This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Beshallach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs Mondays at 7:00 pm PST on the rabbi’s cam and on YouTube. Facebook Fan Page.

This week we study Parashat Beshallach (Exodus 13:17-17:16).

* God does not lead the Jews by the land of the Philistines. “Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.” Sometimes it is the right thing to go to war. (Ex. 13:17)

* Ex. 13:18. The Israelites were armed when they went up from Egypt. They weren’t pacifists.

* Why did God harden Pharoah’s heart? What about his free will? Harden could just as easily be translated as “strengthened.” In a battle with God, a human being will need strengthening precisely so he can have free will.

* After the Egyptians were wiped out, the Israelites sang a song of rejoicing and there’s nothing in the Torah that indicates that this was not right.

* I met this cute Jewish girl in yoga whose life work was persuading people to eat bugs. I felt conflicted. On the one hand, she hot and smart. On the other hand, she was into eating bugs.

* As the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, they were blessed with lightboxes so they could look for bugs in their lettuce. They were also given food detergent so they could wash their fruits and vegetables.

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “…human beings are basically dissatisfied creatures. The rabbis taught us that he who has one hundred (million, billion, trillion?) always wishes for two hundred!”

The most beautiful woman you see? There’s a man out there who’s tired of being with her.

Rabbi Wein writes: “The rabbis, therefore, defined wealth in terms of personal satisfaction and gratitude and they ruefully remarked that there are rather few wealthy people present in our world.”

I’ve found that most of these people are religious.

Dennis Prager says that the essential ingredient for happiness is gratitude.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “The exultation of Israel at seeing its hated oppressors destroyed at its feet knew no bounds.”

This seems truer to Jewish history than the midrash that God reproved the angels from rejoicing at the death of the Egyptians pursuing the Jews into the Sea of Reeds. Yeah, perhaps angels should not rejoice at the death of the wicked, but human beings should.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “However, almost immediately the people of Israel, faced with the problems of the real world which seemingly never disappear no matter how great the previous euphoria may have been, turn sullen and rebellious.”

I remember after the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, Dennis Prager asked, how exactly does this help New Orleans? When President Obama was elected president, how did anyone’s lives change for the good? They still have to pay for their gas and their mortgage.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “The moment of absolute physical triumph is not to be repeated again in the story of Israel in the Sinai desert. But physically speaking, the experience of the desert of Sinai will hardly be a thrilling one for Israel. So it is with all human and national victories. Once the euphoria settles down, the problems and frustrations begin.”

Most people don’t even get one euphoric moment like the drowning of the Egyptians. So if you get one in your life, don’t expect two.

I remember when I was on the cover of the Jewish Journal. I was euphoric for a few hours — despite the article portraying me as a jerk — and then I had a crash. Afterward, life went on. Despite being on the cover, I did not get any more Shabbos invites. Not even that weekend. No Shabbos invites.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “The less grandiose our expectations are the less painful our disappointments become.”

I think that’s part of the reason that my life has been so painful. My grandiose expectations for myself. I feel like I was born for greatness, yet I struggle to pay the bills.

* I blame pop music for my pursuit on unrealistic highs. I blame Kelly Clarkson.

What if I told you
It was all meant to be
Would you believe me,
Would you agree
It’s almost that feelin’
That we’ve met before
So tell me that you don’t think I’m crazy
When I tell you love has come and now

A moment like this
Some people wait a lifetime,
For a moment like this
Some people search forever,
For that one special kiss
Oh, I can’t believe it’s happening to me
Some people wait a lifetime,
For a moment like this

* Most of my relationships have started out with amazing interactions and then they steadily devolve and crash within a year.

The half-life of most sexual relationships is six weeks. That means that six weeks in, the sex is half as good as it was at the beginning, and every few weeks after, it becomes steadily less volcanic.

* Will Israel attack Iran in 2012? Let’s say Israel bombs Iran’s nuclear program to smithereens, we’ll still have to get up and go to work in the morning. It’s not like goyim will give us the day off.

* I noticed that frozen yoghurt store on Alcott and Robertson is open on Shabbos. Yet it is certified as kosher. Some stores such as Coffee Bean are open on Shabbos and yet are still certified as kosher by the rabbis.

* I quote Rabbi Berel Wein a lot. One day I had lunch with a bloke who said, my mother is married to R. Berel Wein.

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “And finally the manna taught us that God’s grace does not fall evenly on all humans. The Talmud again teaches us that the manna fell at the doorstep of the righteous while others had to travel into the desert to find and gather it. Some have it easier than others in life.”

I’ve often been jealous at the apparent ease by which many around me made money.

I’ve often been jealous at the apparent ease by which many men around me bedded women. Some guys in high school go all the way. Not my luck. I reconnected with somebody from my high school, from Placer High School, and the things this lad did blew me away. I spent much of high school reading the New Testament. And I wrote untucked dress shirts on top of sweats or jeans and I unbuttoned my shirts and I wore a chain with my house-key on it. Still, no action. Even though I was a latch-key child.

* I think I’m at a low spiritual level. I can only study Torah on my own if I’m listening to goyisha pop music at the same time. Why can’t I get into the Miami Yeshiva Boys Choir?

Or do you prefer the Christian band Libera?

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “Part of the struggle against Amalek falls upon Moshe’s upraised hands. The Talmud interpreted Moshe’s upraised hands as the symbol of Jewish prayer to heaven and recognition of the role of the Divine in everyday life. It is not Moshe’s upraised hands so much that decide the war against Amalek, as it is the upraised faces and eyes of Israel heavenward that decide the issue.”

Anyone who’s been a part of a minyan he’s liked has experienced the power of prayer and communal bonding.

Rabbi Wein: “Amalek reminds us how vulnerable we are. Without Divine aid we are subject to the ruthless laws of nature and historical processes. Nations are ground under and disappear. Only a people – Israel – that is willing to follow supernatural law and, so to speak, live a supernatural life style will be exempted from these rules of natural law and history.”

* Rabbi Wein writes: “One would think that after the blows and plagues that Pharaoh and the Egyptian people sustained in the campaign of Moshe and Aharon to free the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage, Pharaoh and the Egyptians would have learned their lesson. They should have been happy and relieved to be rid of the Jews and the blows and plagues associated with them. Then why do Pharaoh and the Egyptian army pursue them into the desert and attempt to return them to Egypt? What logic justifies such a suicidal policy? The answer is that it is habit, stubbornness, hubris and the refusal to allow facts and changing situations to affect one’s decisions and attitudes.”

And why were the Egyptians so stubborn? Because they were stuck in certain responses to stimuli. Their necks were tight and their movements and thinking were governed by reaction, not thought-through response.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “This same rule of human nature applies toward the Jewish people as well. The Jewish people were and are notorious for being “stiff-necked.””

* Rabbi Wein writes: “Thus there is a great feeling of apathy and emptiness in the Jewish world today. In the realm of traditional Jewry, much of Religious Zionism has lost its steam; Chasidut has pretty much frozen and atrophied and become insular; the yeshiva world has become a place of narrow focus and elitism; the Mussar movement no longer exists; and modern Orthodoxy has not found its voice and parameters.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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