B’SHALACH (Exodus, 13:17-17:16) — “Because Your Father Said So!!”

It’s always good to have a reminder.  Especially when it comes to matters spiritual. 

Moses led Israel to journey from the Red Sea [When the bodies of the drowned Egyptian soldiers washed ashore, so did their riches.  The Israelites were stuffing their pockets with the spoils of war, and Moses had to force them to leave.]  … they traveled for three days in the desert but, they did not find water.  [Many commentaries observe that Torah is often compared to water.  They went for three days without Torah study after the splitting of the Red Sea. ] They came to Marah, but they could not drink the waters because they were bitter. [The Baal Shem Tov, (quoted in Stone Chumash, page 381) says that the PEOPLE were bitter, and therefore, they found fault with everything, including the water.] … The people complained against Moses, saying, “What will we drink?”  (Exodus, 15:22-24)

The nation had just witnessed some of the greatest miracles in human history.  They achieved a level of prophecy, and sang songs of praise to G-d.  They certainly understood that G-d takes care of the needs of His People.  However, spiritual inspiration has a limited shelf life.  It needs to be maintained.  It was determined that Israel should never again allow itself to go three days without Torah study.  (That is why the Torah is read in the synagogue every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday.)

He (Moses) cried out to G-d and G-d showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet. [They got their water.  But it was now necessary to insure that such rebellion would not be repeated.] There He established CHOK and MISHPAT… (ibid, verse 25).

What are CHOK and MISHPAT?

A Mishpat, literally “judgment,” is a law that humans can understand.  It is logical not to kill, steal, or commit adultery.  Even an atheist can accept and follow a Mishpat because it makes sense. A Chok is a decree, a law that has no logical explanation. (See “Abs Of Steel/Calves Of Gold”.)  We don’t know what’s wrong with eating pork, or wearing clothes that are made of linen and wool.   A believing person obeys a Chok simply because the Master of the World has told him to.

In order to insure that the People of Israel would not forget to be appreciative of G-d’s kindness, and to have faith that it will continue, G-d gave them a sampling of both types of laws to study on a regular basis.  These laws would “tide them over” until Mount Sinai, where they would receive the major bulk of the Commandments.

What were these Judgments and Decrees that they were given at the water hole of Marah?  The Talmud (Sanhedrin, 56b) lists three Commandments:  Civil laws, honoring parents, and Shabbos.


There is a little problem here.  The sampling of Mitzvahs included CHOK and MISHPAT – incomprehensible Decrees and understandable Judgments.   Which of these three laws is the Decree?  Civil laws are certainly understandable; society could not function without them.  Obviously we are required to honor our parents, who brought us into the world and raised and supported us.  Shabbos is a statement of our belief that G-d created for six days and rested on the seventh.

All of these laws make sense!  Why does the Torah refer to at least one of them as a Decree?

I think the Torah is talking about Shabbos.  It seems to be telling us here that we shouldn’t be overly creative in our interpretation of Jewish Law.  The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath.  What’s more restful and relaxing than going fishing and then driving out to the ball park to watch the Red Sox?  (Forgive the personal bias!  J)  And who feels like walking to synagogue in the rain or scorching heat?  The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath.  Why can’t I rest MY way?!

The Torah says that resting on the Sabbath is a Decree.  It is not our place to make a subjective determination of what WE think is the proper way to rest.  Even if we’d rather rest some other way, we have to do it G-D’S way.

Perhaps that is why honoring our parents is included in the list.  Sometimes we understand what our parents are telling us.  Sometimes, especially when we are very young, we struggle to understand where they are coming from.  Why can’t I stay up as late as I want?  Why do I have to get up for school?  Why can’t I drive my friend’s car and dye my hair purple?

Eventually, as we grow in understanding and maturity, we come to understand the wisdom of our parents.  We appreciate that our parents didn’t give in and insisted that we accept their judgment whether we liked it or not.

As well, we don’t always understand every Shabbos rule, and perhaps we never will.  But our Father in Heaven understands them.  And he knows what is best for us.  And following G-d’s laws will ultimately make us a lot richer, and a lot less bitter than we’d be from pursuing some Egyptian trinkets.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz


To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

From the Archives

“Get Rich THIS TUESDAY!!!!” (2010)

… In all due respect to the great Rabbi Mendel, I am troubled by this concept.  Is it possible that a once-a-year reading of ninety-nine verses (33×2 in Hebrew +33 in Aramaic) is all we need to do to make a living?? 

