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Beshalach 5769

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

An Oasis and its Symbolism – Rav Yonatan Horovitz On driving down through the desert plains last week while accompanying the Midrasha students on our tiyul to Eilat, we noticed clusters of palm trees at various points. In total contrast to the brown sandy scenery surrounding us, these oases stood out as sources of greenery and life in an otherwise barren landscape. One wonders how it is that such majestic and strong trees can flourish under such harsh conditions. We leave this question for the reader to investigate as we delve into a description of such an oasis in this week's parsha. After traversing the Red Sea and then witnessing the turning of bitter water into drinkable water at Mara, the Torah devotes one verse to a place known as Elim: "They came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees and they encamped there beside the water." (Shemot 15:27) Why is this stop significant? It is possible that there were other such places along the way where Am Yisrael may have encamped. After all, towards the end of the book of Bamidbar the Torah enumerates a long list of places at which Am Yisrael camped during their wanderings in the wilderness. Only a few of these merited mention earlier in the Torah. Interestingly, Elim is mentioned there too and once again the Torah points out that Am Yisrael found twelve springs and seventy palm trees there. Rashi, on the passuk in this week's parsha, takes us directly to the world of drash as he states, quoting the mechilta,: "Twelve springs of water corresponding to the twelve tribes were arranged for them and seventy palm trees corresponding to the seventy elders." What idea is conveyed by this Midrash? On first glance, the words of chazal seem somewhat random. Why should there be a connection between this oasis and either the number of tribes or the seventy members of the Sanhedrin? The Netziv in his commentary Ha'emek Davar explains that this verse follows the episode at Mara which began the process of Hashem giving the Torah to the nation. Following the sweetening of the water, the Torah states" there He made for them a fixed rule and there He put them to the test." (Shemot 15:25) We have used the JPS translation which in this case does not convey the full sense of the Hebrew text. The words employed are "chok umishpat v'shom nisahu" implying some combination of mitzvot and test from Hashem. As the Netziv states, the Midrash about Elim stems from the fact that Hashem began delivering parts of the Torah already at Mara. He suggests that while Mara represents a limited form of learning Torah, Elim represents the heights which can be achieved through Torah. This is symbolized by the physical abundance and the midrash then uses numerical parallels to convey this idea. Twelve tribes and seventy elders are examples of both the expanse and depth which will be reached through the Torah. One could add that the theme of receiving the Torah continues in the next chapter in connection with the story of the manna. There Hashem states that bread will rain down from Heaven: "that I may test them to see if they follow My instructions or not" (Shemot 16:4). Here the term used is "torotai". There is a discussion amongst the commentaries as to which "torot" the Torah refers but we can see that there is an ongoing theme of delivering Torah to Am Yisrael. This parsha which bridges the two major events of Yetziat Mitzraim and Matan Torah beholds within it various references to the fact that Am Yisrael are being given snippets of the Torah, a taste of what is to come. Lets us return to a line in the midrash quoted by Rashi which we have thus far ignored. These palm trees according to chazal were ordered or arranged for them. Ramban discusses this point and says that it is not so rare to find an oasis such as this in the desert. However, he quotes a further statement of chazal in the Mechilta which says that from the day Hashem created the world these twelve springs and seventy palm trees were ready and prepared for Am Yisrael. It is not by chance that they came across this natural source in the wilderness; it was all predestined from the beginning of time. Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, posits that there was nothing particularly special about these springs and palm trees nor had they been created specifically for Am Yisrael. He suggests that this passuk simply emphasizes the difference between Mara where the water was bitter, and Elim which had natural resources for use by the people. So was this oasis previously prepared for Am Yisrael or not? This difference of opinion between Ibn Ezra and other mefarshim is similar to a dispute found back in Sefer Bereishit at the beginning of the story of Yosef. When Yosef is sent by his father to go visit his brothers who were shepherding their sheep in Shechem, Yosef does not find them straight away. He then meets a man (ish) who directs him to his brothers and the rest, as they say, is history. (Bereishit 27:15-17). Rashi comments that this man was in fact the angel Gavriel. Ibn Ezra on the other hand states that it was simply a passerby. One could assume that Rashi, by telling us that Yosef encountered an angel has elevated this link in the story to one of Divine proportions. Hashem sent an angel to ensure that Yosef would indeed meet his brothers and the plan of the Almighty would evolve as intended. Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, seems to be playing down this event by stating that this was no angel, but a mere passerby. The same difference of opinion is found about Elim. Based on the midrash quoted by both Rashi and Ramban, the water and trees of Elim were part of a Divine plan all prepared maybe even from as early as the day of creation. Ibn Ezra, however, states that this is not the case. We suggest that there is another way to view this dispute. The mefarshim are not arguing as to whether the man in the case of Yosef or the oasis in our parsha came from God. The question is one of nuance. Does one view Divine providence in metaphysical terms such as an angel or do we see it as part of everyday life? While chazal tell us in terms that cannot be misunderstood that the man who spoke to Yosef was an angel, Ibn Ezra says that he was not. Nonetheless, the fact that this passer by showed up at the right time and had the information that Yosef needed, and that the Torah deemed it necessary to include this seemingly unimportant anecdote, all point to the fact that this was not mere coincidence; it was Divine intervention. We posit that even Ibn Ezra would agree with this notion. In a similar vein, whether the oasis at Elim was prepared from the day of creation specifically for Am Yisrael or rather simply a place upon which they stumbled during their travels in the wilderness should not affect how we view the event. Once again, the Torah elects to tell us of this seemingly unimportant anecdote thereby emphasizing its importance in the Divine plan, a crucial link in the march from Egypt to Har Sinai. During the recent war in Gaza, a fascinating story, the source of which is unclear was being told. Soldiers of the Israeli army were about to enter a house when an old woman emerged and told them not to proceed as the house was booby-trapped. The soldiers acted on the woman's advice and sure enough the house was a trap and they would have been seriously injured had they entered it as planned. The platoon continued to the next house which needed to be cleared when once again an old woman appeared warning them not to enter the house. One of the soldiers went up to the woman and said "Are you not the woman who was at the first house? How did you get here?" Yes, said the woman; that was me too. I am Rachel Imeinu and was sent to protect you." As one can imagine, this story sparked off a heated discussion as to its authenticity. At some point, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, a well known respected rabbi who is also a kabbalist said that the story was true and it was he who asked Rachel Imeinu to go to Gaza and protect our soldiers. The discussion then became even more heated as other well known rabbis disagreed with Rav Eliyahu or at least felt he should not have publicly said what he did. Based on the above shiur, we suggest a different take on the story. Assuming that there was a woman who warned the troops not to enter the booby-trapped houses, does it really matter whether it was Rachel Imeinu or not? The details are irrelevant. Either way, someone was looking after our soldiers and either way we know that in the final analysis that someone was God Himself. Shabbat shalom – Rav Yonatan

 

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