This Week’s Torah Portion | February 5 – February 11, 2017 – 9 Shevat – 15 Shevat, 5777
In A Nutshell
In the portion, BeShalach (When Pharaoh Sent), Pharaoh sends the children of Israel from Egypt following the ten plagues that he and the Egyptians suffered. The Creator does not lead the children of Israel directly to the land of Israel because it means they will have to go through the land of the Philistines and the Creator does not want the children of Israel to fear war and escape back to Egypt. Instead, He sends them through the desert.
Moses takes Joseph’s bones. The Creator walks before the people, lighting the way for them with a pillar of cloud—during the day, and a pillar of fire during the night.
When Pharaoh learns that the children of Israel really did escape from Egypt he changes his mind and decides to chase them. He assembles 600 chosen chariots that chase the children of Israel all the way to the Red Sea.
The children of Israel find themselves with the sea before them and Pharaoh behind them. This is when the first miracle takes place: Moses strikes the sea, it is cut in two, and the children of Israel pass through dry land. When the Egyptians try to pass, the water closes on them and they all drown. In gratitude to the Creator for the miracle, the children of Israel sing the Song of the Sea (Exodus, 15).
Moses leads the children of Israel through the desert on the road to Shur. When the people grow thirsty they arrive at Marah, a place where the water is bitter so they cannot drink. Here another miracle occurs and the water becomes fresh (the Torah writes “sweet”). Moses and the people continue to advance toward Eilam where they discover twelve springs of water and seventy dates. They park there then continue toward the desert of Sin.
The people complain that they have run out of supplies and the Creator performs two miracles: in the first, manna comes down from the sky. In the second, quails came over the camp of Israel so they will have meat in the evening.
The children of Israel receive the first commandment—to observe the Sabbath. They are told that on Sabbath, no manna will come down from the sky and that on the sixth day they must collect supplies for two days. The children of Israel continue from the desert of Sin and arrive at Rephidim. Once again there is no water and the Creator performs another miracle: Moses strikes a rock and water gushes out of it.
Toward the arrival at Mount Sinai, Amalek appears and fights against Israel. When Moses raises his hands, Israel win; when he lowers them, Amalek wins. Finally, Israel defeat Amalek and the Creator tells Moses to write in a book of remembrance that the memory of Amalek must be blotted out from under the heaven.
Commentary by Dr. Michael Laitman
Man is born with an inherently egoistic desire to receive. However, when ascending over it, one’s perspective changes and he no longer thinks only of himself. From the moment we are born we want to use the whole world for our own benefit. This is the Amalek in us. AMALEK is an acronym for Al Menat LeKabel (in order to receive). We turn the will to receive into a spiritual quality that aims toward bestowal through a process in which each of us works on his or her self using the light that reforms. The light that reforms is a force that awakens in a person who studies Kabbalah correctly, together with a group. That force awakens and a person feel the changes constantly happening within.
These are the changes that the Torah describes in this portion. Pharaoh really does send the people of Israel. That is, our ego is under stress, suffering, in a conflict between the forces operating on it to the point that it “allows” us, throws us away from itself.
In fact, we are only observing the unfolding—the Creator’s war against Amalek (Exodus, 17:16), the Creator’s war against Pharaoh, and the entire process (Exodus, 10) of hardening Pharaoh’s heart, “go on to Pharaoh,” and “come to Pharaoh.”
When the children of Israel escape from Egypt with all the Kelim, meaning desires, a person rises above the ego, but the egoistic intentions remain. In the process of development, one gradually rids oneself of them through the numerous changes one goes through in the process of exiting Pharaoh’s rule and coming under the rule of the quality of the Creator—the reign of the quality of bestowal and love of others.
In the transition from love of self to love of others, we undergo various changes that make us feel as though Pharaoh is still chasing us and we are trying to escape. At times we can run, and at times we cannot. This is why reality mandates the occurring of a miracle, meaning the influence of the upper force on a person.
The influence of the upper force on a person manifests in the sensation that a person is standing in front of the sea, with Pharaoh’s 600 chosen chariots behind, and there is nothing one can do. Each time we arrive at a point where there is nothing ahead and all the roads seem blocked, a miracle occurs. This is how we shift from degree to degree, from state to state.
The difference between the degrees is that the next degree always opens only after we have concluded the previous one, we do not know what to do, and we are desperate. Although we get used to it, we are surprised every time anew.
After the tearing of the Red Sea we arrive at the desert. A desert is a state where one cannot do anything. One has nothing with which to feed oneself; it is a state of emptiness, not knowing what to do. In that state it seems that life is not life, neither in the present nor in the future.
In the next stage, the water is bitter and must be sweetened using the staff. This means that a person elevates the desire to bestow, and degrades the desire to receive in order to receive. In this way a person achieves the degree of Bina instead of Malchut, and elevates oneself above the ego, once again breaking through to the next degree. That person arrives at a place called Eilam, where there are twelve sources of water, and food from seventy palm trees.
It happens every single time. Our egoistic will to receive awakens without our knowing what to do with it because we haven’t the strength to cope when it yells, cries, and bursts out in terror. This is when the upper force saves us. Thus, repeatedly and gradually, the exodus from Egypt takes place.
