BECHALA’H The Miracle of the Red Sea
While the notes of joy sung after the miracle of the Red Sea still resounded, while the Hebrews had just “convinced” themselves of the truth of Moses’ mission since they “had faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant” (XIV:30), the first trial in the desert was a failure.
“… they walked three days without finding water … they could not drink the water of Marah, for it was too bitter …
The people murmured against Moses … they implored the Lord … the water softened.
If we follow the interpretation of our Sages (Baba Kama 82a) the absence of water would be a shortage of “Limoud Hatorah”. The lack of Thorah’s studies after three days caused all previous faith to fade away and turned all other spiritual “food” from the surrounding world into “bitter water” leading to rebellion.
This is why, in a way, as a “preview” of the revelation of Sinai, the text continues: “There he imposed a principle and a law and there he put it to the test”, that is to say, not only a certain practice but also a regular study was imposed, essentially concerning the Shabbat, respect for parents and social justice.
Within the limited framework of our reflection we will limit ourselves to noting the gravity of “walking three days without Thorah” and the importance of the study which will perhaps require the real and anticipated promulgation of laws that will be its object and vector of meditation.
So that the Children of Israel do not sink and so that the Jewish people will perpetuate itself, the imperative of the “limoud” will be from the very beginning, and constantly reminded.
Our commentators point out that after the miracle and the Song of the Red Sea, the story plunges us into a completely different universe, as if nothing had happened, neither the passage of the Red Sea, nor God revealing Himself, nor the Song, nor the new faith. All this is not even mentioned anymore.
Instead of the words “they believed” we find twice the words “they murmured” (15:24), and instead of the lyricism of the Song we find the prosaic greyness of existence, the water of drink, and this water is bitter, the bread that cannot be found. Certainly, a miracle occurs again, that of the heavenly manna.
But it takes place in a world that is no longer one of singing but of temptation (massa) and conflict (meriba). Moreover, the people have lost faith and dare to ask (18:7): “We shall see whether the Lord is with us or not.
The Bechala’h sidra teaches us something fundamental, namely that the miracle, the Revelation that inspires to man a hymn, all these manifestations are only transitory episodes, without influence on the continuation of events. But what lasts is not the poetry of life, but its prose. And it is precisely within the framework of this prose of life – “they murmured” – that the gift of the Torah to Israel takes place.
Even before this gift of the Torah, the Sabbath was proclaimed as the central institution of Jewish existence, and this teaching is invaluable.
Any miracle or supernatural factor is revealed to be irrelevant from a religious point of view and in any way effective as a basis for faith. The generation that has seen miracles and wonders has not believed.
As for the verse “they believed in God and his servant Moses”, it speaks to us of instant faith experienced under the influence of the present danger. The moment after “they murmured” and have already forgotten the great miracle of the Red Sea crossing.
One midrash goes so far as to say that when the Hebrews arrived on the other side and saw the dead Egyptians, they exclaimed, “Let us make an idol and return to Egypt, for idolatry is far more comfortable than serving the God of Israel. And yet there were many generations after that failure who remained faithful to God in spite of suffering and believed in Him with deep faith. Faith cannot be given, impossible, from the outside. Faith cannot be given, which is impossible, from the outside, but can only grow through man’s efforts, through his decisions and free will.