Parshat Beshalach: A Time of Transition

Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at  http://sotah.net/.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.

In Parshat Beshalach, the Jews begin their trek through the desert, stopping at Marah, where they are given a “decree and an ordinance.”

Traditional sources dispute exactly what laws were given at Marah; however, there is agreement that the laws at Marah are a bridge between the old laws and the new laws to come.  Marah is located between Egypt and Sinai.  Parshat Beshalach is located between Exodus and revolution. The Jews left Egypt in Parshat Bo and will stand at Sinai in Parshat Yetro. In Parshat Beshalach, they are inhabiting a liminal space – on the threshold of the new.  This is a Parsha of unusual moments such as:

God talks to herself, a rare occurrence, and God explains her brilliant plan for revolution – wait forty years for a new generation of free men.

God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for God said, “Perhaps that people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt” Exodus 13:17.

A woman leads a public prayer in the text of the torah – a onetime occurrence.

Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took her drum in her hand and all the women went force after her with drums and with dances.  Exodus 15:21

And then there is Amalek. God instructs Moshe to “write a remembrance in the Book.”  What book? Is there another book?  According to Maimonides and Ibn Ezra, the book is Deuteronomy, where the requirement to remember Amalek is written. Deuteronomy 25:17-19. This self referential usage of “the book” does not appear elsewhere in the Torah.

The Shabbat when Beshalach is read is known as “Shabbat Shira” or the “Shabbat of Song” because of of Moshe’s and Miriam’s spontaneous musical interlude. Tu’Beshvat, the whimsical new year of the trees occurs around the week of this Parsha as well (January 19th this year).  And of course it is also the dead of winter – always a liminal moment between the seasons.

If time has special qualities, then surely this week is imbued with the enormous possibility of the threshold.