Beshalach: A Bunch of Whiners

Moses Lifted His Hands

Torah portion Beshalach contains many stirring moments: the Israelites flee from Pharaoh, they cross the Red Sea, they sing joyfully to God, they receive manna from heaven and the commandment to sanctify Shabbat. But alongside the grand triumphs, there are troubling undercurrents. The Children of Israel are the beneficiaries of miracles upon miracles but keep finding reasons to complain to Moses. “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?” these petulant ingrates sarcastically whine (Ex. 14:11).

It’s no coincidence that after their incessant complaining the people are attacked by a vicious enemy, Amalek. This time, God doesn’t perform overt miracles to help them win. Instead the people choose warriors and go out to fight. During the war with Amalek, Moses raises his hands skywards and Israel prevails. We call Moses “our teacher” because everything he said and did contains a vital lesson. Here, by lifting his hands to the heavens, Moses shows the recalcitrant Israelites that even when God doesn’t provide flashy miracles and we have to fight our own fights, the Holy One is still running the show.

Most of us don’t see revealed miracles every day, but when we train ourselves to perceive His kindness in everything, our lives will be filled with joy. As Rebbe Nachman of Breslov famously said, “It is a great mitzvah to always be happy.”

Image: Joshua Fights Amalek, by Nicolas Poussin, 1625

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