In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: From Slavery to Freedom 
The Torah reading this Shabbat is Beshalach (“when He sent them out”), Exodus 13:17 – 17:16, and from the Prophets the reading is from Judges 4:4 – 5:31 (The story of Deborah and her song), and from the New Testament the reading is from Matthew 14:22-33.
Last week we read the story of the deliverance of the children of Israel along with a mixed multitude of people from different nations that saw what Israel was doing on the night that the angel of death passed through the land of Egypt and copied them. They watched the homes of the Israelites and saw the blood of the lambs that was put on their doorposts.
They watched the Israelites packing their belongings and they packed their belongings. They watched and saw that at dawn the children of Israel were marching out and they joined them. Now this Shabbat’s reading starts with the children of Israel led by Moses and Aaron leaving Egypt and starting their long journey to the land of Canaan.
For the vast majority of those Israelites leaving Egypt with their families and their belongings, the land of Canaan, the land given by God to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their seed forever, was an unknown land. They were all born in Egypt, and most of had been born into slavery and that is all that they knew, slavery under hard labor in building the cities of the dead for the Pharaohs and the nobility of Egypt.
This is where our Torah reading starts:
“Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 13:17,18 [NKJV]
Right at the beginning, when the Israelites are taking their first steps to leave Egypt, we are given information regarding the situation that would not have been exactly encouraging if it had been us who were living there at that time.
God is not going to take them through the easy, quick, simple, regular, and usual way to travel from Egypt to the land of Canaan. The way that goes north to the seacoast of the Mediterranean and follows one of the main highways of the ancient world, the Way of the Sea (the Via Maris).
That highway connected Africa, Asia, and Europe. By using it, the travel to the land of Israel would have been between 11-14 days, definitely not 40 years. To me this text looks like a comment of the editor who already knew the end of the story However, the Holy Spirit saw fit to let us know from the very beginning of their journey that it was not God’s will to make things easy for the children of Israel.
Here comes the wisdom of the Lord over our own human limited by time and space wisdom. Our normal human wisdom would say, “Men of Israel, you are running away from Egypt, get out of there as quick as possible, run baby run!” Here is our limitation and the Lord’s foreknowledge of things that will happen and things that He, the Almighty, thinks that it is the best thing that needs to happen with these liberated slaves.
The Lord wanted to educate Israel, and give them the Torah, and have a virtual wedding at the foot of Mt. Sinai, and feed them the manna and sweeten their water, and train them to trust Him and see His faithfulness.
The main reason that is given to us in the text above is: “Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” In other words, God wanted to take the children of Israel through bootcamp!
The same God who wanted Egypt and the world to get acquainted with Him, the Creator of the World, through the hardening of the heart of Pharaoh, and to demonstrate to Egypt that He is the one who controls the forces of nature, the water in the Nile River, the locust, and the light and darkness, the weather, and life itself.
I find it interesting that only the firstborn of Egypt, humans, and animals, died on that dark night when the Angel of Death went through the houses of Egypt and harvested their firstborn children. This, the Lord chose to do, to show that He, and He alone is in control of everything from nature to all human life.
For us, these days, when the coronavirus is almost like the Angel of Death that visited Egypt on that night with the full moon, but the difference now, is that it is worldwide, from the East to the West, from the North to the South, on all seven continents.
It is good for us to know and understand and believe and trust the Lord, even today during these fateful times with a virus is raging throughout the world. We who read the word of God must remember and learn and wake up to the simple truth that the only boss, the only king and the only true ruler who directs and controls and educates and prepares this world for anything is the Lord God of Israel – who so loves the world that He sent His only begotten Son…
Let us all seek the Lord and repent of our personal sins and pray for our governments to repent and return to the Lord and His values and to a biblical faith and lifestyle.
One impressive thing that has captured my attention is that as much as the children of Israel were in such a hurry, they didn’t forget to take the bones of Joseph with them to carry them to the land of Canaan and to bury Joseph together with Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Jacob in Hebron.
When you are leaving in such a hurry and don’t have much time and have children and stuff to carry, to remember the coffin (mummy) of Joseph that has been dead for at least 300 years is for me, quite impressive.
The next big thing in this reading of the Torah is the crossing of the Red Sea. I am much more impressed by what happened before the crossing of the sea, before Moses struck the water with his staff, before the water parted, before the people stepped down and walked through the corals, and the reefs of one of the most beautiful underwater seascapes.
