The Torah portion this week is Beshalach and is found in Exodus 13:17-17:16. In this parasha, the Israelites begin their wilderness experience. God is their leader, through a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. The cloud leads the people to take the longer route to the Promised Land to avoid the Philistines and they first end up camping by the Red Sea, or the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh, along with 600 of his best chariots and supporting infantry, pursues the Israelites. They become afraid, but Moses tells them to trust God. The pillar of cloud moves from the front to the back of the people and blocks the Egyptians’ view. God tells Moses to raise his rod over the Sea of Reeds and it parts, allowing the Israelites to cross over safely. Then the pillar moves and the Egyptians continue their pursuit of the Israelites. They cross partway but God closes the waters and Pharaoh and his army drown in the sea. Miriam leads the women in the famous, “Song of the Sea” and the people rejoice. Soon, however, wilderness life sets in and they become dependent on God for basic necessities. They cry out to God and complain to Moses. God responds to their cries, provides water for them, and institutes the giving of manna for their food. Through these trying experiences, the people begin to develop a rudimentary relationship with God that differs dramatically from their Egyptian experience.
In this parasha, the Israelites are quickly freed from physical slavery; however, the painful effects of emotional, verbal, and spiritual slavery take longer to heal. Ironically, it is the wilderness experience with its unknowns, uncertainties, and dangers that provides the vehicle for the Israelites to truly take on the covenantal relationship with God. In our lives, it is often easier to solve the physical, day to day events than it is to address the emotional turmoil and spiritual uncertainties we encounter in our lives’ journeys. However, those very uncertainties can be growing points in our character and in our relationship with God and with others.