Shabbat BeShalach

Candles Friday 4:30pm
Havdalah 5:25pm

When Moshe led the Children of Israel out of Egypt they headed due east. But after a few days travel they turned south. Initially the Torah tells us they turned away from the quick coastal route for fear of encountering the Amalekites before they would have had time to train militarily and to cope psychologically with warfare.

But then the Torah tells us that God led them back towards Egypt in order to give the Egyptians the impression that they were lost and confused. This was a ruse to lure Pharaoh and his army into the flooded marshland of the north part of the Red Sea where his chariots would get stuck in the soft ground. And of course it was a trap to destroy him and his army as they pursued the Children of Israel.

We know archeologically that the lands of Canaan were part of the Egyptian empire. And had Pharoah’s army been left intact he would certainly have pursued the fleeing slaves and brought them back. After all his was the most powerful army of the time and his iron chariots were like tanks nowadays. Perhaps God responded with drones!

Either way we see here the first use of military tactics, misleading the enemy, luring him to his fate. Tactics are essential both in war and in negotiations. We can see how the negotiations are progressing in Israel between Kerry and the two sides. Both Lieberman and Netanyahu make proposals and counter proposals. One thing is certain. In a Middle East as unpredictable and dangerous, as full of murderous fanatics who at the moment are too busy killing kill each other, no leader of any salt would make concessions that would endanger the security of Israel. Nonetheless to keep our friends on our side and our enemies under control tactics play just as important a role today as they did then.

(I will be away next Shabbat and the Shabbat after.)


Shabbat Bo

Candles Friday 4:20 pm
Havdalah Saturday 5:17pm

How do you pass on any tradition, specifically Judaism to the next generation? This week’s reading from the Torah puts it in a nutshell. As the Children of Israel are about to leave Egypt they are commanded to respond to their children’s thirst to know “why.” Why should we be different? The answer is our history, our heritage, our spirituality and commitment to our value system. But how do we pass this on?

“When your children ask you” is the obvious command not just to educate but to engage with one’s children on matters of Jewish identity. Without knowing why one is different one will inevitably resent what it is that sets one apart. But simply telling, commanding, is not enough. Actions speak louder than words.

“You must make it a sign” is the second element the Torah emphasizes. Without signs we do not know where to go. Without symbols, rituals and actions all one has is vague sentimentality, slogans that can be blown away at the first sign of difficulty or temptation.

The emphasis in the Torah is on doing specifically Jewish things; Jewish actions and Jewish rituals. Actions are how we show what really matters to us. This is the equally essential way of reinforcing values and loyalty. "Teach your children" and "Show your children."

Hodesh Shevat Tov.