Here is a short recap:
The large hoard of Israelites, and the mixed multitudes of people, left Egypt with the wealth of the Egyptians and had that feeling of finally being “free at last.” After only a brief couple of days, they see a dust cloud rising into the sky behind them, and hear the noise of chariots, hundreds of chariots, maybe thousands.
In front of them is the sea, behind them the Egyptian army ready for slaughter and to take them back to slavery with a vengeance. The situation looks hopeless! A sense of fear and horror engulfs them! The feelings of joy and hope that they left Egypt with, suddenly turn to horror and a nightmare.
They start to blame Moses, and Aaron. I am sure that Moses himself and Aaron as well, didn’t know what to do! It is at this very point that logically, from a human point of view, disaster is at hand!
By faith, Moses finds the following words to say to comfort the people:
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” – Exodus 14:13,14 [NKJV]
Moses finds just the right words at the right time to say in order to encourage the people. This is of great importance for those who stand in pulpits and speak the word of God to the people in these difficult times. Moses is not fabricating stuff or giving false prophecies.
Moses knows God personally! The Lord prepared him and equipped him and Moses knew the Lord personally Moses knows that all that has happened in Egypt and to Egypt and all the wonders and miracles and plagues that he saw from God’s hand were not done to bring Israel to the wilderness of Sinai to die.
Moses knew that even though to human eyes and to human logic the situation looks impossible the same God that wanted to show Egypt and the world that He is in control and that He is the King of the universe, will now do the same and teach the Egyptians and the Israelites that same lesson!
“I am the Lord your God who brings you out of Egypt.” This is the kind of faith/trust that those of us living in these days of coronavirus have to restore in our relationship with the creator and with our savior. Just having faith in this or that doctrine, usually manmade doctrines that divide and create parties and sects, is not the essence of faith, the essence of faith is to trust in the Lord when our human minds can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that He is there waiting for us with His open hands.
Here is what the Lord told Moses:
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.’” – Exodus 14:15 [NKJV]
This is one of these texts that I keep in mind always. The complaining and the crying and the dark clouds that we raise over our own heads, dark clouds that rob us of hope and keep us from joy and inject depression into our hearts.
The Lord says to Moses – Stop crying, tell the people to go forward! But, let me take the side of the people here, and say that what the people see in front of them is the sea, and behind them Pharaoh and the Egyptian army. We have thousands of years of history and collective experience from Genesis to Revelation and another 2000 years of history and experience to know that God is faithful, and that He keeps His promises.
Israel of today is the greatest proof that we can trust God and His promises and not cry and complain, but to ask where the door is, that will open up to us, so that we can go forward! To step out on God’s promises and to trust – to trust –the one true Lord.
The next big story of this Torah reading is that after the crossing of the Red Sea and after the great victory over the Egyptians, less than two months after leaving Egypt, this is what the children of Israel said:
“Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, ‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’” – Exodus 16:2,3 [NKJV]
What can we learn about ourselves from this text? We could look at Israel through the eyes of anti-Semites and say: These nasty Jews, forever ungrateful and always wanting more and wanting something for free!
From my experience in the Sinai Desert traveling with some of the most famous Pentecostal (Charismatic) church leaders of the West, I can tell you that when difficulties occur on the road and cars break down, those leaders, who are considered super spiritual and full of the Holy Spirit and perform miracles and cast out demons and heal the sick, act like faithless heathens, even when experiencing much lesser difficulties than the children of Israel faced.
We are all human and all selfish, and in difficult situations, we all look out for number one, ourselves first. Put yourselves in the place of those Israelites that were born and raised in slavery. Yes, slavery, where you have no rights and no freedom, but someone takes care of your food and lodging no matter how poor and how hard your conditions might be.
You don’t have to worry about it – you are like a horse in the stall – you work, you ride, you race, but the master brings you your corn and hay. Now, there is no one to feed you and there is nothing much around for you to go and pick from the field. So, see how our gracious Lord provides for those recently freed slaves, bread from heaven! Daily bread from heaven, fresh and free, provided by the grace of God, daily!
I am not blaming the children of Israel! I am praising the Lord for His patience and grace, for His understanding of the people, and of their circumstances, and who for 40 years fed them the manna – bread from heaven. O Lord our Lord how wonderful are Your ways, and how great is Your love and patience with all Your children! We owe You so much!
Joseph Shulam: Would You Step Into the Red Sea? 
The Torah reading this next Shabbat is from Exodus 13:17-17:16. Finally, after God struck Egypt with ten plagues, Pharaoh sent the children of Israel out of Egypt, with their families, their livestock, and with the wealth of Egypt.