In the exodus from Egypt, we correct the will to receive step by step. We rise above it continuously until we can even fight Amalek. Moses’ hands, which rise and fall, symbolize the ascending force of Bina, and the descending MAN.
When we enter spirituality, we still have nothing with which to revive ourselves except the food from heaven. Prior to that, we were satisfying ourselves egoistically, trying to gain from everyone as much as we could. But now, in the transition to love others, altruism, bestowal, we fill ourselves with bestowal. This is why it is called “food from the sky,” the “food of heaven.”
It happens when a person is willing to come out to the “morning light,” to be in the quality of bestowal that shines over the ego, the will to receive, and in which one feels empty. When we are willing to remain in the will to receive even without fulfillment, but only in bestowal upon others, this is when the manna comes, the fulfillment from heaven.
The forty years in the desert is the period when we obtain the complete quality of bestowal. We are fed by giving to others, which is truly from heaven because who are we to give? Do we have anything to give? Why should we fulfill ourselves by giving?
This sensation, the intention we acquire over the will to receive—the inclination toward others, the connection with others—is the degree called “that which you hate, do not do to your friend.” By connecting to others as to ourselves we receive the filling called MAN, Mei Nukvin (Aramaic: Female Water), which raises our will to receive to Bina, the degree of bestowal.
Many miracles take place in this portion, almost all of which concern water: the crossing of the Red Sea, the bitter water, Moses striking the rock and the water gushing out. What is a miracle and why is it so tightly connected to water specifically in this portion?
Water is the quality of bestowal, Bina. There is water of quarrelling (Meribah), bitter water, and sweet (fresh) water, drinking water. There is also “cold water to a faint soul” (Proverbs, 25:25), and there are other terms concerning water.
Water is life. As we develop in the mother’s womb we are immersed in water. Indeed, water is our whole life; we have evolved in water and then climbed out to land. Water is the quality of Bina until it emits out of itself just as the oceans begot life.
This happens every time through a miracle because we do not have the quality of bestowal, Bina, love of others, the connection with others in favor of the other. For this reason, we receive it from outside in what is considered a miracle. All we do is cause that process to unfold. And when it does, it is as a miracle, as it is written, “I have labored and found.” Finding is actually the miracle. On our way, everything always happens through miracles.
The Creator took the children of Israel for a “tour” in the desert out of fear of fighting the Philistines, so they went through Sinai. Why did He not take them straight to Israel?
The children of Israel walked in the desert forty years, but you can actually cross the desert in a week. We have such a big will to receive: wars with the Philistines, with Amalek, sins such as the golden calf and the sin of the spies, and many other problems just to get to the land of Israel, to the entrance. Additionally, there is the war to conquer the land.
It takes many wars to conquer the will to receive and turn it from an egoistic desire, Egypt, into a desire for the land of Israel. Eretz (land) means Ratzon (desire). We must aim our desire not to work in order to receive, which is Amalek, but in order to bestow, which is Yashar El (straight to God), Ysrael (Israel). It is a very long process in which miracles constantly occur.
Why do the children of Israel avoid fighting the Philistines?
Because the children of Israel are not yet strong enough. They have yet to acquire the force of bestowal that will enable them to fight and confront the Philistines. There is still no right line, the force of bestowal, so it is impossible to use the middle line an advance with it. When one has only the force of reception, the left line, one must bypass the Philistines.
From The Zohar: And Israel Saw the Great Hand
“And Israel saw the great hand … and they believed in the Lord.” But did they not believe in Creator thus far? After all, it is written, “And the people believed; and when they heard.” Moreover, they saw all the great deeds that the Creator did for them in Egypt. However, “And they believed” means that they believed in what he said, “And Moses said unto the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord.’”
Zohar for All, BeShalach (When Pharaoh Sent), item 203
At each stage we advance by degrees. Our way, as The Zohar writes, is 600 chosen chariots, six days and the seventh day, Sabbath, which corresponds to the end of correction, the seventh millennium. The road from the exodus from Egypt to the end of our correction goes through 125 degrees, with each degree dividing into additional degrees. There are miracles each time, and each time a person becomes more adhered to the upper force.
We are in between two forces: on the one hand there is the will to receive, which is the nature we are born with, as it is written, “the inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis, 8:21). On the other hand there is the desire to bestow to which we must come. On this ladder of our nature, the will to receive is at the bottom, and the Creator, the desire to bestow, is at the top, with us in the middle, as though hanging in midair. To the extent that the force of the Creator appears before us, we can rise until we achieve Dvekut (adhesion) with Him.
This is why we need only reveal the need, the necessity for the Creator. It is written, “And the children of Israel cried out from the work” (Exodus, 2:23). All the crying and quarrels are disclosures of our deficiency out of the sensation that we must receive help from above.
This is how we live by the mercy of the Creator. This is also how the upper light, the light that reforms, called Torah, appears and saves us. These are the Hassadim, the force of bestowal that appears to us. Even today we must understand that if we reveal the right deficiency, the force that will deliver us from all the troubles will appear, and we will cross the Red Sea on dry land.
