Shmuel Polin
ניט מיט שעלטן/לאַכן קען מען די וועלט איבערמאַכן

Parshas Beshalach & Haftorah: The Prophetesses

This week, we are in Parshas Beshalach. We are in the throes of our Exodus narrative. Last week, we read from Parshas Bo, where the final four plagues befell Egypt. This week, we are reading the climax of the Exodus narrative. We depart from Egypt, and Pharaoh chases after Am Yisrael. As our people stand at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, Moses raises his staff, and the sea splits for the Israelites. The sea then devours the Egyptian army pursuing the Israelites. Then, Moses and the children of Israel sing the song of Michamocha by the shores of the sea. Miriam, the prophetess, then leads the women of our people in dancing and praising G-d for delivering a miracle upon our people. From there, our people enter the desert, where we struggled with survival against the elements and at the hands of the Amalikites.

As we will read through this week’s parsha, I would like to draw our attention to two elements: the spatial layout of the text and to Miriam the prophetess leading the Israelite women in song and dance. As we approach the reading when our song of the sea is sung, notice the spatial layout of the text. The very placement of words in our Torah and in our Etz Chaim are a visual manifestation of the saga in this week’s parsha. The words are spaced out in such a way that they almost look live waves on our pages. The layout is beautiful, and it conveys a message that the text alone may not completely convey. The scene—the separation—is being reflected in the text.

Second, take notice of Miriam the prophetess as she is described at the end of the song sung by the shores of the sea. Miriam is described as a הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה, the prophetess. This word and Miriam must be remembered with the Kavod entitled to our women heroes. These verses will be adapted and adopted into Debbie Friedman’s music, conveying a feminist piece to which we must be attentive to when reading these verses.

We must be active listeners in this week’s parsha. The text draws us in using creative methods. Songs, poems, and the visual layouts of the text suggest this is a very important parsha. The closing of the song sung at the shores of the sea, with Miriam the prophetess and the women of Am Yisrael dancing, must be etched into our minds. The scene, with all its miraculous details, may seem difficult to place in our imaginations, but it is part of this week’s parsha and part of our triumphant exodus from Egypt.

Our Haftorah for this week is from Judges 4:4–5:31. Judges 4:4–5:31is told in the same brushstroke as Miriam the prophetess is described in our parshas hashavua. In our Haftorah, we will read of two Jewish s-heroes, Deborah the prophetess and Yael. In our reading, Deborah will lead triumphant Israelite armies over their Canaanite counterparts. A defeated Canaanite general, Sisera will flee the battlefield to the tent of our Israelite women hero, Yael. She will drive a tent peg through his head, in a final act of humiliation for the Canaanite army. Again in these verses, a song will be song, this time by Deborah, at the defeat of her enemies. In the song, the language will harmonize feminine language and theology.

The enshrinement of the verses by the introduction of Deborah’s song would suggest that the stories are significant. The scenes of Deborah and Yael in this week’s Haftorah must be etched into our minds. These powerful women, as described in miraculous detail, may seem difficult to place in our imaginations, but they are part of Am Yisrael’s triumphant conquest of Eretz Yisrael. We need them and their stories enshrined in our tradition for Judaism sake as we know it.

About the Author
Shmuel Polin is a fourth-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). A Greater Philadelphia/New Jersey native, he completed his B.A. at American University in Washington D.C. where he studied Jewish Studies and International Studies. He also completed both an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College of Melrose Park, Pennsylvania. His thesis focused on the depiction of European antisemitism in 1930's-1940's American and foreign cinema. Shmuel has years of experience of teaching Hebrew School at Kehillat HaNahar of New Hope, Pennsylvania, leading as a student rabbi at Beth Boruk Temple (Richmond, Indiana) and Temple Israel (Paducah, Kentucky), and also working for Israeli non-governmental organizations. Currently living in Cincinnati, he is finishing up his studies at HUC-JIR, while serving as the rabbinic intern of Adath Israel and as the student rabbi of Beth Boruk Temple.
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