However, Pharaoh was not so happy to lose this great free working force, that built up Egypt and served as slaves for over 200 years. After Moses and the children of Israel left Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and wanted to recapture the Israelites, and bring them back to be slaves of Egypt, or just annihilate them completely.
So, Pharaoh gathers his army and his chariots and begins to pursue Israel into the desert. Pharaoh probably said to himself and to his wise man, “See how stupid these Israelites are? They were walking right into a great trap. The Egyptian army is behind them, and the Red Sea (the sea of reeds) is in front of them.”
Pharaoh could have said to himself, “These Israelites deserve to be slaves, for they know nothing at all! They are just so uneducated about warfare. They are walking right into my trap!”
Of course, if you don’t take the existence of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, into account, you would think like Pharaoh and Egypt. However, if you know God and take into account what you are, and who you are, and who God is in your life, the formula changes dramatically. This is what has happened to Israel throughout the 4000 years of Israel’s history.
In this week’s reading, there are two major events in which God’s people experienced God as a master planner of warfare: the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land by the Israelites and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the sea, and the battle between the Amalekites and Israel in the Sinai desert. I would like to share with you the right strategy of war, that incorporates the unexpected and surprising involvement of the Almighty God in favor of His people Israel.
The first one is the battle of Pharaoh against Moses and the children of Israel, when they were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the sea. Realistically, the children of Israel and Moses had no way to escape the onslaught of Pharaoh’s army, and their victory.
On the one hand, you have slaves who were not learned in warfare, who had no military training, who had just escaped Egypt to be free from slavery. On the other hand, you have the Egyptian army, with their chariots and the best-trained army in the world.
Why do I say this about the Egyptians? If the scholars are right, and the Exodus took place either in the time of Ramses II or earlier, both periods were some of the greatest periods in ancient Egypt’s history.
During this time, Egyptian armies ruled in Africa all the way to the land of Somalia, and in the North and East, Egypt was the owner of all the land of Canaan, with Lydia in the West. A vast empire.
What Pharaoh and his army and chariots didn’t take into account is that the Lord God of Israel is both the God of peace and the God of war. When God enters into a war, the weak can have victory over the strong, the small over the giant (like with David and Goliath). The impossible becomes possible, and the unthinkable becomes a reality.
The Red Sea opened up when Moses struck it with his stick. Israel had victory in the battle with Amalek when Hur and Aaron held up the hands of Moses, and Amalek was defeated by Israel’s recently-released slaves. If some military general would suggest this kind of action, saying, “I guarantee that, if you hold up my hands, you will have a sure victory in the battle,” this general will for sure be admitted into a mental hospital.
Reading this Torah portion we must draw the following conclusions:
- The battle belongs to the Lord, if we belong to the Lord. With our weaknesses, and with our problems, and with our failures and successes. If we really belong to the Lord, our battles (if for righteousness) also belong to the Lord.
- When the Lord is involved through His children in the battle – the victory is always His!
- The Lord God of Israel is not allergic to victory. When He enters the battle, the victory is guaranteed.
- Please remember that the God of Israel and the father of Yeshua our Messiah is not, and never was, a pacifist. He is the God of peace and also the God of war. He is the God that gives a just reward to those who are His faithful children, and also punishes justly those who are rebellious and negative against Him and His instructions, and His faithfulness.
I used to be anti-war, a pacifist, until the Six-Day War. In the Six-Day War I believe that the Lord God of Israel repeated the same might and the same victory against four major Arab armies in the same way that He gave David the victory over Goliath, the Philistine giant. Realistically-speaking, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, each had a formidable army that outnumbered the Israelites more than double on fighter jets, number of tanks and armored vehicles, and for sure by manpower.
Now, into our private lives as disciples of Yeshua, the same principle that works on the national level of Israel (when the Lord intervenes) also works on our personal and private level. This is not a power or a force that you can manipulate for the Lord to use and grant you. There is no witchcraft or mumbo-jumbo that you can use to make sure that God will fight your battles.
However, there is a true and sincere faith that you are God’s child, and that God loves you, and wants what is good and righteous and true for you, and your family and people. This faith gives you strength and security to stand for God, and be an obedient servant of the Most High, and keep the eyes of your faith open and ready to see His hand move actively in your life.
