It’s been a few days since I’ve had a chance to find the time to write. So much has happened. As I wrote last time, He did this terrible thing as he had told me he would, and struck down in the night all the first born sons of the Egyptians.
I’m guessing that Pharaoh wasn’t a first-born son, but what do I know? The Egyptians seem to ne really good at altering their history to fit the present circumstances. In any case, soldiers arrived in the middle of the night and dragged me and Ari to the palace. Pharaoh could not even look me in the face. “Go!” he said. “Get out! And take everything you have with you.” Pharaoh looked so beaten, so worn, so weary. Not angry – it was as it his internal fire had dimmed. In a way, I almost feel sorry for him and the Egyptians. Pharaoh knows darn well that we’re not just going a few days walk into the wilderness to worship G”d. We’re leaving forever. The pretenses are gone. The utter defeat is apparent.
Did it really need to come to this? Our ancestor Yosef could have marched us all back to the promised land 400 years ago and saved us all this strife. (Diary, I hope no one ever finds you, because if that truth gets out, it’s not going to look so good.) Pharaoh seemed ready to relent after most of the plagues. We both know that every time Pharaoh changed his mind after getting relief from one of the plagues, it wasn’t always Pharaoh’s himself that was responsible. He messed with Pharaoh’s heart, and hardened it.
Look, I have no great love for the Egyptians – I know who my people are. But I cannot forget that Princess Bithia raised me, that I lived my formative years in the heart of the ruling class of Egypt. Playing Senet. learning to ride horses and chariots, eating the finest foods. Yes, Pharaoh was ruthless, even cruel in persecuting us. I can never forgive him for that. But did G”d have to inflict so much hardship, terror, and death of the Egyptians? Not all of them were so bad. There were plenty of righteous Egyptians. And, truth be told, Yosef did turn a once proud group of land-owning Egyptian people into serfs to Pharaoh, while we Hebrews lived in comparative luxury in Goshen, tending our flocks and breeding like rabbits.
I thought life in Midian had smoothed out my rough edges, and I would have been happy to spend the rest of my life there tending sheep. Then He went and messed that all up, what with that burning sneh. Thanks for nada.
Ah, I see I’ve gotten off topic. So where was I? Ah, yes. Pharaoh summons us to the palace in the middle of the night and tells us to get out of Egypt. And then he made the strangest request that we also bring a blessing upon him. Pharaoh was asking his slaves for a blessing. Oh, how mighty our G:d is! (If you couldn’t tell, that was a bit sarcastic. It’s how I’m supposed to react in this situation, but I’m not one bit happy about it. I think He went a bit too far.)
Well, not trusting Pharaoh (or, for that matter, G”d) to again renege on letting us go, I figured we’d better hie ourselves out of there pronto. Oy, was that a balagan.
Let me tell you, getting this group organized and on the road was no picnic. Details, details, details. We were literally on our way out the city gates when a group of elders stopped me shouting “The Bones! The Bones! We have to take the bones!” Oh, great, I thought, another delay. “What bones?” I asked. “Why, Joseph’s bones, of course. He was promised his bones would be taken home, as he did for his father Jacob.” I resisted the urge to say out loud my thought that Joseph was the one who had connived his way into this whole mess in the first place, but I figured I’d better not upset the elders. Besides, I guess I must be a distant relative myself.
But it wasn’t just the bones. You’d think after 400 years in slavery they’d be in a hurry to leave. But no. They were so brow-beaten that mustering energy and pride was difficult. As usual, He must have been listening to my thoughts, for He told me that we shouldn’t head north, lest the people fear they’ll run into the Philistines. So he told me to take them towards the Sea of Reeds. I have to be honest, diary, I thought for a minute He must be crazy. How are we ever gonna get through there? But I had seen enough of G”d’s wrath, so I figured I’d better just be a good boy and follow instructions.
It was pretty easy because He led us as a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. Pretty hard to miss. Pretty easy for the Egyptians to follow to, I thought silently.
