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Beshalach, Beshallach, or Beshalah (בְּשַׁלַּח — Hebrew for “when [he] let go,” the second word and first distinctive word in the parashah) is the sixteenth weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fourth in the book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 13:17–17:16. The parashah is made up of 6,423 Hebrew letters, 1,681 Hebrew words, and 116 verses, and can occupy about 216 lines in a Torah Scroll (סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, Sefer Torah).
Jews read it the sixteenth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in January or February. As the parashah describes God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, Jews also read part of the parashah, Exodus 13:17–15:26, as the initial Torah reading for the seventh day of Passover. And Jews also read the part of the parashah about Amalek, Exodus 17:8–16, on Purim, which commemorates the story of Esther and the Jewish people’s victory over Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, told in the book of Esther. Esther 3:1 identifies Haman as an Agagite, and thus a descendant of Amalek. Numbers 24:7 identifies the Agagites with the Amalekites. A Midrash tells that between King Agag’s capture by Saul and his killing by Samuel, Agag fathered a child, from whom Haman in turn descended.
The parashah is notable for the “Song of the Sea,” which is traditionally chanted using a different melody and is written by the scribe using a distinctive brick-like pattern in the Torah scroll. The Sabbath when it is read is known as Shabbat Shirah, and some communities have various customs for this day, including feeding birds and reciting the "Song of the Sea" out loud in the regular prayer service.
In traditional Sabbath Torah reading, the parashah is divided into seven readings, or עליות, aliyot. In the Masoretic Text of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Parashah Beshalach has eight "open portion" (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions (roughly equivalent to paragraphs, often abbreviated with the Hebrew letter פ (peh)). Parashah Beshalach has four further subdivisions, called "closed portion" (סתומה, setumah) divisions (abbreviated with the Hebrew letter ס (samekh)) within the open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions. The first open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) divides the first reading (עליה, aliyah). The second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) covers the balance of the first and all of the second readings (עליות, aliyot). The third open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) is coincident with the third reading (עליה, aliyah). The fourth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) covers the fourth and fifth readings (עליות, aliyot). The fifth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) is coincident with the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah). The sixth and seventh open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) divisions divide the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah). And the eighth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) is coincident with the maftir (מפטיר) reading that concludes the parashah. Closed portion (סתומה, setumah) divisions separate the fourth and fifth readings (עליות, aliyot), and divide the fifth and sixth readings (עליות, aliyot).
In the first reading (עליה, aliyah), when Pharaoh let the Israelites go, God led the people roundabout by way of the Sea of Reeds. Moses took the bones of Joseph with them. God went before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. The first open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here with the end of chapter 13.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah) in chapter 14, God told Moses to tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp by the sea, so that Pharaoh might think that the Israelites were trapped and follow after them. When Pharaoh learned that the people had fled, he had a change of heart, and he chased the Israelites with chariots. The first reading (עליה, aliyah) ends here.
In the short second reading (עליה, aliyah), Pharaoh overtook the Israelites by the sea. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to God and complained to Moses. Moses told the people not to fear, for God would fight for them. The second reading (עליה, aliyah) and second open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here.
In the third reading (עליה, aliyah), God told Moses to lift up his rod, hold out his arm, and split the sea. Moses did so, and God drove back the sea with a strong east wind, and the Israelites marched through on dry ground, the waters forming walls on their right and left. The Egyptians pursued, but God slowed them by locking their chariot wheels. The third reading (עליה, aliyah) and the third open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here.
In the long fourth reading (עליה, aliyah), on God’s instruction, Moses held out his arm, and the waters covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the Egyptians. Moses and the Israelites — and then Miriam — sang a song to God, celebrating how God hurled horse and driver into the sea. The fourth reading (עליה, aliyah) and a closed portion (סתומה, setumah) end here.
In the short fifth reading (עליה, aliyah), the Israelites went three days into the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the bitter water, so they grumbled against Moses. God showed Moses a piece of wood to throw into the water, and the water became sweet. God told Moses that if he would diligently hearken to God and obey God’s commandments, then God would give the Israelites none of the diseases that God had given the Egyptians. A closed portion (סתומה, setumah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), the Israelites traveled to the springs and palms of Elim, and then came to the wilderness of Sin and grumbled in hunger against Moses and Aaron. A closed portion (סתומה, setumah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), God told Moses that God would rain bread from heaven, and twice as much on the sixth day. Moses and Aaron told the Israelites that they would see God’s glory, for God had heard their murmurings against God, and the Israelites saw God’s glory appear in a cloud. The fifth reading (עליה, aliyah) and the fourth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here.
