Our view of the Galile

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wat' er you about? -Beshalach 2012

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"

Febuary 4th  2012 -Volume 2, Issue 14 –10th of Shevat 5772

Parshat Beshalach

Wat’ er You About?

It is a wet winter here in Eretz Yisrael. According to the news reports, this past month is the most rainfall since they started keeping track in 1947. See what a good Seattlite Oleh (immigrant) can bring to this countryJ. It’s interesting having been in the States a few weeks ago and experienced a rainy New York winter, how different I feel about rain in America versus here in the Holyland. As I told the Rav, who I was accompanying on our trip, in Israel when it rains you feel a sense of blessing, everyone is excited and appreciative of the much-needed water and plod happily through the puddles. In America though it just feels, gloomy miserable and depressing-icky.. wet… sloshy… cold. And a real damper on fundraising efforts. Not that the rain in Israel does any wonders for my burgeoning tour-guide business. But even the tourists somehow feel and appreciate the blessing of rain in God’s special country.

So what does a tour guide do when his tours cancel because of rain? We head to the Beit medrash to grab in some extra learning of course. Trying to escape the damp weather, I open the weekly Torah portion for some cut and dry Torah reading, and my luck this week’s Torah portion is of course the wettest one in the entire Torah. The portion starts off with the great conclusion of our Exodus at the Red Sea. Water turns to dry land for the Jews and for the Egyptians …not so much. A few days later when the Jews run out of water they come to a wonderful place called Marah-bitter- because of the undrinkable water they found there. Yet miraculously Moshe throws a stick in and it turns sweet. Shortly after that the Torah tells us they come to a place called Eilim where they find 12 springs of water-obviously symbolizing the 12 tribes of Israel. And just when you thought you pretty much had enough water stories for one Parsha, the Torah tells us one final one, the incident of Masa-UMeiriva –(testing and quarelling), where it seems from the commentaries understanding of the text, that there was once again a complaint of the water not being sufficient enough for the Jews satisfaction and Moshe is commanded to hit the rock (after he complains that the people are getting ready to stone him in their doubt of God and his leadership) and water pours forth.

{This rock seemingly continues to do accompany them for the next 38 years until much later in the Book of Bamidbar when we once again-are told the final water story when it seems the water runs out and Moshe makes the egregious error of hitting the rock once again instead of speaking to it as commanded.}

Yes it is a wet wet Parsha…The question is why? What is it about water that the Torah seems to put such an emphasis on its role in the development and becoming of the Jewish people? Even more interesting perhaps is that the story of the destruction of Egypt starts with smiting their source of water-which in fact they worshiped- the Nile River and their end is also through drowning in water.

For those of you that like word plays- The word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which is made up of the letters Mayim (water) with the word Tzar which means enemy or narrow in between or breaking it up. From there they go to a place of Mayim which is Marim (bitter)- almost the same letters as Mitzrayim with just the letter Reish- as breaking up the word Mayim. And then ultimately coming to 12 springs of good water; the journey from Mitzrayim-to Marim-to Mayim has been completed. But what does this all mean?

Rav Avraham Hakohein Kook, the first chief Rabbi of Palestine in the 1930’s suggests an interesting a deep concept regarding water and the journey of the Jewish people or “birth” through trials and lessons of water. He notes how water is the most essential element of human existence. It provides man with energy to move, to withstand temperature and the lack of water creates an almost primordial burning thirst that brings man in touch with the frailty of his existence. It is for this reason that water and the thirst for it is used repeatedly as the metaphor for what one spiritual desire and connection to God should feel like.

“Tzam’a Lech Nafshi- Mys Soul thirsts for you,” King David says, “My whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

In Egypt the one thing that was never lacking was water. The Nile itself was revered as a God. It provided for men who were never thirsty and as a result man indulged themselves. Our sages refer to Egypt as Shtufei Zima- flooded in licentiousness (flood being another water word). Measure for measure that flood of self-indulgence was where they would find their end. The Jews, as newly released slaves, first lesson that they had to learn was to develop a thirst for life. Water that life-giving force and the lack of it for the first time, was a wakeup call that their spirits that had been dulled and dead for so long was now burning with a thirst to live. Yet they also had to learn that water just to fill their thirst and satiate their physical needs alone could be bitter or sweet. Having left Egypt, bitter god-less water would no longer suffice them. They needed and were given the sweetened miraculous waters of Hashem. Coming to their next stop in Eilim they were shown that the water for them was meant to be special. It was not just that Hashem would sweeten water for them, but in fact there were 12 springs that awaited them which symbolized that their water was from a deeper source. It was meant to be a spiritual connection for the 12 tribes to connect with Hashem and to fulfill their individual thirst for Him from their own independent springs of life.