Please read this portion of the Torah and put yourself (with your mind and imagination) on the beach on the edge of the waters of the Red Sea, with the army of Pharaoh in pursuit, and ask yourself, “Do I have the faith to put my toe in the water, and take the first step into the sea, trusting the Lord to carry me through?”
If you are a disciple of Yeshua, and you have never had to take that leap of faith, and walk out into the unknown and into the adventure of trusting God, I want to encourager you in your life that when the challenge and opportunity to step out by faith in your life comes – take that step. It is not a gamble if you believe that you will never walk alone, but that Yeshua is here with you now.
Don’t be stupid. Be faithful and trust the Lord. When He says to you, “walk” – walk!
Joseph Shulam: How to Pray for the Worst of Your Worst Enemies (Like Amalek and ISIS) 
The portion (parasha) that is being read in the synagogues this coming Shabbat is Beshalach, from Exodus 13:17-17:16. In this portion we have three main events that are of extreme importance to all believers, be it Jews or non-Jews:
- The crossing of the Red Sea.
- The provision of the manna.
- The battle against Amalek.
The one that is most appropriate for me to address here is the last one, the battle against Amalek. God seems the harshest concerning Amalek from all the enemies of Israel. Why is God so harsh and so condemning against the tribe of nomads, who live in a desolate land and who refuse to submit to the laws of war or the laws of peace?
Let me give you a slight collection of passages concerning Amalek in the Bible:
Amalek was Esau’s grandson. He was the son of Eliphaz and Timna. So, we have an enmity in the family between two “cousins”.
“Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim… Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’” – Exodus 17:8,14 [NKJV]
“But ships shall come from the coasts of Cyprus, And they shall afflict Asshur and afflict Eber, And so shall Amalek, until he perishes.” – Numbers 24:24 [NKJV]
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.” – Deuteronomy 25:17-19 [NKJV]
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” – 1 Samuel 15:2,3 [NKJV]
The above texts are the key texts from the Word of God that speak about Amalek. The text in Deuteronomy 25:18 is a key to understand why God was so angry and against Amalek, “he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.”
Amalek had no boundaries to their cruelty. They took the rules of war and totally ignored them. Even in the ancient world there were rules of war, and although every war is cruel and bloody, Amalek used their cruelty against a weak and weary population, and had no fear of man or of God.
There is no people, tribe, or nation against which God has declared such harsh measures as, “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
In this week’s parasha we find this text from Exodus 17:8-14, that is cited above. I can’t help but think of ISIS and the war in Syria and Iraq now. I can’t think of ISIS without thinking of Amalek. I have been praying for the Muslim population of the world, and I have written that the best strategy for winning the Muslims to the Messiah is the only strategy that Yeshua gave us.
See the whole text please:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” – Matthew 5:43-47 [NKJV]
Although this text seems totally not logical, and it is much more logical to say, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” however, we have seen that this method also does not work well over a long period of time.
The great grandchildren of your enemies will still be your enemies. We have seen this over and over in history. The wars in Bosnia, the war in Kashmir, and the ethnic wars in Africa are all ancient wars. Even if they are quiet for decades, they come up and surface with added cruelty.
The words of Yeshua don’t seem logical, but they have not been implemented sufficiently by larger groups of people to test if they work or not. I know that on an individual level they work, because I have tried them myself, and over time I have seen that they work, and they make your enemy become your best friend.
The situation that exists now with ISIS is not the same situation, because ISIS is not susceptible to “love” or “human exchange of sympathy.” They have drunk from the same well of Amalek that disregards every standard of humanity and have in fact dishonored Muhammad and the majority of the peace-seeking minority of the Islamic World.
Maybe we should all pray a double prayer:
“Lord God, the God of love and peace, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, please use your power and authority in heaven and on Earth to stop this scourge of humanity called ISIS, and deliver our Arab and Muslim neighbors from the oppression and horrible abuse (Amalek) of the human form that You created so perfectly. Give the leadership of the world a clear vision of what and who they are dealing with and fulfill Your promise to blot out the memory of Amalek. In Yeshua’s name, amen and amen!”
God can do it by waking up those fighters and leaders and helping them to stop and repent, or by His force, and if so, by God’s messengers of doom from the international community. These same messengers who are dragging their feet and actually empowering the radical jihadists of ISIS, by not engaging them with the only kind of force that will stop them – boots on the ground.
Because, as you know the song, “These boots were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are going to walk all over you.”