In the sixth reading (עליה, aliyah), God heard their grumbling, and in the evening quail covered the camp, and in the morning fine flaky manna covered the ground like frost. The Israelites gathered as much of it as they required; those who gathered much had no excess, and those who gathered little had no deficiency. Moses instructed none to leave any of it over until morning, but some did, and it became infested with maggots and stank. On the sixth day they gathered double the food, Moses instructed them to put aside the excess until morning, and it did not turn foul the next day, the Sabbath. Moses told them that on the Sabbath, they would not find any manna on the plain, yet some went out to gather and found nothing. A closed portion (סתומה, setumah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), Moses ordered that a jar of the manna be kept throughout the ages. The Israelites ate manna 40 years. The sixth reading (עליה, aliyah) and the fifth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) end here with the end of chapter Exodus 16.
In the seventh reading (עליה, aliyah), in chapter 17, when the Israelites encamped at Rephidim, there was no water and the people quarreled with Moses, asking why Moses brought them there just to die of thirst. God told Moses to strike the rock at Horeb to produce water, and they called the place Massah (trial) and Meribah (quarrel). The sixth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here.
In the continuation of the reading (עליה, aliyah), Amalek attacked Israel at Rephidim. Moses stationed himself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in his hand, and whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. When Moses grew weary, he sat on a stone, while Aaron and Hur supported his hands, and Joshua overwhelmed Amalek in battle. The seventh open portion (פתוחה, petuchah) ends here.
In the maftir (מפטיר) reading that concludes the parashah, God instructed Moses to inscribe a document as a reminder that God would utterly blot out the memory of Amalek. The seventh reading (עליה, aliyah), the eighth open portion (פתוחה, petuchah), and the parashah end here.
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The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael interpreted the words “God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near” in Exodus 13:17 to indicate that God recognized that the way would have been nearer for the Israelites to return to Egypt.
A Midrash compared the words of Exodus 13:17, “God led the people about,” to a merchant who bought a cow for use in his home and not for slaughter. As the merchant’s house was near the slaughterhouse, he thought to himself that he had better lead the new cow home by another route, for if he led the cow past the slaughterhouse and it saw the blood there, it might turn tail and flee. Similarly, as the inhabitants of Gaza, Ashkelon, and the land of the Philistines were ready to rise against the Israelites on their departure from Egypt, God thought that the Israelites must not see the battle, lest they return to Egypt, as God says in Exodus 13:17, “Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” So God led them by another route.
Rabbi Jose ben Hanina taught that God did not lead the Israelites by the way of the land of the Philistines (as reported in Exodus 13:17) because Abimelech's grandson was still alive, and God did not want the Israelites to violate Abraham's oath of Genesis 21:23–24 not to deal falsely with Abimelech, his son, or his grandson.
A Midrash employed a fanciful translation of Exodus 13:18 to imagine God’s response to the Israelites’ complaints in the wilderness. The Midrash taught that God asked the Israelites whether when a mortal king went into the wilderness, the king found there the same ease, the same food, or the same drink that he enjoyed in his own palace. The Midrash taught that the Israelites, however, were slaves in Egypt, and God brought them out of there and caused them to recline on lordly couches. In support of this, the Midrash reread Exodus 13:18, “But God led the people about, (וַיַּסֵּב, vayaseiv) by the way of the wilderness,” reading וַיַּסֵּב, vayaseiv, to mean God caused them “to recline” (using the same root סבב, svv) in the manner of kings reclining upon their couches.
The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael interpreted the word translated as “armed” (חֲמֻשִׁים, chamushim) in Exodus 13:18 to mean that only one out of five (חֲמִשָּׁה, chamishah) of the Israelites in Egypt left Egypt; and some say that only one out of 50 did; and others say that only one out of 500 did.
The Mishnah cited Exodus 13:19 for the proposition that Providence treats a person measure for measure as that person treats others. And so because, as Genesis 50:7–9 relates, Joseph had the merit to bury his father Jacob and none of his brothers were greater than he was, so Joseph merited the greatest of Jews, Moses, to attend to his bones, as reported in Exodus 13:19. And Moses, in turn, was so great that none but God attended him, as Deuteronomy 34:6 reports that God buried Moses.
