Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shvii shel Pesach: from splitting of the sea to Mara

Shvii shel Pesach

In the Torah reading for the 7th day of Pesach, we read the portion from Parshas B'Shalach in which the Jews left Egypt, Pharoah chased them, they got to the sea, God split the sea, they said the song of praise "Az Yashir". After Az Yashir, we continue to read one more piece - the arrival of the Jews in a place called Mara after they complained they had had no water for a few days.

The whole day is about the splitting of the sea, so why do we not just stop the reading at the conclusion of that portion? Why do we continue and read about the events at Mara?

The splitting of the sea was the height of inspiration. I can try to picture the water rising up into a wall. I can try to picture the water crashing down on the Egyptians behind the fleeing Jews. I can try to imagine the awesomeness of it. I think of Niagra Falls and find that amazing. Think of a sunset or any natural phenomenon that you find inspiring, and the splitting of the sea was that a million times multiplied. It even says a maid servant was more inspired at the splitting of the sea and had a higher level of prophecy that did the greatest of the later prophets, Yehezkal ben Buzi.

But inspiration is not enough. They were so greatly inspired, but right away they started kvetching again as soon as things got uncomfortable.

What happened to the great emunah they had attained and displayed by the splitting of the sea that the passuk even describes ויאמינו בה' ובמשה עבדו? What happened to the great inspiration? They were without water and suddenly forgot the power Hashem has to provide? They forgot all they saw at the splitting of the sea and in the desert leading up to it and in Egypt?

They wasted the experience of the Kriyas Yam Suf. They were inspired, but they let it slip away. Inspiration is nice, but it must be actualized into some sort of concrete improvement. They let the inspiration slip away, so Hashem brought them to Mara. He showed them that they had immediately sunk back to their previous level and that He does have the power to provide, as He performed the miracle with the water and the tree. And he gave them a series of mitzvos. he made it concrete this time.

no more "inspiration". Now you get inspired and you take something with you. You find a way to actually improve yourself and act on it.

That, maybe, is why we read more than the splitting of the sea and add the parsha of Mara. because it completes the splitting.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Pesach: matza and chametz

Pesach - Matzah

The Matzah and Chametz are really very similar. In fact they have almost the exact same ingredients. It is basically flour and water.

Yet, one is a mitzvah to eat on Pesach, and one is assur to eat on Pesach. One is the symbol of freedom from the slavery of Egypt and one is not. One is the bread of the poor man and one is the bread of the wealthy. One costs 6 NIS in the store to buy and one costs upwards of 160NIS per kilo.

The difference between these two items that are really so similar is striking.

This teaches us a lesson that it is all a matter of what you do with it. You can have a character trait, for example, that can go either way. It can be used for good or for bad. It is a matter of your attitude and your direction.

You can take the flour and water and make it into chametz, you can take the flour and water and make it into matzah. You can take any character trait within you, any behavioral custom, and use it for good, or use it for bad.

Matzah is not good or bad and chametz is not good or bad. But the same item can be used to make one or the other. The lesson of the matzah is that just like we have to purge the chametz from within us, so too do we have to learn to use our behaviors and traits for good and not for bad.