B’shelach: “…by way of the wilderness”

“B’shelach” (Exodus 13:17-17:16) brings us to the start of the Israelites journey. We see the crossing of the Seas of Reeds and the Song of the Sea which finds its way into our prayer book as the “Mi Chamocha”.(15:11) Our collective journey begins, and, not unlike our own personal journeys, it is not easy.
“Now Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt’. So God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.” (13:17,18)
Traditional commentaries are replete with interpretations. Was there a fear that in escaping slavery and perhaps encountering Philistine attacks they would yearn to return to Egypt? Maimonides and Ibn Ezra indicate that the roundabout way was better for the Israelites because they needed to experience the freedom and the struggle of the wilderness so they would be better prepared for conquest. Another is a Talmudic thought that if things come to us too easily, we do not appreciate them as much if we had to struggle.
For use, as Boomers, this passage also spoke to me as another symbol of our own life journey.
As we look back, we see that our own journey has been not linear at all, but more often like a spiral; a little forward, a little sideways, a little retreat and so forth. Life throws us curves and challenges and again, our challenge is to deal with those challenges (both good and less than good). Often, we do not understand the route taken until years later when we stop to reflect on “why did I choose that instead this?”
This life experience is invaluable. It is a gift that time and reflection can give to us. Along that journey, the experiences we collect, the relationships that we encounter, all go in to making us who we are now. Our continuing task remains, however, to see in our journey, opportunities for continued growth, enhanced relationships and love.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Richard F Address

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