But a Midrash illustrated a precept to finish what one starts by citing how Moses began a precept by taking the bones of Joseph with him, as Exodus 13:19 reports, but failed to complete the task. Reading Deuteronomy 30:11–14, "For this commandment that I command you this day . . . is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart," a Midrash interpreted "heart" and "mouth" to symbolize the beginning and end of fulfilling a precept and thus read Deuteronomy 30:11–14 as an exhortation to complete a good deed once started. Thus Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba taught that if one begins a precept and does not complete it, the result will be that he will bury his wife and children. The Midrash cited as support for this proposition the experience of Judah, who began a precept and did not complete it. When Joseph came to his brothers and they sought to kill him, as Joseph's brothers said in Genesis 37:20, "Come now therefore, and let us slay him," Judah did not let them, saying in Genesis 37:26, "What profit is it if we slay our brother?" and they listened to him, for he was their leader. And had Judah called for Joseph's brothers to restore Joseph to their father, they would have listened to him then, as well. Thus because Judah began a precept (the good deed toward Joseph) and did not complete it, he buried his wife and two sons, as Genesis 38:12 reports, "Shua's daughter, the wife of Judah, died," and Genesis 46:12 further reports, "Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan." In another Midrash reading "heart" and "mouth" in Deuteronomy 30:11–14 to symbolize the beginning and the end of fulfilling a precept, Rabbi Levi said in the name of Hama bar Hanina that if one begins a precept and does not complete it, and another comes and completes it, it is attributed to the one who has completed it. The Midrash illustrated this by citing how Moses began a precept by taking the bones of Joseph with him, as Exodus 13:19 reports, "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him." But because Moses never brought Joseph's bones into the Land of Israel, the precept is attributed to the Israelites, who buried them, as Joshua 24:32 reports, "And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, they buried in Shechem." Joshua 24:32 does not say, "Which Moses brought up out of Egypt," but "Which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt." And the Midrash explained that the reason that they buried Joseph's bones in Shechem could be compared to a case in which some thieves stole a cask of wine, and when the owner discovered them, the owner told them that after they had consumed the wine, they needed to return the cask to its proper place. So when the brothers sold Joseph, it was from Shechem that they sold him, as Genesis 37:13 reports, "And Israel said to Joseph: 'Do not your brothers feed the flock in Shechem?'" God told the brothers that since they had sold Joseph from Shechem, they needed to return Joseph's bones to Shechem. And as the Israelites completed the precept, it is called by their name, demonstrating the force of Deuteronomy 30:11–14, "For this commandment that I command you this day . . . is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart."
Rabbi Jose the Galilean taught that the “certain men who were unclean by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day” in Numbers 9:6 were those who bore Joseph’s coffin, as implied in Genesis 50:25 and Exodus 13:19. The Gemara cited their doing so to support the law that one who is engaged on one religious duty is free from any other.
The Gemara told that Rav Joseph’s wife used to kindle the Sabbath lights late (just before nightfall). Rav Joseph told her that it was taught in a Baraita that the words of Exodus 13:22, “the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not,” teach that the pillar of cloud overlapped the pillar of fire, and the pillar of fire overlapped the pillar of cloud. So she thought of lighting the Sabbath lights very early. But an elder told her that one may kindle when one chooses, provided that one does not light too early (as it would not evidently honor the Sabbath) or too late (later than just before nightfall).
Rabbi Meir taught that when the Israelites stood by the sea, the tribes competed with each other over who would go into the sea first. The tribe of Benjamin went first, as Psalm 68:28 says: “There is Benjamin, the youngest, ruling them (rodem),” and Rabbi Meir read rodem, “ruling them,” as rad yam, “descended into the sea.” Then the princes of Judah threw stones at them, as Psalm 68:28 says: “the princes of Judah their council (rigmatam),” and Rabbi Meir read rigmatam as “stoned them.” For that reason, Benjamin merited hosting the site of God’s Temple, as Deuteronomy 33:12 says: “He dwells between his shoulders.” Rabbi Judah answered Rabbi Meir that in reality, no tribe was willing to be the first to go into the sea. Then Nahshon ben Aminadab stepped forward and went into the sea first, praying in the words of Psalm 69:2–16, “Save me O God, for the waters come into my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing . . . . Let not the water overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up.” Moses was then praying, so God prompted Moses, in words parallel those of Exodus 14:15, “My beloved ones are drowning in the sea, and you prolong prayer before Me!” Moses asked God, “Lord of the Universe, what is there in my power to do?” God replied in the words of Exodus 14:15–16, “Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward. And lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.” Because of Nahshon’s actions, Judah merited becoming the ruling power in Israel, as Psalm 114:2 says, “Judah became His sanctuary, Israel His dominion,” and that happened because, as Psalm 114:3 says, “The sea saw [him], and fled.”