As if on cue, like He’s always doing, reading my mind, He tells me to turn the whole kit and caboodle back towards Pi-hahiroth, next to the sea, and make camp there. Then He said it yet again, those dreaded words I have really come to dislike. “I’m going to stiffen Pharaoh’s heart.” As if we hadn’t heard that enough times already. What are we-playing pieces in some divine game between a bunch of deities? And it wasn’t enough to stiffen Pharaoh’s heart and make him come after us. He had to make us camp in an obvious place from which escape was unlikely. “Are we all about to be slaughtered?” I wondered. But I had my role to play. I put on the happy face, and played leader. People will remember the events of the past few days, and know G”d’s power. I can rally them. I shouted “You and what army, Mr. Pharaoh? You’re going to take on my G”d? Ha!” I know I shouldn’t have boasted like that, and I’ll probably pay for it later, because I know He’s always listening. Oh, well. Gotta stop writing now and get some sleep. I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be a rough day.
You are just not going to believe this. I can hardly believe it myself. Right now there’s a big party still going on in the camp. Sis has all the women out dancing and singing-they’ll probably be at it all night. I’m happy, I guess, but not in such a party mood.
So, here’s the story. Just like clockwork, the moment some people spotted the Egyptians, a whole bunch of people, including some of those troublemakers like Korach and his gang come running to me in a panic and accused me of bringing them out here to die. I had to put aside my own personal misgivings and I gave them standard speech number two, and told them He would take care of them. It worked, sort of. But I knew in my own heart I was unsure. He knew, too.
After I had finished placating the crowd I wandered off to my tent, and He said to me “why are you crying out to me?” G”d forbid anyone ever find this diary and turns it into a book. How is it going to look, after just giving this rousing speech to the people, if G”d says to me “why are you crying out to me?” Heck, if any of the personal stuff in you, dear diary, ever gets out, I don’t think I’m going to be remembered as such a perfect leader. Well, maybe it is better that way. Better people should know that even their leaders aren’t perfect. None of the rewriting history like the Egyptians. Let’s tell our stories, warts and all.
Boy, can G”d be boring and predictable. Same old same old. That rod again. I was supposed to hold it up and create a path through the waters so we could all walk through. I have to tell you, I had my doubts. Even after all I had seen, this seemed like to much even for Him. But I held my rod up and a strong wind began to blow, and it blew all night, driving the waters apart and leaving a path for us to cross this reedy swamp. Combine that with it being low tide, and you can imagine what happened. I have a feeling that the realities of our crossing will get somewhat exaggerated over time, but it was still pretty miraculous. I’m not sure where He was during all this, though I had reports that the pillar of fire had move to our rear and was holding up the Egyptians so we could cross the water. Good thing, too, because it took some real cajoling to convince the folks to walk through the waters! Thank goodness for that Nachshon, Aminadav’s kid. Everyone was just standing around, afraid to go forward. The crazy kid starts wading into the water. He’s about up to his eyeballs when suddenly the winds start driving the water back and the path opens up. A couple of other young men followed Nachshon, and soon everybody was heading across that sea of reeds.
It was freaky. I was so out of it I’m not even sure how I got to the other side, but I did. It took almost the whole night to get everybody across. Those Egyptians were so hopping mad they didn’t even stop to think twice and started heading right into the reeds behind us. “Oy, just great” I though to myself. Well, as you know, I’m never thinking to myself, cause He obviously heard me and out of nowhere the Egyptian’s chariots and horses were unable to move forward, their wheels stuck in the muck and mire. Pharaoh must have been really out of it. What did he expect, trying to follow us into that sea of reeds like that? I mean, it’s a frickin’ swamp!