I pray that this Amalek that is called today ISIS will be stopped by God, and that God will find the messengers to do His work. I hope you pray with me that this will be done by a super-breakthrough and awakening inside of ISIS, that will understand the promises of God, and change, but if not, I pray, that God will send other messengers who will do what God promised He would do to Amalek.
Yehuda Bachana: Do Miracles Really Build Faith? 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
In the Bible, we read about amazing miracles, similar to what we read in this week’s Torah portion. Our weekly Torah portion describes the miracle of the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, manna in the desert, water out of a rock, and the war with the Amalekites, where Moses raised his hands and brought victory for Israel.
All of this brings about an important question in our modern society: Where have all the miracles and wonders gone? If I were to personally witness a miracle, like the ones that the people of Israel saw in this week’s parasha, of course I would be touched, my life would change, it would be improved, and I would become a true believer.
Believing Without Seeing
There used to be a show on TV called “Fair & Square”, in which technicians and other professionals were invited to people’s homes to deal with simple problems. They were secretly filmed to see if the contractor, electrician, plumber, or mechanic will try to inflate their prices, to sell unnecessary services to innocent customers, or if they’ll be “fair & square” and solve their simple problems in a cheap way.
The point is that if everyone knew that they were being filmed, obviously they would all behave honestly. The key is to be “fair & square” even when no one is watching.
This is an example of dealing with temptation. The same goes for miracles. If we experience a miracle, then there is no real meaning to our struggle. Our struggle is in how we deal with life without experiencing a miracle, how we deal with our lives through faith.
Still, I believe that most of us can identify with this idea – that a true, great, and amazing miracle will drastically change our lives. Spoiler alert: This way of thinking is wrong. Human beings don’t work that way. I believe that this parasha teaches us the opposite.
God’s Guiding Hand
Let’s go back to the beginning when God created the world along with the rules of nature. Then He gave us the power over His creation, He gave us the reins.
Did God abandon us? Not at all. Our belief is that God is with us, helping, guiding, and giving to us – even if He’s doing it behind the scenes.
Most of the events in the Bible are considered to be natural occurrences, but we as believers see God’s guiding hand in all of it. Take Moses in the basket for example. Was it an explicit miracle that Moses came to Pharaoh’s daughter?
Likewise, the fact that she agreed to a Hebrew wet nurse and chose to raise Moses as a leader in Pharaoh’s house instead of drowning him, was this a miracle? Did this happen by chance or possibly by the hand of God? It is clear to us, as students of the Torah, that this was the hand of God.
But even this was made clear only after a long period of 80 years. Anyone else who saw what happened could have made up 1000 excuses having to do with natural human compassion towards babies. Indeed, we didn’t see anything happen – no change in status – for the people of Israel for 80 years since the time that Moses was saved up until the time he returned from Midian.
So where was the miracle? My point is that most people who lived in Moses’ time did not consider his rescue as a baby or his being raised in Pharaoh’s home to be a miracle.
With historical hindsight, we can see God’s guiding hand in this, we can see the phenomenon.
Can a Miracle Strengthen Faith?
I think the same goes for us. History marches on slowly, and we can point to many events that we as believers can see as being caused by God’s guiding hand, while others can be seen as happening purely by chance. For example, after 2000 years in exile, God gathered us, and is continuing to gather us from the four corners of the Earth in order to established the State of Israel.
As a believer, I see the State of Israel, the fact that the Jewish people have returned to the Promised Land and the fact that the state maintains one of the most considerable armies in the world, as proof positive in the existence of God. We are still the same people that God brought out of Egypt, the chosen nation.
Take for example the Six-Day War. Jerusalem returned to Israel’s hands and God prevailed over the combined power of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. These armies were supported by Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. We were about 200 fighter jets against 1000, and 800 tanks against 2500. Only with historical hindsight can we see God’s hand guiding, helping, and supporting.
In the Exodus from Egypt, a formative event occurs – the creation of a nation. God proves to a people who came out of a nation filled with idols who is the true and only God. In regards to the Exodus from Egypt, we are well acquainted with the following verses:
…That you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord. – Exodus 10:2 [NIV]
But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. – Exodus 9:16 [NIV]
…So you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. – Exodus 9:14b [NIV]
The people of Israel needed these miracles in order to succeed in getting out of Egypt, survive in the desert, and in order to get to know the Creator for the first time. After the people of Israel entered into the land of the promise, the public miracles became more and more hidden.
Yet we ask, can a miracle, however big, strengthen the faith of man? Today I will strive to answer this question.