Reading Exodus 14:15, “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Why do you cry to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward,” Rabbi Eliezer taught that God was telling Moses that there is a time to pray briefly and a time to pray at length. God was telling Moses that God’s children were in trouble, the sea cut them off, the enemy pursued, and yet Moses stood and said a long prayer! God told Moses that it was time to cut short his prayer and act.
Rabbi taught that in Exodus 14:15, God was saying that the Israelites’ faith in God was sufficient cause for God to divide the sea for them. For notwithstanding their fear, the Israelites had believed in God and followed Moses that far. Rabbi Akiva taught that for Jacob’s sake God divided the sea for Jacob’s descendants, for in Genesis 28:14, God told Jacob, “You shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east.”
Rabbi Johanan taught that God does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked. Rabbi Johanan interpreted the words zeh el zeh in the phrase “And one did not come near the other all the night” in Exodus 14:20 to teach that when the Egyptians were drowning in the sea, the ministering angels wanted to sing a song of rejoicing, as Isaiah 6:3 associates the words zeh el zeh with angelic singing. But God rebuked them: “The work of my hands is being drowned in the sea, and you want to sing songs?” Rabbi Eleazar replied that a close reading of Deuteronomy 28:63 shows that God does not rejoice personally, but does make others rejoice.
The Midrash taught that the six days of darkness occurred in Egypt, while the seventh day of darkness was a day of darkness of the sea, as Exodus 14:20 says: “And there was the cloud and the darkness here, yet it gave light by night there.” So God sent clouds and darkness and covered the Egyptians with darkness, but gave light to the Israelites, as God had done for them in Egypt. Hence Psalm 27:1 says: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” And the Midrash taught that in the Messianic Age, as well, God will bring darkness to sinners, but light to Israel, as Isaiah 60:2 says: “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but upon you the Lord will shine.”
The Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer recounted that Moses cried out to God that the enemy was behind them and the sea in front of them, and asked which way they should go. So God sent the angel Michael, who became a wall of fire between the Israelites and the Egyptians. The Egyptians wanted to follow after the Israelites, but they are unable to come near because of the fire. The angels saw the Israelites’ misfortune all the night, but they uttered neither praise nor sanctification, as Exodus 14:20 says, “And the one came not near the other all the night.” God told Moses (as Exodus 14:16 reports) to “Stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it.” So (as Exodus 14:21 reports) “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,” but the sea refused to be divided. So God looked at the sea, and the waters saw God’s Face, and they trembled and quaked, and descended into the depths, as Psalm 77:16 says, “The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid: the depths also trembled.” Rabbi Eliezer taught that on the day that God said Genesis 1:9, “Let the waters be gathered together,” the waters congealed, and God made them into twelve valleys, corresponding to the twelve tribes, and they were made into walls of water between each path, and the Israelites could see each other, and they saw God, walking before them, but they did not see the heels of God’s feet, as Psalm 77:19 says, “Your way was in the sea, and Your paths in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known.”
The school of Rabbi Ishmael reasoned from the meaning of the word “in the midst” (בְּתוֹךְ, be-tokh) in Exodus 14:22 to resolve an apparent contradiction between two Biblical verses. Rabbi Zerika asked about an apparent contradiction of Scriptural passages in the presence of Rabbi Eleazar, or, according to another version, he asked in the name of Rabbi Eleazar. Exodus 24:18 says: “And Moses entered into the midst of the cloud,” whereas Exodus 40:35 reads: “And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting because the cloud abode thereon.” The Gemara concluded that this teaches us that God took hold of Moses and brought him into the cloud. Alternatively, the school of Rabbi Ishmael taught in a Baraita that in Exodus 24:18, the word for “in the midst” (בְּתוֹךְ, be-tokh) appears, and it also appears in Exodus 14:22: “And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea.” Just as in Exodus 14:22, the word “in the midst” (בְּתוֹךְ, be-tokh) implies a path, as Exodus 14:22 says, “And the waters were a wall unto them,” so here too in Exodus 24:18, there was a path (for Moses through the cloud).
Rabbi Hama ben Hanina deduced from Exodus 1:10 that Pharaoh meant: “Come, let us outwit the Savior of Israel.” Pharaoh concluded that the Egyptians should afflict the Israelites with water, because as indicated by Isaiah 54:9, God had sworn not to bring another flood to punish the world. The Egyptians failed to note that while God had sworn not to bring another flood on the whole world, God could still bring a flood on only one people. Alternatively, the Egyptians failed to note that they could fall into the waters, as indicated by the words of Exodus 14:27, “the Egyptians fled towards it.” This all bore out what Rabbi Eleazar said: In the pot in which they cooked, they were themselves cooked — that is, with the punishment that the Egyptians intended for the Israelites, the Egyptians were themselves punished.