Finally, after all of us were safely across, He told me to do the rod thing again. I have to tell you, dairy, I was not prepared for what happened then. The waters came rushing back on top of the Egyptians. Some of them tried to escape, but it looked almost as if an unseen hand was driving them back into the waters. In a few minutes it was all over. Dead. Drowned. All of them. It was hideous. I mean, I know they enslaved us for over 4 centuries, but still-to kill them all like that. He could have just let them go home. I doubt they would have ever bothered us again. I could even hear some of the Egyptians soldiers saying they had better flee home, because our G”d was obviously stronger than their gods. But I guess any G”d who is willing to wipe out a whole bunch of first born sons is liable to do anything. And, now that I stop and think about it, not only did He wipe out their first born sons-but probably most of their other sons, too. Because who else could all those soldiers have been with Pharaoh? Oh, it’s just too painful to think about. I heard from someone that it looked like Pharaoh himself escaped. Not that I still have any love left for him, but I kind of hope he did.
I guess not many people think like I do. That’s the trouble with being so philosophic. I don’t think anybody but me was even thinking about those poor Egyptians. The people were just dumbstruck. But He sure did accomplish one thing…this time the people were really convinced He was on our side and would always protect us. It might be too much to hope for, but maybe now they’ll follow the instructions He gives me for them without questioning them all the time. We’ll see.
Ari broke me out of my reverie, and brought me back to my sense. “Look, brother, I don’t know what’s troubling you, but just look at the people! You have got to go out their and lead them in a song of praise to Him. They are just blown away by what He just did, and now’s the time to get them all fired up so they’ll be less trouble.” Well, that made sense, so I quickly tried to think of the right words to say and the right melody to sing them to. We hadn’t done much singing in Egypt, so I thought that it would be real appropriate to get everyone to join me in a song of praise. I was having a little trouble when Sis wandered in and asked what I was doing. I told her I planned to lead the people in song. “You, sing?” she laughed. “With that stutter and that voice?” “Stop making fun of me and help me write something, Sis” I said. She was always better at this than I was anyway. Try this, she said, and sang a pretty tune with these words: “Sing to G”d for He has been victorious. Horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” “It’s a good start,” I said “but pretty short.” “So finish the song yourself, smart-aleck,” she said, and stomped out. So I did. I thought of this really great line “Who is like You, G”d, among all those other gods?” I think it was even better than what Miriam wrote, if I must say so myself. It was a pretty good song. Easy to learn, and I taught it to everyone, and then everybody sang it with me. I wrote it down and I’ll stick in between your pages here diary, so I can look at it again when I’m older.
Sis must have been awfully jealous at the way everyone loved my song, cause after we were done, she and a bunch of the women started singing and dancing and playing tambourines, just chanting that one original line of hers over and over. What the heck, I figured. Let her have her moment in the sun. Good night, diary.
I haven’t had a chance to write again for a few days. I’ve been busy shepherding this ungrateful bunch. That’s right, you heard me, ungrateful. After the other day, I figured they’d be happy and easy to please. But noooooooooooooo! Just three days later we’re out in the wilderness of Shur and we couldn’t find any water. Oh, there was water at this place called Marah, but it was putrid. “Now we’re going to die of thirst” a bunch of people whined. So I asked Him for a little help and he gave me this stick which he told me to throw in the water and it would purify it. As usual, it worked. Gee, thanks, G”d.
A little while later we made it to Elim, where there was lots of water and shade and fruit, and everyone was happy. It was so nice I was even tempted to stay there a while, but I knew we had to press on, so we headed out into the Sin wilderness. Well, after two weeks of walking, our stores had run low, and people starting whining again. So I asked Him for help and he said he would make meat and bread appear. After that sea thing, I figured He’d come through. “But,” He said, there’s a catch.” He said He would make bread fall down from the sky for six days, and everyone was to gather it up, only as much as they needed-except on the sixth day, when they were to gather a double portion, because on the seventh day there would be no bread. Said He had created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh, and we should do likewise out of respect for the effort. Sorta made sense to me.
As usual, He delivered, and quail appeared for us to eat that evening. Then during the night He made this dew form on these strange little plants, and by the morning it had condensed into this kind of flaky food. Tasted good, too. Ari and I told everyone to gather just what they needed. Naturally, a few were greedy and saved extra, but overnight it rotted. Serves them right!
