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Parashat Beshalach - 5777

Dear friends,

Last week, we read how on the night of the tenth plague (the death of the firstborns) Pharaoh and all the Egyptians demanded that the Children of Israel leave Egypt. In this week's portion of Beshalah, we read that Pharaoh and his people had second thoughts and regretted sending the Israelites to freedom. The need to have slaves makes them forget all the punishments they had received in the form of the Ten Plagues. They are willing to risk everything and gather an army to chase the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt.

What was the reaction of the Israelites when they saw the approaching Egyptian army? The Torah describes how "they were greatly frightened". They turned against Moses and accused him of bringing them to this wilderness where they might all be killed. They reminded Moses that, while still in Egypt, they asked him to leave them alone - that they preferred serving the Egyptians than dying in the wilderness. After all the miracles they had witnessed in Egypt, they still lacked faith in G-d and the confidence that G-d will save them from Pharaoh and former masters.

Moses comforts them by saying:

"Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the L-rd will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you will never see again. The L-rd will battle for you; you hold your peace!" (Exodus 14:13-14)

From Moses' words we can understand that the Israelites were divided as to the best course of action in facing their enemies again:

The Exodus from Egypt was not easy. While the Israelites were now physically out of Egypt, the slaves' mentality will be with them for many years to come. Hassidic teachers speak of the personal enslavement we all experience in this world and the need to overcome different challenges to be free and to feel free.

This Shabbat is very special. It is known as 'Shabbat Shirah', the Shabbat of the song, as we join in chanting the song Moses and the Israelites sang by the sea when the waters parted and they gained total freedom.

It is also Tu Bishvat, the 15th of Shevat - Jewish Arbor Day - the day we celebrate and thank G-d for the beautiful world He has created for us.

The Torah compares humans to trees. A righteous person is like a palm tree or a cedar of Lebanon. A person is free when he/she can feel tall and strong and share his/her blessings with others.

The Torah also is our Tree of Life. When we perform Mitzvot and practice kindness with others we live and practice the real Tree of Life.

May your life be filled with Shirah - with song and music - and may your life reflect the Etz Hayim - the Tree of Life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram