Sharing Torah Insights

Keeping Perspective

Posted on י״ד בשבט ה׳תש״ע (January 29, 2010) | in Beshalach | by

וַיַּסַּע מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִיַּם-סוּף, וַיֵּצְאוּ אֶל-מִדְבַּר-שׁוּר; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת-יָמִים בַּמִּדְבָּר, וְלֹא-מָצְאוּ מָיִם. וַיָּבֹאוּ מָרָתָה–וְלֹא יָכְלוּ לִשְׁתֹּת מַיִם מִמָּרָה, כִּי מָרִים הֵם; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמָהּ, מָרָה. וַיִּלֹּנוּ הָעָם עַל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר, מַה-נִּשְׁתֶּה. יִּצְעַק אֶל-יְהוָה, וַיּוֹרֵהוּ יְהוָה עֵץ, וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶל-הַמַּיִם, וַיִּמְתְּקוּ הַמָּיִם; שָׁם שָׂם לוֹ חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט, וְשָׁם נִסָּהוּ.

And Moshe led Israel onward from the Sea of Reeds, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying: ‘What shall we drink?’ And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, and he cast it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet. There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there He proved them; (Bereishit 15:22-25)

In this week’s parsha, immediately following the splitting of the Yam Suf, we encounter a strange story in which Bnei Yisrael travel for 3 days and complain about not finding water. How is it possible that the Jewish people could start complaining just 3 days after witnessing the miracles of crossing the sea?

To ask a second question, the Gemara in Bava Kama 82a tells us “Ein Mayim Ela Torah”, that water is always analogous to Torah. (This story, the Gemara says, is the reason why we never go more than 3 days without having a Torah reading in Shul — on Shabbat, Monday and Thursday.)

This is strange because even though it might make sense to us to need to continually refresh our connection to the Torah to maintain its impact, I’m sure that just 3 days after seeing the miracle of the splitting sea the impact would still linger. Furthermore, can’t we assume that Moshe was constantly teaching the Jewish people about how to properly relate to Hashem during the journey to Mt. Sinai?

Looking very carefully at the words that describe this whole incident will I think help explain these two questions.

Firstly, the language of וַיַּסַּע מֹשֶׁה אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל (And Moses led Israel) is very rare. Usually it would say something like וַיִּסְעוּ (and they traveled) like it does following this story. The Ba’al haTurim quotes the famous story that all the riches of Egypt washed up on the shores of the sea, and Bnei Yisrael were too busy collecting the riches to want to leave. Moshe had to actively lead the Jews away from where they wanted to be so they could move towards Mt. Sinai and the receiving of the Torah.

Secondly, the language of כִּי מָרִים הֵם (because [the waters] were bitter) is ambiguous. The standard understanding would be that Bnei Yisrael couldn’t drink the water because the water was bitter, but the pasuk could just as easily say that they couldn’t drink the water because Bnei Yisrael themselves were bitter!

I think by combining these two ideas, we can have a better picture of what was really happening. Bnei Yisrael felt that they deserved to collect more of the spoils of Egypt. When they were forced to move on, despite the miracles they had experience, they quickly developed a bad attitude and felt as if they had been cheated of something that was rightfully theirs. They got lost in the pursuit of wealth and failed to recognize the gifts Hashem was giving them. After traveling for 3 days they arrived at this miraculous oasis in the desert, but all they could taste was the bitterness of what they had left behind at the sea.

If the people who experienced the miraculous Exodus could fall prey to thoughts like this, what chance do we have today? The Kli Yakar, comes to our aid with his analysis of the end of this story.

Looking at the phrase וַיּוֹרֵהוּ יְהוָה עֵץ, וַיַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶל-הַמַּיִם, וַיִּמְתְּקוּ  הַמָּיִם (and Hashem showed [Moshe] a tree, and he threw it into the waters, and the waters were made sweet), he notes that the word וַיּוֹרֵהוּ does not actually mean “and He showed him ” but rather “and He taught him” (it has the same root as the word Torah).

Additionally, the Kli Yakar quotes the the famous phrase “Etz Chaim Hi” ([The Torah] is a tree of life); to cure Bnei Yisrael of their bitterness, Hashem had to teach Moshe the lessons of Torah which he then “threw” into the bitterness of the Jewish People. They had to learn that Torah and truth, not gold, are the true keys to life. (This is why one of the mitzvot they were taught here was Shabbat and the importance of taking a day off from work to connect to Hashem.)

We can now better understand the teaching of the Gemara that we must make sure to never go more that 3 days without learning. It is so easy for anyone, even the people who crossed the sea on dry land, to lose sight of their place in the world. By constantly learning and growing we can make sure that our thoughts stay straight and tied to the ultimate truth of the Torah and Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Tu B’Shvat

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