Reading the words, “there remained not so much as one of them,” in Exodus 14:28, Rabbi Judah taught that not even Pharaoh himself survived, as Exodus 15:4 says, “Pharaoh's chariots and his host has He cast into the sea.” Rabbi Nehemiah, however, said that Pharaoh alone survived, teaching that Exodus 9:16 speaks of Pharaoh when it says, “But in very deed for this cause have I made you to stand.” And some taught that later on Pharaoh went down and was drowned, as Exodus 15:19 says, “For the horses of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea.”
The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael cited four reasons for why “Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore,” as reported in Exodus 14:30: (1) so that the Israelites should not imagine that the Egyptians escaped the sea on the other side, (2) so that the Egyptians should not imagine that the Israelites were lost in the sea as the Egyptians had been, (3) so that the Israelites might take the Egyptians’ spoils of silver, gold, precious stones, and pearls, and (4) so that the Israelites might recognize the Egyptians and reprove them.
Rabbi Jose the Galilean reasoned that as the phrase “the finger of God” in Exodus 8:15 referred to 10 plagues, “the great hand” (translated “the great work”) in Exodus 14:31 (in connection with the miracle of the Reed Sea) must refer to 50 plagues upon the Egyptians, and thus to a variety of cruel and strange deaths.
The Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael counted 10 songs in the Tanakh: (1) the one that the Israelites recited at the first Passover in Egypt, as Isaiah 30:29 says, “You shall have a song as in the night when a feast is hallowed”; (2) the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15; (3) the one that the Israelites sang at the well in the wilderness, as Numbers 21:17 reports, “Then sang Israel this song: ‘Spring up, O well’”; (4) the one that Moses spoke in his last days, as Deuteronomy 31:30 reports, “Moses spoke in the ears of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song”; (5) the one that Joshua recited, as Joshua 10:12 reports, “Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites”; (6) the one that Deborah and Barak sang, as Judges 5:1 reports, “Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam”; (7) the one that David spoke, as 2 Samuel 22:1 reports, “David spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul”; (8) the one that Solomon recited, as Psalm 30:1 reports, “a song at the Dedication of the House of David”; (9) the one that Jehoshaphat recited, as 2 Chronicles 20:21 reports: “when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed them that should sing to the Lord, and praise in the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His mercy endures forever’”; and (10) the song that will be sung in the time to come, as Isaiah 42:10 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth,” and Psalm 149:1 says, “Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise in the assembly of the saints.”
A Baraita taught that the words of Exodus 15:2, “This is my God, and I will adorn him,” teach that one should adorn oneself before God in the fulfillment of the commandments. Thus, the Gemara taught that in God’s honor, one should make a beautiful sukkah, a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar, beautiful tzitzit, and a beautiful Torah Scroll, and write it with fine ink, a fine reed pen, and a skilled penman, and wrap it about with beautiful silks. Abba Saul interpreted the word for “and I will glorify Him” (וְאַנְוֵהוּ, v’anveihu) in Exodus 15:2 to mean “and I will be like Him.” Thus, Abba Saul reasoned, we should seek to be like God. Just as God is gracious and compassionate, so should we be gracious and compassionate.
The Tosefta deduced from Exodus 1:22 that the Egyptians took pride before God only on account of the water of the Nile, and thus God exacted punishment from them only by water when in Exodus 15:4 God cast Pharaoh’s chariots and army into the Reed Sea.
Abba Hanan interpreted the words of Psalm 89:9, “Who is a mighty one like You, O God?” to teach: Who is like God, mighty in self-restraint, that God heard the blaspheming and insults of the wicked Titus and kept silent? In the school of Rabbi Ishmael it was taught that the words of Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You among the gods (אֵלִם, eilim)?” may be read to mean, “Who is like You among the mute (אִלְּמִים, illemim)?” (For in the face of Titus’s blasphemy, God remained silent.)
A Midrash taught that as God created the four cardinal directions, so also did God set about God’s throne four angels — Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael — with Michael at God’s right. The Midrash taught that Michael got his name (Mi-ka'el, מִי-כָּאֵל) as a reward for the manner in which he praised God in two expressions that Moses employed. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Moses began to chant, in the words of Exodus 15:11, “Who (mi, מִי) is like You, o Lord.” And when Moses completed the Torah, he said, in the words of Deuteronomy 33:26, “There is none like God (ka'el, כָּאֵל), O Jeshurun.” The Midrash taught that mi (מִי) combined with ka'el (כָּאֵל) to form the name Mi ka'el (מִי-כָּאֵל).