It almost appears to be a “quick fix;” a short formula that guarantees results without too much work. (A “spiritual Amway!” 🙂 ) And Read the magical verses and the money will flow in!  No pain, big gain!…

Read more.

“Because Your Father Said So!!” (2008)

… The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath. What’s more restful and relaxing than going fishing and then driving out to the ball park to watch the Red Sox? (Forgive the personal bias! 🙂 ) And who feels like walking to synagogue in the rain or scorching heat? The Torah says to rest on the Sabbath.

Why can’t I rest MY way?!

Read more.
“Don’t Leave Home Without It!” (2007)

… Men and women just don’t see things the same way. Men are practical. Women are emotional. Women pack for a trip to Mars as if they are going all the way to Venus. Men sometimes get exasperated over their wives’ lack of practicality.

… the Pharaoh has just done a political flip-flop. He is now DEMANDING that the Israelites leave. NOW!

You’re packing your bags. You can’t take much. You don’t even have time to let your bread rise. You grab your money, some weapons, all your credit cards… You’re going with barely more than the clothes on your back. Wait a second… “Honey! Where are you going with THOSE?!!”

Your wife has just packed her drum set into the back of the station wagon.

“Oh, I need these!” she responds…

Read more.
“Sticks and Stones” (2006)

… Moses lifted his “magic wand” … This was obviously one very powerful stick. Moses had pulled it out of the ground in his future father-in-law’s garden, a feat that no one else was able to accomplish. As a result, Jethro understood that Moses was destined to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. (The origin, perhaps, of the legend of King Arthur and Excalibur???)

… This was the staff that turned into a snake. This was the staff that turned the Nile to blood and wreaked havoc and destruction upon the Egyptians. This stick had punished the Egyptians at the Red Sea… the Israelites didn’t particularly care for Moses’ walking stick. It was destructive. It caused suffering in Egypt, and at the Red Sea. It was a killer stick. It seemed only good for punishment.
Was it capable of doing anything POSITIVE??

Read more.
“Some People Just Don’t Get It!” (2005)

Ah, they don’t make kings the way they used to! Or do they?

The king of Egypt was, to say the least, a very stubborn man. He never did seem to get it. His country was absolutely destroyed over his obstinate refusal to release his Hebrew slaves. Repeatedly, Moses told him to let the Israelites leave. Repeatedly, he refused. Repeatedly, he responded to G-d’s punishment with a contrite promise to comply. Repeatedly, he changed his mind… Sort of reminds us of most of today’s world leaders. No matter what Israel does, it’s no good. No matter what the Arab terrorists do, they are “freedom fighters,” peaceful people who have been driven from their homeland by vicious Zionist marauder. The U.N. and the European Union don’t seem to recognize the truth when it stares them in the face. They just don’t get it… Why can’t the world’s leaders be more like the king of Nineveh? …

Read more.
“Singing the Red Sea Blues” (2003)

… It was a sacred symphony; a song of praise totally unprecedented in world history. It was such an exalted event that the angels themselves could not be silent. They too, wanted to join in and sing to G-d. (After all, that’s what angels DO. They sing praises to G-d!)

G-d silenced them…

Read more.
“Is Democracy a Torah Concept?” (2002)

… Four-fifths of the Nation of Israel preferred not to leave Egypt. Why not? Medrash Rabbah (13,3) says that they had “Patronin” (translation: patronage?) from the Egyptians and they didn’t want to give up their wealth and honor by leaving Egypt.

This is truly mind-boggling. 80% of the Israelites preferred to remain, at best, as second-class citizens in Egypt, rather than to follow Moses to freedom. Obviously, Moses was far from universal popularity. He was not the heroic freedom fighter leading a grass-roots rebellion against the Pharaoh. If anything, he was probably considered a troublemaker, a rabble-rouser.

What would have happened if there had been a New York Times/Gallop Poll in Egypt? Can you see the headlines? “Eighty Per Cent Choose Status Quo…Moses Said to be Preparing Concession Speech.”…

Read more.
“Restoring ‘G__’s Thr__’” (2001)

… when the nations of the world saw what G-d had done for us, they were united in their fear of the Israelites. They didn’t love us, but at least they respected us.

Only Amalek had the Chutzpah to attack… What G-d is telling Moses is that “Neither My Name nor My Throne will be complete as long as Amalek is around!”

Why would G-d’s name be incomplete with Amalek around? Is it possible that Amalek has the power to affect G-d??! How could that be?…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at http://www.torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2014 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz. May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.
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Published in: on January 15, 2008 at 11:33 am  Leave a Comment  

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