The People of Israel Saw and Believed
This Shabbat, we encounter one of the most impressive and well-known miracles: the parting of the Red Sea. In this miracle, the people of Israel were trapped between sea and land, the Egyptian army was closing in, and everything seemed lost and hopeless. When you read the text, you can really feel the panic of the paralyzed and frightened people. We read and imagine the approaching Egyptian army. It’s scary, they would have without a doubt punished everyone.
Would it be better to return to slavery in Egypt? Or perhaps it would be more merciful to jump into the sea and drown. Would this not be better than allowing the women and children to fall prey to the hands of the Egyptian army, and to return to slavery, without any hope or future?
Amongst these suicidal thoughts, panic arose and despair took over. Suddenly God tore the sea in two, the people of Israel passed safely on dry land, and the Egyptian army continued its pursuit into the Red Sea:
The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. – Exodus 14:28 [NIV]
Immediately after the story of the crossing of the Red Sea, we have another well-known verse:
And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. – Exodus 14:31 [NIV]
“The people… put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” Why did they choose to trust? Because they saw the great hand of God.
Here we find the answer to our question. Indeed, according to the Torah, a miracle strengthens faith. See Exodus 14:31.
Is God’s Word Enough for Us to be True Believers?
When I was a child, one of my favorite parables was that of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” from Luke 16:19. I have always loved this story, most likely because of the combination of different factors, like justice, and the sense that there is a God, and that He cares even for a beggar like Lazarus.
In the story there is a rich and stingy man who did not have compassion for Lazarus, the suffering beggar, who always had with him the dogs who licked his wounds.
In the end, each received what he deserved. He who had it bad in this life went on to goodness in the afterlife, and he who had it good in this world received hardship in the end.
Despite the fact that I always enjoyed hearing this parable of Yeshua, and my mother would read it to me at least once a day, I was always bothered by Abraham’s response to the rich man who asked for Lazarus to be brought back to life in order to warn his five brothers.
The rich man felt compassion towards his brothers and asked for Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them, and Abraham’s answer was:
…They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. – Luke 16:29b [NIV]
The rich man insisted, he claimed that the Torah and the Prophets were not enough:
…But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. – Luke 16:30b [NIV]
I never understood the fact that Abraham’s answer was indeed Yeshua’s answer. What does this mean? If someone does not respond to Moses, to the Torah, or the Prophets, then they will also not respond to the miracle of one who comes back from the dead.
If suddenly a miracle occurred before me that was great, wonderful, unbelievable, and beyond any imagination – of course I would respond in complete repentance, and from now on I wouldn’t have even the slightest doubt.
So how could Abraham, or Yeshua more accurately, compare between believing in the Torah, in Moses, and in the Prophets, to a true miracle that happens right before your eyes?
You cannot compare between the two, and in my opinion, here lies the difficulty.
The Path to True Faith
In order to find a solution to this problem, we return to this week’s Torah portion, to the great miracles of Exodus. Here we are confident in the people of Israel, who saw the great hand of God and believed.
This is not where the story ends, however. Only a few weeks after the parting of the Red Sea, the episode of the golden calf occurred. The people of Israel, the same people who saw the Red Sea split in two with their own eyes, are the same people who sinned terribly with the creation of the golden calf, and the Torah emphasizes that the whole nation participated in this offense.
How can it be that a nation who experienced God’s salvation, through the parting of Red Sea, so quickly forget about God? The answer is simple: human memory is short. After 40 days of Moses being on Mount Sinai, the people of Israel already forgot the miracles and wonders, and returned to idol worship.
We would all be anxious if we had a serious test at a university, or somewhere similar, but afterwards we don’t remember what was on the test, and the test no longer matters to us at all.
Our parasha reveals to us a very important message. The opinion that miracles raise faith is fundamentally misleading. The path to true faith is not a short path of miracles and wonders – impressive as they may be.
The path to true faith is a very long and hard path of daily devotion, through the study of scripture. This path requires deep thinking and living within a community of other believers, there are no shortcuts to faith.
The miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, together with all the other miracles of that time was not enough to save the Jewish people from the most insidious sins that caused the death of all the adults in the desert.
This was Yeshua’s conclusion, when summarizing the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Yeshua claimed that in order to come to complete faith in God, you must show a dedication that lasts your entire life.
True faith is acquired through long years of thought, of studying scripture, of fulfilling God’s word, and of much work. It is not the result of a momentary lift in your mood, as a result of some sort of miracle, be it the most impressive one. Such an uplifting experience comes and goes within a moment.