Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beshalach
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The story of the exile and enslavement of the people of Israel comes to a violent end in this week’s parsha. The question that is raised and is discussed by the major Torah commentators is why does the story end this way with the drowning of thousands of Pharaoh’s Egyptians? Especially in the current "humanitarian" climate of war without casualties and equivalent moral worth between both sides of any struggle - the master and the slave, the victim and the criminal perpetrator, the terrorist and the civilian society - the end of this story seems to be oddly disconcerting. Was there no more humane or non-violent method for the Lord to end this story of the enslavement and deliverance of the Israelites from oppression? It appears from the simple reading of the parsha that the Lord has a point to prove. There are times in human history when only the complete destruction of the evil ones makes the desired impression on humankind. This lesson is never a permanent one and hence such events recur with regularity throughout human history. Germany and Japan were completely destroyed and violently and brutally so in World war II. For a while this lesson was assimilated into the behavior of humans and countries. In our time it has almost been completely forgotten in the welter of hatred masked as do-goodness that currently prevails in our world. If evil is not exposed, confronted, punished and at least temporarily destroyed then the necessary forces of good and progress so necessary for the advancement of the cause of civilization in the world will suffer a mortal blow.

The people of Israel celebrate their deliverance from bondage and from Egyptian persecution by singing a song of triumph and deliverance. In fact this Shabat derives its title - Shabat shira - the Shabat of song from this great song of Moshe and Israel. This song is recited daily br Jews the world over and is part of the daily morning prayer services. It is granted such great importance in order to remind us that the destruction of evil is not a thing of the past, an historical event alone. The power of freedom of choice which God implanted in the world and the human race presupposes the possibility of the existence of evil in world society. The forces of good must always rally their strengths and abilities to counter evil and attempt to destroy it. And we should never delude ourselves that this is a peaceful matter of discussion, compromise, discussion and non-violence. Ghandi’s non-violent approach in India ended in a civil war that killed millions. Evil is never overcome by making nice to the tiger. So the Lord impresses us with this truth so that we should not delude ourselves regarding the true nature of the struggle. The messianic era promises us a world of peace and the end of violent struggles in this world’s society. But until that time shortly arrives the struggle exists with its all of its violent overtones and details.
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