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You're the schlager in my gold flakes


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שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו
(שמות ט״ו כ״ה)

Parshas B'shalach includes the story of the splitting of the sea and the ultimate downfall of the pursuing Egyptian persecuters, and the prophetic song that followed. The Midrash says that the level of prophecy realized by even a simple maidservant at the time of k'riyas yam suf was greater than that of Yechezkel ben Buzi (Ezekiel, whose prophecy includes visions of the ministering angels).

However, as many commentators point out, even seeing open miracles and wonders before one's eyes is no guarantee of continued righteousness or emuna. In the immediate aftermath of this event, the people were so busy gathering the great wealth - the gold, silver, and jewels with which the Egyptians had decorated their horses and chariots, that Moshe had to compel them to leave the shore and travel on.

Then - וילכו שלשת ימים במדבר ולא מצאו מים. ויבאו מרתה ולא יכלו לשתות מים ממרה כי מרים הם .. וילנו העם על משה - "They traveled for three days in the desert, and did not find water. And they came to Mara, and they could not drink the water, for it was bitter .. and the people complained to Moshe" (Exodus 15:22-24).

The commentators say that water is a metaphor for Torah; because they didn't study for three days, they had a resultant lack of faith. The Gemara says that based on this, the prophets established the enactment of reading the Torah on Mondays and Thursdays, so that three days would never go by without at least some learning (Shabbos, of course, has its own k'riya and time to study).

שם שם לו חק ומשפט ושם נסהו - "There, he gave him laws and judgments, and there he tested him".

Rashi (based on the Mechilta and Sanhedrin 56b), says that Bnei Yisrael were given the laws of Shabbos, Parah Aduma, and "Dinim" - laws (either the seven Noachide laws or the laws of beis din courts and eidus witnesses).

But - weren't we given these laws at Sinai? Don't we recite in the Shabbos Mussaf amida: אז מסיני נצטוו עליה - "then - from Sinai - we were commanded regarding it [Shabbos]" ..?!

A few p'sukim later, the people complain once again. This time, they ran out of food in the desert. Again they are tested, and again they fail the test. Hashem rains down the mahn from heaven, which the people will receive daily for the next forty years. The Midrashim say that this divine food could taste like whatever one wanted it to, and was so suited for human consumption that it produced no bodily waste.

It is clear from the verses of parshas ha-mahn, that there was some level of Sabbath observance even before ma'amad har Sinai. The one mitzva that that Rambam lists in this Parsha is t'chum Shabbos - the limit on how far a person can travel past the city boundaries - from the verse שבו איש תחתיו אל יצא איש ממקומו (Exodus 16:29).

And - את אשר תאפו אפו ואת אשר תבשלו בשלו - "that which you will bake, bake; and that which you will cook, cook [today, on Friday]" (ibid 16:23) clearly implies that these activities should be done on Friday since they are forbidden on Shabbos.

This brings us back to our previous question - when were we commanded to keep Shabbos: at Marah, at Chorev, or at Sinai?

The L'vush says that, yes - Shabbos was given at Marah, and "az mi-Sinai" should be translated "from before Sinai". Kolbo similarly answers that really Shabbos was given at Marah, and our Mussaf tefilla refers to the Korbanos offerings that were only commanded at Sinai - this is why we say this phrase specifically in the Mussaf prayer which commemorates the extra offerings that were brought on Shabbos.

The Ramban says that the commandments given in Marah were only meant for study. A careful reading of Rashi seems to indicate this as well (he says that the entire incident came about through lack of Torah study, as noted above).

I haven't seen this anywhere (yet), but l'aniyas da'ati, perhaps only these two commands - t'chum (staying in one's domain) and the need for preparation - were given before Sinai. As any competent mentor would tell a potential ba'al teshuva or convert, "start with one thing at a time, and gradually build yourself up". It is very difficult to try to suddenly become religious and keep all 613 commandments. So too, here - perhaps Hashem was giving the people time to become aclimated to the Torah and Mitzvos; by giving them the opportunity to study the laws first, and then take on certain restrictions, before jumping in with everything at once.


Another thing that we learn from the parshas ha-mahn, is that we have lechem mishneh (lit: doubled bread) - we put two loaves of Challah on the table at each meal. The Challah is covered while we say Kiddush. Two reasons are given for this: 1) as a remembrance of the dew that covered the mahn, both above and below and 2) so as not to "embarrass" the bread. When one is eating various foods, there is a hierarchy of which food to make a blessing on first, based on the verse which tells of the bounty of Eretz Yisrael. Of course, inanimate objects don't become "embarrassed"; but we can learn a powerful lesson (mussar haskel) from this - if we are so careful about not embarrassing the bread, how much more must we be careful with the feelings of other people.

Rashi says that the Torah teaches us this same lesson at the end of Parshas Yisro. The last passuk there (20:23) says, ולא תעלה במעלות על מזבחי אשר לא תגלה ערותך עליו - "do not climb up on stairs to my altar, so that you will not expose your nakedness upon it". Rashi asks, 'do stones have feelings?!' and he quotes the Mechilta that this teaches us a profound lesson in sensitivity: if the Torah is so concerned over the "shame" of the stones of the altar, how much more must we be concerned with the shame of our fellow-man, who is created in the very image of God.

Posted by joem on Feb 01, 2007 9:00 pm

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