Reading Exodus 15:11, the Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer taught that the Israelites said to God that there is none like God among the ministering angels, and therefore all the angels’ names contain part of a Name for God (אֱלֹהִים, Elohim). For example, the names Michael and Gabriel contain the word אֱל, El.
The Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer taught that when in Exodus 15:11 the Israelites sang, “Who is like You among the divine creatures, O Lord?” Pharaoh replied after them, saying the concluding words of Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Rabbi Nechunia, son of Hakkanah, thus cited Pharaoh as an example of the power of repentance. Pharaoh rebelled most grievously against God, saying, as reported in Exodus 5:2, “Who is the Lord, that I should hearken to His voice?” But then Pharaoh repented using the same terms of speech with which he sinned, saying the words of Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You, O Lord, among the mighty?” God thus delivered Pharaoh from the dead. Rabbi Nechunia deduced that Pharaoh had died from Exodus 9:15, in which God told Moses to tell Pharaoh, “For now I had put forth my hand, and smitten you.”
The Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer noted that Exodus 15:11 does not employ the words “fearful in praise,” but “fearful in praises.” For the ministering angels sing praises on high, and Israel sings praises on earth below. Thus Exodus 15:11 says, “fearful in praises, doing wonders,” and Psalm 22:4 says, “You are holy, O You Who inhabit the praises of Israel.”
Rabbi Judah ben Simon expounded on God’s words in Deuteronomy 32:20, “I will hide My face from them.” Rabbi Judah ben Simon compared Israel to a king's son who went into the marketplace and struck people but was not struck in return (because of his being the king’s son). He insulted but was not insulted. He went up to his father arrogantly. But the father asked the son whether he thought that he was respected on his own account, when the son was respected only on account of the respect that was due to the father. So the father renounced the son, and as a result, no one took any notice of him. So when Israel went out of Egypt, the fear of them fell upon all the nations, as Exodus 15:14–16 reported, “The peoples have heard, they tremble; pangs have taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia. Then were the chiefs of Edom frightened; the mighty men of Moab, trembling takes hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away. Terror and dread falls upon them.” But when Israel transgressed and sinned, God asked Israel whether it thought that it was respected on its own account, when it was respected only on account of the respect that was due to God. So God turned away from them a little, and the Amalekites came and attacked Israel, as Exodus 17:8 reports, “Then Amalek came, and fought with Israel in Rephidim,” and then the Canaanites came and fought with Israel, as Numbers 21:1 reports, “And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel.” God told the Israelites that they had no genuine faith, as Deuteronomy 32:20 says, “they are a very disobedient generation, children in whom is no faith.” God concluded that the Israelites were rebellious, but to destroy them was impossible, to take them back to Egypt was impossible, and God could not change them for another people. So God concluded to chastise and try them with suffering.
A Baraita taught that the words, “I will send My terror before you, and will discomfort all the people to whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you,” in Exodus 23:27, and the words, “Terror and dread fall upon them,” in Exodus 15:16 show that no creature was able to withstand the Israelites as they entered into the Promised Land in the days of Joshua, and those who stood against them were immediately panic-stricken and lost control of their bowels. And the words, “till Your people pass over, O Lord,” in Exodus 15:16 allude to the first advance of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the days of Joshua. And the words, “till the people pass over whom You have gotten,” in Exodus 15:16 allude to the second advance of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the days of Ezra. The Baraita thus concluded that the Israelites were worthy that God should perform a miracle on their behalf during the second advance as in the first advance, but that did not happen because the Israelites’ sin caused God to withhold the miracle.
The Gemara counted Exodus 15:18, “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever,” among only three verses in the Torah that indisputably refer to God’s Kingship, and thus are suitable for recitation on Rosh Hashanah. The Gemara also counted Numbers 23:21, “The Lord his God is with him, and the shouting for the King is among them”; and Deuteronomy 33:5, “And He was King in Jeshurun.” Rabbi Jose also counted as Kingship verses Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One”; Deuteronomy 4:39, “And you shall know on that day and lay it to your heart that the Lord is God, . . . there is none else”; and Deuteronomy 4:35, “To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God, there is none else beside Him”; but Rabbi Judah said that none of these three is a Kingship verse. (The traditional Rosh Hashanah liturgy follows Rabbi Jose and recites Numbers 23:21, Deuteronomy 33:5, and Exodus 15:18, and then concludes with Deuteronomy 6:4.)
