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Parashat Beshalach

The Horses' Betrayal

Parashat Beshalach is that of the parting of the Red Sea. I have always asked myself what caused Pharaoh's army to pursue the children of Israel into the divided waters. Didn't they realize that G-d would save his children this time too? They had already witnessed the power of G-d, suffered ten terrible plagues, and still not got the message?!

An interesting and rather nice interpretation appears in the Midrash, according to which the waves of the parted sea appeared to be mares – and Pharaoh's stallions went charging in after them. The Egyptians saw their reaction and remarked to their horses: "Yesterday we wanted to take you to the water to drink but you refused, yet now you are chasing after the water?!!". The stallions replied: "Look what is in the sea! Look at the mares!!" (Shemot Rabbah 23, 14).

What does this midrash teach us? Even if we are aware that stallions tend to chase after mares, it is not my intention to discuss equine fantasies at this point… (nor do I believe that this was the intention of the Midrash).

To me the lesson of the midrash is clear. The strength of the Egyptians lay in their horses. And buried in this strength was also their weakness, and, ultimately, their downfall. This story resembles that of the ram in the story of the attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Its strength was in its horns – its "weapons" – but it was these same horns which ultimately caused it to be trapped in the bushes.

Each feature has both strong and weak elements…

Since the founding of the State, our enemies have taught us that the only way to preserve ourselves is to acquire and manufacture arms and weapons of war. We have become a major military force in the world and Israel's military budget grows from year to year.

This is both important and necessary. There is no other way and we cannot rely on miracles. No one else will defend us if we don't do it ourselves.

But this is only one aspect of reality. It is not only the weapons which will save us as a nation. Not the horses, or the tanks, or the planes. The preservation of our values will also save us, both spiritually and ethically.

"Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit", says the Lord of Hosts" as written by the Prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 4, 6). It is not only our strength which will protect us. For horses, tanks and weapons can also betray us from time to time.

In every characteristic, even military force, there are also weaknesses and vulnerability.

"Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit".

Weekly Torah Portion

Old Hebrew Prayer Book
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