed! As I hurt that day something very special happened to me. It was after eating. I began to bentsh. As I finished the first blessing for nourishment and began the second blessing for the land, I heard these words: ‘I REMOVED YOU FROM MITZRIAM! I REMOVED YOU FROM THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE!’

Dear classmates, I wouldn’t go on my own! Hashem had me physically removed from that situation! It was unpleasant being forced to leave the family home. It was very difficult living in a studio apartment alone. Rejection was overwhelming! The loss of family was very great! Yet when I felt punished and persecuted I was blessed! It just took some time to understand that living in the slave camps of Mitzriam was not a blessing! Hashem did me a very great favor!! Thank G-d! I knew it! I accepted it! I was thankful for Hashem’s deliverance even though it took what I felt at the time was a very difficult course!

Pharaoh and the Egyptian people drove B'nei Yisroel out of Mitzriam. They were forced out by Hashem. Hashem removed B'nei Yisroel.

On Yom Sheini {the second day} of this week the United States celebrates the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. He is famous for his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in which he said, 'Free at last! Thank G-d!...' It is no accident that Parshas Beshalach falls this week. This is indeed the week of freedom!

Just as Moshe knew, B'nei Yisroel knew, Pharaoh knew, Pharaoh’s cabinet knew, all Mitzriam knew, and the nations of the world knew that Hashem was the One and only true G-d who ruled everything. Everyone knew Hashem took B'nei Yisroel out of Mitzriam!

After witnessing such displays of G-d’s powerful might, how could anyone even give a thought to going back to slave labor, to eighteen hour days, to beatings, to abuse, to murder of their male children and to many other hideous crimes inflicted by the evil, harsh officers of conscription? Yet B’nei Yisroel is vulnerable. Even with all this pain B’nei Yisroel had a marriage of convenience in Mitzriam. It was more convenient to stay than to struggle to break away. Hashem led B'nei Yisroel in an indirect route out of Mitzriam to the Promised Land. It was not the most direct path because Hashem, the Creator of mankind, knew B'nei Yisroel:
‘The people might change their minds should they encounter war, and return to Mitzriam’ Shemos 13: 17,18

This tells us something about our struggle. A few weeks ago some of us chose to turn over a new leaf because it was the new year... the new century... the new millennium. We had no clue to the fact that we were entering the season of freedom for Jewish people. Now three weeks later we have failed a few times or we have thought about giving up or we have given up.... We feel guilty! We feel as though we failed! Yet all of this has happened to take us to the path that leads to Shabbat observance.

We are observing the uniqueness of human nature. Why take the 40-year, longer, indirect route when you could make the Promised Land in just several days? The fact is that some of our struggles have to be conquered in years not days. The fact is, many times it is necessary to take the indirect route to eventually arrive. That’s O.K.! Our problem is accepting the fact that our battle has become struggle. It will take longer than we thought. We will experience some defeats with our victories. We are now entering the wilderness experience.

Many Jews who do carefully observe Shabbat find themselves in the midst of the wilderness experience. After awhile freedom just doesn’t seem to be what we had imagined. It is at this time that we need to guard against the attraction of Mitzriam creeping back into our existence. It is at this time that we long for the convenience of Mitzriam, G-d forbid!

So as we enter our fourth week of struggle for freedom, we are now faced with the fact that the answer lies in the struggle itself. Everyone has a struggle. Every one of us faces the wilderness experience, but the beauty of that wilderness experience is that Hashem intends for us to face it together! HOW? We face every struggle together. We face every problem from the same foundation. That foundation is the weekly Torah parsha which flows towards Shabbat’s mild, pleasant, restful waters. It is the Shabbat experience that gives us strength to succeed in any struggle!

Good Shabbat!

Blessings and Peace!

Dr. Akiva Gamliel Belk

Written in 5760
Updated in 5764

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