Sally Mayer
Rosh Midrasha, Ohr Torah Stone's Midreshet Lindenbaum

Fighting the pharaohs of today

Sometimes, all the Jewish people need for salvation is a ready willingness to do God's command (Beshalach)
Illustrative: IDF recruits at the IDF's Bakum induction base on their way to become soldiers. (Flash90)
Illustrative: IDF recruits at the IDF's Bakum induction base on their way to become soldiers. (Flash90)

In Parshat Beshalach, the Torah describes the splitting of the sea using an unusual word —  ויבקעו המים, vayibak’u ha-mayim — the waters split. This word is used earlier in the Torah to describe when Avraham was preparing to offer his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice at God’s orders, and he split wood for the altar – ויבקע עצי עולה, vayevaka atzei olah. The midrash connects these two stories, suggesting that it was because of Avraham’s willingness to sacrifice for Hashem that his descendants merited the miracle of the splitting of the sea.

This comparison to Avraham is found a bit earlier in the parsha as well. The Torah describes that when Pharaoh understands that the Jewish people have fled, ויאסור את רכבו, vayesor et rikhbo — he readied his chariot to chase them. The midrash compares this story to other stories in the Torah, and tells us that four people readied their animals or chariots with joy — Avraham and Balaam, Yosef and Pharaoh.

Avraham and Balaam are both described as getting their donkeys ready early in the morning to go on their respective missions — Avraham to akedat Yitzchak, the story mentioned above, and Balaam to follow Balak, king of Moav, to viciously curse the Jews. Yosef readies his chariot to greet his dear father, from whom he was separated for so long, while Pharaoh readies his own chariot to chase and recapture his Jewish slaves. The midrash argues that Hashem counteracts Balaam’s zeal to curse the Jews because of Avraham’s eagerness to fulfill the Divine command, and that Hashem frustrates Pharaoh’s mission on his chariot because of Yosef’s personal attention to his father.

What is the meaning of these comparisons, and how do they relate to us today?

The midrash implies that the Israelites who left Egypt did not necessarily deserve a miraculous salvation on their own merits. Perhaps they were not worthy, or complained too much, or did not believe fully — as we see throughout their time in the desert. But God remembered His beloved Avraham, who was willing to do anything Hashem asked him, even the most challenging request that can be made of a person — to sacrifice his child. In the merit of Avraham, Hashem split the sea and protected the Children of Israel from their enemies.

A man who has fought in many of Israel’s wars asked me recently, “Do you know why Hashem has wrought so many miracles in the modern State of Israel? Why do we succeed now, after 2,000 years, to be autonomous in our land, thriving economically, powerful militarily, even in the current extremely challenging situation?” He suggested that it is because today, in modern times, when our children reach 18 or 19 or 20, we bring them to the Baku”m (Basis Kelitah u-Biyun) — the place where they enlist to be soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. That is the willingness of a contemporary “Avraham Avinu moment.”

The moment that Avraham saddled up his donkey through his tears and split the wood, holding back his sobs, praying there would be a salvation for his son, as we all pray every day for the safety of our precious soldiers — that is the moment Hashem remembers when we need protection from the modern-day Balaams and Pharaohs who want to destroy the Jewish people.

We pray that Hashem will see the heartbreaking sacrifice of so many families, the children of Avraham Avinu, and bring a quick and victorious end to the war, the safe return of the hostages, protection for our soldiers, and healing of all of our wounds.

About the Author
Rabbanit Sally Mayer serves as Rosh Midrasha at Ohr Torah Stone's Midreshet Lindenbaum and teaches Talmud and Halacha at the midrasha. Before moving to Israel with her family, Sally was a member of the core faculty that built Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, NJ, where she chaired the Talmud department and directed Israel Guidance. She has worked as an editor for the new Koren translation of the Talmud and served as Education Director at The Jewish Center, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. A Midreshet Lindenbaum alumna, Sally holds a BA from Stern College, an MA in Medieval Jewish History from Yeshiva University, and is a graduate of the Drisha Institute Scholars Circle Program. She lives in Neve Daniel, with her husband and their children.
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