The Gemara cited the language of Exodus 15:18, “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever,” as a premier example of how Scripture indicates permanence. A Baraita taught at the school of Rabbi Eliezer ben Jacob said that wherever Scripture employs the expression נֶצַח, nezach; סֶלָה, selah; or וָעֶד, va'ed; the process to which it refers never ceases. The Gemara cited these proofs: Using נֶצַח, nezach, Isaiah 57:16 says, “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always (נֶצַח, nezach) angry.” Using סֶלָה, selah, Psalm 48:9 says, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord of hosts, in the city of our God — God establish it forever. Selah.” Using וָעֶד, va'ed, Exodus 15:18 says, “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever (לְעֹלָם וָעֶד, l'olam va'ed).”
The Mishnah taught that all Jews have a portion in the world to come, for in Isaiah 60:21, God promises, “Your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.’ But Rabbi Akiva warned that one who whispered Exodus 15:26 as an incantation over a wound to heal it would have no place in the world to come.
The Gemara deduced from Exodus 15:26 that Torah study keeps away painful sufferings. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish deduced that painful sufferings keep away from one who studies the Torah from Job 5:7, which says, “And the sons of רֶשֶׁף, reshef, fly upward (עוּף, uf).” He argued that the word עוּף, uf, refers only to the Torah, as Proverbs 23:5 says, “Will you close (הֲתָעִיף, hataif) your eyes to it (the Torah)? It is gone.” And רֶשֶׁף, reshef, refers only to painful sufferings, as Deuteronomy 32:24 says, “The wasting of hunger, and the devouring of the fiery bolt (רֶשֶׁף, reshef). Rabbi Johanan said to Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish that even school children know that the Torah protects against painful disease. For Exodus 15:26 says, “And He said: ‘If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, and will do that which is right in His eyes, and will give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you that I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord Who heals you.” Rather one should say that God visits those who have the opportunity to study the Torah and do not do so with ugly and painful sufferings which stir them up. For Psalm 39:3 says, “I was dumb with silence, I kept silence from the good thing, and my pain was stirred up.” “The good thing” refers only to the Torah, as Proverbs 4:2 says, “For I give you good doctrine; forsake not My teaching.”
The Gemara asked how one could reconcile Exodus 16:4, which reported that manna fell as “bread from heaven”; with Numbers 11:8, which reported that people “made cakes of it,” implying that it required baking; and with Numbers 11:8, which reported that people “ground it in mills,” implying that it required grinding. The Gemara concluded that the manna fell in different forms for different classes of people: For the righteous, it fell as bread; for average folk, it fell as cakes that required baking; and for the wicked, it fell as kernels that required grinding. The Gemara asked how one could reconcile Exodus 16:31, which reported that “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey,” with Numbers 11:8, which reported that “the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil.” Rabbi Jose ben Hanina said that the manna tasted differently for different classes of people: It tasted like honey for infants, bread for youths, and oil for the aged.
The Mishnah taught that the manna that Exodus 16:14–15 reports came down to the Israelites was among 10 miraculous things that God created on Sabbath eve at twilight on the first Friday at the completion of the Creation of the world.
Tractate Shabbat in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the Sabbath in Exodus 16:23 and 29; 20:7–10 (20:8–11 in the NJPS); 23:12; 31:13–17; 35:2–3; Leviticus 19:3; 23:3; Numbers 15:32–36; and Deuteronomy 5:11 (5:12 in the NJPS).
A Baraita taught that Josiah hid the Ark, the bottle containing the manna (see Exodus 16:33–34), Aaron’s staff with its almonds and blossoms (see Numbers 17:25), and the chest that the Philistines sent as a gift (see 1 Samuel 6:8), because Josiah read in Deuteronomy 28:36: “The Lord will bring you, and your king whom you shall set over you, to a nation that you have not known.” Therefore he hid these things, as 2 Chronicles 35:3 reports: “And he said to the Levites, that taught all Israel, that were holy to the Lord: ‘Put the holy ark into the house that Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel built. There shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders now.’”
The Mishnah quoted Exodus 17:11, which described how when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and asked whether Moses’ hands really made war or stopped it. Rather, the Mishnah read the verse to teach that as long as the Israelites looked upward and submitted their hearts to God, they would grow stronger, but when they did not, they would fall. The Mishnah taught that the fiery serpent placed on a pole in Numbers 21:8 worked much the same way, by directing the Israelites to look upward to God.