So for five days we gathered this great food and ate it. On the sixth day we reminded everyone to gather a double portion, but those who had done it the first day were afraid it would rot like it did then. I have them standard speech number five. “Oh, would you just stop doubting G”d already,” I told them. Sure enough, the stuff lasted overnight and there was food for all. Even so, a couple of people went out looking for more of this stuff. Naturally, they didn’t find any and I scolded them for their lack of faith.
It’s funny, everybody kept saying “what is it?” I don’t know who finally started calling it “the what is it stuff” but it doesn’t matter now, because that’s what everyone is calling it. Not a bad name for it. Tastes like cookies dipped in honey to me. Yummy. I could get used to this stuff. But tomorrow, we have to press on.
Sorry again I haven’t written, but things got busy for a while. First, when we got to Rephidim, the wells were dry and people starting griping. Again! Can you believe them? Such whiners. He must have infinite patience, because I asked Him yet again to help. He told me to touch this rock and make some water come out, and it worked. Yay G”d. Yay me!
Yeah, that’s the party line Diary. Now let’s talk about how I really feel. Why in the heck does He keep sending us places where there’s no food or water. Why does there never seem to be enough food or water to last on our treks from one place to another? Can’t He just make sure our needs are provided for without all this sturm und drang? If G”d is so powerful why can’t He just whisk us away to this legendary land of our ancestors? If nothing is too difficult for G”d…
Then a scout brought word that Amalek was leading his people to attack us. Oy, that’s all we needed. You’d think a descendant of Yosef’s uncle Esau wouldn’t attack his own people. Then again, when Yosef brought the tribe down to Egypt to survive that famine, he didn’t exactly reach out to the kin of his uncle. So I guess they have a right to be jealous,
They fought dirty. They attacked the rear of our convoy, picking off stragglers – mostly old people, sick people, and kids. They have no honor. The stories they tell of Esau make him sound like a reasonable man, even forgiving his brother Yaakov for stealing his birthright and blessing. How did his descendants fall so low?
I needed a good commander to fight them off. I’d been noticing one of Nun’s sons, a kid named Joshua. Figured I’d. give him a chance to prove himself. I told him to organize an army and go fight Amalek. He was a little skeptical at first. I thought quickly, and came up with an idea to persuade him. “You go fight,” I said, and I’ll stand up there on the hill with my rod, like I did back at the Yam Suf, and G”d will protect you.” Guess that convinced him, and off he went. Thankfully, He was listening too, and He came thru. Joshua had no trouble at all defeating Amalek, even though they fought pretty dirty, So dirty, in fact, that G”d told me to tell Joshua He would blot out the memory of Amalek.
I’m gonna keep my eye on that Joshua kid, he could come in real handy. And I’m not getting any younger
Oh, one last thing, diary. I am still pretty worried about the future. He may have promised to wipe out the memory of Amalek, but somehow I think we’re going to run into lots of people like him, over and over again. Probably long after I’m dead, too. So before I go to sleep tonight, I’m going out to build a little altar here to G”d. I’m going to call it “G”d is my sign.” It’ll help remind me and future generations to be on the alert for future Amaleks. I hope we never meet his ilk again. Good night, diary.
Shabbat Shalom to you and yours.
©2017 (portions © 2000) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha
Beshalakh 5776 – Mi Kamonu?
Beshalakh 5775 – I’m Not Doing It Alone
Beshalakh 5774 – A Lot Can Change in 13 Years – Or Not
Beshalakh 5773 – Moshe’s Musings (Revised from 5760)
Beshalakh 5772 – Thankful For the Worst
Beshalakh 5771 – Praying That Moshe Was Wrong
Beshalakh 5768 – Man Hu
Beshalakh 5767-March On
Beshalakh 5766-Manna Mania II
Beshalakh 5765-Gd’s War
Beshalach 5763-Mi Chamonu
Beshalach 5760-Moshe’s Musings
Beshalach 5762-Manna mania
Beshalach 5761-Warrior Gd