Parsha BeShalach completes the narrative cycle that began with God’s prophecy to Abraham of the Egyptian Exile, the longest and most complex story arc in the Torah. As recorded in Parsha Lech Lecha: “Know with certainty that your offspring shall be sojourners in a land not their own they will enslave them, and they will oppress them four hundred years. And also the nation that will enslave, I shall judge…”. Abraham never expressed any curiosity about the purpose that would be served by this damnation of his descendents, nor was any reason ever proffered.
Parsha BeShalach also continues a narrative cycle, which had been in abeyance for some time. It too began with the promise that God had made to Abraham, which was also recorded In Parsha Lech Lecha. Then God assured Abraham that his progeny shall grow to into a great nation: “I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered”. The nexus of these two narratives found in the Parsha; one ends and the other begins.
The central narrative of Parsha BeShalach is the safe crossing by the Israelites of the Sea of Reeds and the corresponding destruction of Pharaoh’s cavalry by the hand of God. This was an encounter, which like all the others that are recorded in the first chapters of the Book of Exodus, had been carefully shaped and managed by God. He chose the time, place and the circumstances of the battle. In order to accomplish His goal, the final defeat of the Egyptians, God had purposefully led the Israelites in a meandering and somewhat circuitous route after they had left Egypt, such that they ended up with their backs against a body of water, the Sea of Reeds. Their vulnerability was calculated to lure the Egyptians, into an unseen trap.
God knew of course that Pharaoh could not resist the opportunity to reclaim his property, the former slaves, who had added greatly to the wealth of Egypt. God, told Moses: “Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, ‘they are astray in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” To ensure their misadventure, God once again acted to “harden Pharaoh’s heart”, as He had done nine times previously. In due course, as if on script, Pharaoh organized his heavy cavalry and eagerly took the road to the Sea of Reeds to take back that which was his. There, the might of Egypt would be obliterated by the hand of God. God confided in Moses that His destruction of the Egyptian forces would allow God and his reputation to; “gain glory through Pharaoh and all his hosts; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Eternal”.
Until He confronted Pharaoh of Egypt over the fate of the hapless Israelites, God’s supremacy on earth had been known only to Abraham and his descendants. That presumably would change with news of the catastrophes that had befallen the Egyptians at the hand of God and on behalf of the Israelites. At first glance, it could appear that a purpose Egyptian Exile was to breed the necessary conditions that would enable God to become known, respected and feared by all the other nations of the world. But the narrative also betrays God’s collateral design. While the Egyptian Exile certainly served as a vehicle to bring glory to name of God it also served to bring strength and glory to the nascent nation of Israelites.
The Exodus from Egypt and the salvation at the Sea of Reeds would forever be marked as two of the most important events in the history of the Israelites, important parts of the nation’s founding tale, even until today are remembered daily part of Jewish liturgy. The God of their forefathers would henceforth be known to all as the God of Israel, the great and mightiest of all the gods, befitting for a people that would one day become a great and mighty nation.