This week’s Parasha contains one of the high points of our people and some of the greatest glory of God with the final act of the actual Exodus, the splitting of the Yam Soof and delivery of the spoils of the Egyptians to B’nai Yisrael. However, it also contains some embarrassing moments for people. After being eye witnesses to miracle after miracle, B’nai Yisrael complains to Moshe saying such an awful thing as, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.” Exodus 16:3. Later, even after God gives them Manna, they say, “Why did you bring us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Exodus 17:3.
There is no doubt that people can legitimately complain or even be upset over a lack of food or water. Our sages do not take us to task for expressing the complaint. The problem comes from how those complaints are presented. There is a concept of courtesy, appreciation and respect—derech eretz– that is due to every creature, not the least of whom would be Moshe who bears the brunt of the complaints and to God who was responsible for their redemption. There is the concept of giving the benefit of the doubt. Did B’nai Yisrael really believe that God would have gone to the trouble of the entire Exodus Saga only to let the people die of thirst or starvation?
What if B’nai Yisrael would have said, “Dear Lord, we thank you for your incredible kindness in redeeming us from the bondage of Egypt. Please help us serve you by granting us refreshing water and nutritious food”?
Those of us with children have been known to say that a child may get what it wants, but not by whining for it. We try to teach our children to speak politely and respectfully. Our sages teach that the people truly were at a very childish stage in their understanding of and their relationship with God. It is for that reason, the Midrash relates, that in response to the grumbling, God gave B’nai Yisrael a “hok u’mishpat,” a special mitzvah before the Torah was even given. Exodus 15:25. What was the mitzvah? It was kibud av v’aym-—respecting your father and mother.
We may think of this mitzvah as being obvious and perhaps not even necessary to have been given. Oh, if only that were true. We all may know how we should behave, but do we always do it? It needs to be in the top 10 to remind us.
How much better would our relationships with family, friends and strangers be if we gave the benefit of the doubt and treated others with courtesy and respect?
We owe that most especially to our parents if we are so privileged that they yet live. Some of us reserve our greatest kindness for strangers, perhaps thinking subconsciously that our family is obligated to deal with us no matter what. The opposite is true. We must be mindful and grateful for our families and friends and the loving support they provide. Treating our parents with respect is just the beginning.
This Shabbat we learn with Ruth Bergman and hope to focus on the most well-known song in the Torah, “HaShir” –the song, the one sung following the miracle at the Yam Soof and the end of the danger posed by the Egyptians. We begin at 9:45 a.m.
Since this is known as the Sabbath of Song—Shabbat Shirah—we will also be blessed with the beautiful davening our Chazzan Daniel Gross and our Adat Shalom Choir for Musaf following the Sermon.
Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. I hope to see you there.