Having quelled their thirst and developed this finer taste the Jewish people had another lesson to learn. The water and thirst for Hashem will only come with the breaking of their physical nature that seeks only to satisfy its body and not its soul. The strangely worded verse tells us that the Jews camped in Refidim and “there was no water to give drink to the people”. The commentaries note that it’s not that there wasn’t water for them to drink rather that the limited water they had was not “drink” for them. It wasn’t coming easy and flowing anymore. Their thirst was more for the easy physical and spiritual path. It was a test of God and of Moshe. Here Hashem gives them lesson two. Which was that the flow will and can come even from a rock, yet you have to make the effort and put your faith to break your own internal heart of stone by maintaining your faith even when you don’t see the water flowing. By utilizing your thirst for Me, to push yourselves a little harder and break that simple search for the satisfying easy sweet path, the water will flow. Hashem commands Moshe here specifically to use the staff of the miracles of the Nile. The old Egyptian water thirst was destroyed by your faith in Me symbolized by this staff. Your future challenges as well will be overcome as you once again have that strength to believe and continue to strive for greatness.

Finally we come to the last water incident. The water before they come to Eretz Yisrael. Once again their water and rock dries up. The Jewish people are at this point 38 years later about to enter the newest and what was supposed to be final stage of their nationhood; their promised Holyland. Here, the Rav notes, as opposed to in Masa Meriva where Moshe is told to hit the Tzur- a term that refers to a hard rock, Moshe is commanded to speak to the Sela- a soft easier pliable rock. The Land of Israel and the Jewish people in their homeland have a more natural connection to Hashem and spirituality. That burning thirst for holiness becomes a warm flame in Hashem’s country. That huge heart of stone that seems unbreakable in the wilderness and Diaspora will crumble and produce soul nourishing life force with a few simple words of prayer in Eretz Yisrael. The connection to those springs of holiness can be found in the division of the 12 portions of Israel to its tribes that draw forth from them. It is here where the rain is always a bracha-blessing. It is why the measure of our spiritual connection to Hashem in the Torah is always connected to the barometer of the rainfall that we are either blessed in a plentiful way with or god forbid not meriting in receiving.

Yet Moshe failed in his mission to give us that message and for that he was not permitted to enter the land and bring about the final redemption. So we were exiled from the land. The soft and easily accessible rock of Eretz Yisrael was desecrated by our people in our sins and lack of faith. We forgot our thirst. We were too physically satiated and didn’t even notice that our souls were starving and parched. Today that we have the blessing once again to be in Eretz Yisrael, we can once again rebuild our nation by nourishing our inner thirst for a connection to Hashem. When it rains everywhere else it’s wet, sloshy and icky. Here there is a sense that our prayers that we recite each morning have been answered. It is an incredible feeling to be connected to Hashem through the daily weather report. May our inspiration increase our thirst for an even greater connection to Hashem so that we may soon merit to the day when the prophecy of

Ush’Avtem Mayim B’Sason M’Mayenei Ha’yeshuah- And we will draw water with rejoicing from the springs of Salvation be fulfilled.

Have a fantastic Shabbos,

Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz



Qumran- As you had down the Judean desert by the Dead Sea you can’t help but notice the awe inspiring mountain cliffs on your right side that tower over the Dead Sea. It is hard to imagine anyone in their right mind ever living there. Maybe your correct. Yet for about 250 years the caves of the Qumran were home for hundreds of Jews that had fled Jerusalem and the chaos of the fraternal fighting and despotic Kings from Herod until the Destruction and they created their own little world and alternate form of a temple-less Judaism in the  quiet and peaceful caves of the wilderness of Judea. This group referred to as the Essenes built many mikvaot ritual baths and insisted on high forms of purity. Many of them lived and advocated celibate and communal lives and existence spending their time studying Torah texts and writing about battles that will take place in the end of Days between the forces of Darkness and Light.

We know all this because in these caves we have uncovered (actually a Bedouin shepherd chasing his runaway sheep did) what is of course perhaps the most famous and significant archeological finds commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, that describe their way of life and ordinances as well as the oldest fragments of every single one of the books of Torah, Prophets and Scriptures (except the book of Esther), and some of their history of the era. In addition in the elaborate city below the caves their tefillin were found there as well as their working and eating utensils almost as they had left them.

 Today Qumran gets about 450,000 visitors a year. Interestingly enough the majority of which are Christians who see in the story of the Essenes early Christianity. The Movie and the rather simple museum there does play up that theory as well. But regardless of your faith Qumran is certainly a interesting and pretty hike through an ancient Jewish city that is fairly well documented as well as their ancient water tunnels which kids can climb through. But best of all in the winter it’s a great place to get out in the sun and away from the rain…J

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