Vort from the Rav: Beshalach

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Ex. 13:18

וַיַסֵב אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָעָם
 So God led the people around

The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah) makes the following statement based on the word וַיַסֵב: “So God led the people around”: from this phrase our Rabbis teach that even a poor person in Israel must not eat (at the Pesach Seder) until he reclines (שׁיסב), for this is what the Holy One Blessed Be He did to them, as it says וַיַסֵב אֱלֹהִים. What relationship is there between the God causing the Israelites to circle in the desert and the mitzvah to recline at the Seder?

The mitzvah of reclining is due to the obligation to reenact the Exodus from Egypt – through reclining one demonstrates his freedom. While it is obviously difficult for a poor person to perform such a reenactment, he must feel that he is free despite the fact that he is dependent on others.

The seventh day of Pesach, the anniversary of the splitting of the Red Sea, is the culmination of the holiday. Yet it was forty long years after this miraculous event before the nation entered the land of Israel, and indeed, complete redemption still has not taken place. This is the fate of the Jew: God leads His people via a roundabout route. Throughout our historical path, we have demonstrated great faith and trust, as we await for fulfillment of His promise: and even though he may tarry, we still wait for [the Messiah’s] arrival. The Jews suffered oppression and expulsion through many eras in the history of our people, yet we recline on the Seder night, fulfilling the imperative of reenacting our redemption. Although we may experience poverty or other hardships, although God still leads His people in a roundabout manner, the promise of redemption remains, and we must strengthen ourselves with the trust that the promise will be realized. (Moadei Harav, pp. 153-154)

Deviations from the straight course characterize the strange movement of Jewish history; the longest, not the shortest route, seems to be our destiny. Another is the contradictory, zig-zagging pattern of our historical past, seeming to violate the geometric rule that “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” At times, we seem to be approaching our destiny, slowly but surely; suddenly we are deflected, thrust aside or forced to move in the opposite direction. Positions previously achieved are abandoned and the accomplishments of entire generations are wiped away. Whole settlements, yishuvim, are annihilated and we find ourselves starting anew. Just as surely, ge’ulah once again starts beckoning, inspiring new hopes and movements. This process of historical detours is unlike the history of other nations, which seem, more or less, to be moving in a straight course—from the inception of nationhood to eminence, upon occasion, and to subsequent decline. (Reflections 1:109-110) (see commentary on v. 21:43)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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