So what has faith got to do with all of this? What does it mean that they saw the miracle and believed?
Faith is the force of bestowal, of Bina. Through the force of bestowal a person sees the world that surrounds us, the world of Ein Sof (infinity), the spiritual world, the degrees, and the forces. However, we still do not have the vision of bestowal, of connection with others. When we connect with others we develop new “spectacles” through which we see the entire world as circular, with only one force operating in it.
The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches us how to discover the force of the Creator that is operating in the world, the method of revealing His Godliness to His creations in this world.
It seems that the Creator continuously puts the people of Israel in predicaments, such as the bitter water, then delivers them out of it, such as turning it into fresh water. What does this process represent?
We need to understand that we can only discover things by seeing both sides, darkness as well as light, as “the advantage of the light out of darkness” (Ecclesiastes, 2:13). This is why we keep discovering that our ego is worse than we thought, and we seek a way out of it, understanding that the upper force must be involved.
When we become aware that we need the upper force and we cry out, the Creator appears. Each time, we have to come to such a state—revealing the deficiency, the need for the help of the Creator so He may appear. This is how we build our Kli (vessel), and this is why we eat the manna (MAN) in the desert. We are never the owners, the landlords; we only ask for the process to take place.
It is the same today in the process we are going through, and in the even harder processes ahead. After all, the purpose of the process is only to bring us to a state of no control, complete helplessness and despair, which obligates the upper force to appear because without it we will not be able to advance. The better we understand the process, this predilection, and the better we prepare ourselves for it, the more we will be able to draw the upper force before we are in a desperate state. This is why the Torah was given, the interior of the Torah, the wisdom of Kabbalah, so we will know each time how to prescribe the cure before the illness.
Today it is very difficult to make people understand that they have no control. We are accustomed to thinking that through science and technology we will control nature.
This is how it was until the outbreak of the crisis. Now we understand that we control nothing. We do not control the education system, our families, ourselves, terror, commerce, economy or finance, and these are signs of the comprehensive crisis, the systemic breakdown in which all systems are collapsing. We are reaching a state where we have no control and we need a special revelation of nature’s collective force.
We are built in such a way that each of us pulls toward his or her side, and the surfacing crisis proves that we are all tied together, dependent on each other, and only in that mutual dependence will we be able to resolve the problem. However, since we cannot establish a connection of Arvut (mutual guarantee), we will need the help of the upper force. It will take a long time before we understand that we need the force of unity, which is the Creator making peace between us, as it is written, “He who makes peace in His heaven, He will make peace on us and on all of Israel” (from the Kadish prayer).
What does the process of crossing the Red Sea represent?
When Malchut enters Bina there is upper water and there is lower water. Likewise, at the time of the creation of the world there is the upper force that comes and lets the will to receive enter the sea, the water, meaning connect the will to receive with the desire to bestow. The will to receive is the force of the ground. Israel that connects the force of the ground reveals the ground within the sea, while the sea itself if the giving force, where there are Gevurot, a stormy sea.
Israel reveals the special force, Nachshon, as well, who jumps first into the water. It is a force within us that is willing follow with complete dedication only to achieve the quality of bestowal, the connection with Bina, whatever happens. In this way, as we come out we make the first contact with the desire to bestow. The entire escape from Egypt is an escape from ourselves out to everyone, to connect with the others.
From The Zohar: And Pharaoh Drew Near
Israel were nearing the sea and saw the sea before them becoming stormier, its waves straightening upward. They were afraid. They raised their eyes and saw Pharaoh and his army, and slings and arrows, and they were terrified. “And the children of Israel cried out.” Who caused Israel to draw near to their father in heaven? It was Pharaoh, as it is written, “And Pharaoh drew near.”
Zohar for All, BeShalach (When Pharaoh Sent), item 67
Each time, our ego wakes up and does not let us advance. In fact, it does the work for us because Pharaoh, the ego, is the posterior side of the Creator. He created the will to receive, and He constantly reveals itself to us until we see that it—the will to receive, the snake—is putting us to death, so we have to escape from it.
Today we are in similar situation. We are gradually learning that our ego is not letting us connect and build proper systems, live in families, nations, and states, to build the planet and the world as circular and connected, since this is what will prompt us toward correction. This is why we are living in a special time when we will truly have to determine that Arvut (mutual guarantee) is the connection between us.
Moses was instructed to write in a book that the memory of Amalek would be blotted out. What is a book in the spiritual sense?
A book is a disclosure. It is a disclosure that we have in the book of Torah, which describes the works of the Creator in relation to the creature. We act through these revelations, through the letters, which are written black over white in order to erase the intention of Amalek, meaning to make the will to receive in order to receive become a desire to receive in order to bestow. This is called Ratzon (desire), Eretz (land), and “in order to bestow” is like the Creator, when we reach Yashar El (straight to God), Ysrael (Israel).
In other words, Amalek is the opposite of the land of Israel. Amalek is a general term, much like Haman, snake, and Pharaoh, except it also contains smaller, specific parts. We learn that each time the people of Israel faces them. Every person is like the people of Israel—made of the qualities of bestowal that are placed under the will to receive.