The parashah is discussed in these medieval rabbinic sources:
Reading God’s statement in Exodus 14:4, “I will harden Pharaoh's heart,” and similar statements in Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; and 14:8 and 17, Maimonides concluded that it is possible for a person to commit such a great sin, or so many sins, that God decrees that the punishment for these willing and knowing acts is the removal of the privilege of repentance (תְשׁוּבָה, teshuvah). The offender would thus be prevented from doing repentance, and would not have the power to return from the offense, and the offender would die and be lost because of the offense. Maimonides read this to be what God said in Isaiah 6:10, “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and their eyes weak, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and their hearts will understand, do repentance and be healed.” Similarly 2 Chronicles 36:16 reports, “They ridiculed the messengers of God, disdained His words and insulted His prophets until the anger of God rose upon the people, without possibility of healing.” Maimonides interpreted these verses to teach that they sinned willingly and to such an egregious extent that they deserved to have repentance withheld from them. And thus because Pharaoh sinned on his own at the beginning, harming the Jews who lived in his land, as Exodus 1:10 reports him scheming, “Let us deal craftily with them,” God issued the judgment that repentance would be withheld from Pharaoh until he received his punishment, and therefore God said in Exodus 14:4, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh.” Maimonides explained that God sent Moses to tell Pharaoh to send out the Jews and do repentance, when God had already told Moses that Pharaoh would refuse, because God sought to inform humanity that when God withholds repentance from a sinner, the sinner will not be able to repent. Maimonides made clear that God did not decree that Pharaoh harm the Jewish people; rather, Pharaoh sinned willfully on his own, and he thus deserved to have the privilege of repentance withheld from him.
The parashah is discussed in these modern sources:
Spinoza taught that because religion only acquires the force of law by means of the sovereign power, Moses was not able to punish those who, before the covenant, and consequently while still in possession of their rights, violated the Sabbath (in Exodus 16:27), but Moses was able to do so after the covenant (in Numbers 15:36), because all the Israelites had then yielded up their natural rights, and the ordinance of the Sabbath had received the force of law.
The Passover Haggadah, in the magid section of the Seder, recounts the reasoning of Rabbi Jose the Galilean that as the phrase “the finger of God” in Exodus 8:15 referred to 10 plagues, “the great hand” (translated “the great work”) in Exodus 14:31 must refer to 50 plagues upon the Egyptians.
The references to God’s mighty hand and arm in Exodus 15:6, 12, and 16 are reflected in Psalm 98:1, which is also one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service.
The statement of God’s eternal sovereignty in Exodus 15:18, “God will reign for ever and ever!” may have found paraphrase in Psalm 146:10, “Adonai shall reign throughout all generations,” which in turn appears in the Kedushah section of the Amidah prayer in each of the three Jewish services|prayer services. And the statement of God’s eternal sovereignty in Exodus 15:18 also appears verbatim in the Kedushah D’Sidra section of the Minchah service for Shabbat.
The people’s murmuring at Massah and Meribah, and perhaps the rock that yielded water, of Exodus 17:2–7 are reflected in Psalm 95, which is in turn the first of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service.
In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardi Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week's parashah. For Parashah Beshalach, Sephardi Jews apply Maqam Ajam, the maqam that expresses happiness, to commemorating the joy and song of the Israelites as they crossed the sea.
The haftarah for the parashah is:
For Ashkenazi Jews, the haftarah is the longest of the year.
Both the parashah and the haftarah contain songs that celebrate the victory of God’s people, the parashah in the “Song of the Sea” about God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh, and the haftarah in the “Song of Deborah” about the Israelites’ victory over the Canaanite general Sisera. Both the parashah and the haftarah report how the leaders of Israel’s enemies assembled hundreds of chariots. Both the parashah and the haftarah report how God “threw . . . into panic” (va-yaham) Israel’s enemies. Both the parashah and the haftarah report waters sweeping away Israel’s enemies. Both the parashah and the haftarah report singing by women to celebrate, the parashah by Miriam, and the haftarah by Deborah. Finally, both the parashah and the haftarah mention Amalek.
The Gemara tied together God’s actions in the parashah and the haftarah. To reassure Israelites concerned that their enemies still lived, God had the Reed Sea spit out the dead Egyptians. To repay the seas, God committed the Kishon River to deliver one-and-a-half times as many bodies. To pay the debt, when Sisera came to attack the Israelites, God had the Kishon wash the Canaanites away. The Gemara calculated one-and-a-half times as many bodies from the numbers of chariots reported in Exodus 14:7 and Judges 4:13.
The parashah has parallels or is discussed in these sources: