This week’s Torah portion contains many significant narratives demonstrating God’s love for the Jewish people, and the Jews ’response to him. It tells us several of the more striking miracles in our people’s history: the splitting of the Red Sea, the falling of manna from the sky, the providing water from a rock and the victory over Amalek.

The Jews are out of Egypt, but their redemption is not yet complete. They seem like a hysterical, ever pessimistic group. Pharaoh and his army still pose a tangible threat to their freedom. More subtle is the slave mentality that still gnaws at their souls despite their having experienced God’s redemptive power during the 10 plagues. No matter how much God has done for them, they still lack confidence in God’s saving power. As the process of their liberation from Egypt continues, the children of Israel battle with external and internal threats to their freedom as they advance toward the Promised Land.

Children can get into the habit of complaining and whining again and again. They often seem not to notice their many gifts and blessings and simply complain that they live a life of hardship and deprivation, despite how much they have. In this parashah, the children of Israel do likewise. After passing through the Red Sea and arriving safely in the wilderness, the first thing they do is whine.” We don’t have any food or water!” We’re going to die in the desert. Though they are granted sweet water to drink and manna falls from the sky, they continued to complain throughout their time in the wilderness. Contemporary Bible scholar Avivah Zornberg points to the very real challenges with a journey: anxiety, uncertainty. The Exodus from Egypt is laden with certain fear of the unknown. It seems that God was worried that once the Israelites saw the challenge that would arise while wandering in the desert, they would prefer to return to Egypt where, although enslaved, they had at least of the certain degree of consistency in their lives, a familiar routine. They would recall it as a time they had everything they needed. Complaining was a big part of the Israelites experience in the wilderness.

This is a struggle that many people face at least one time or another in life: a reluctance to try something new, to veer off into uncharted territories, to stray from our comfort zones, all the risks of traveling the path that is less familiar or comfortable.

The laws of geometry teach us that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. If only the Jewish people hadn’t skipped that class while enslaved in Egypt, perhaps it would not have taken them as long to arrive in the promised land. While the initial directions for our journey may seem straightforward, we are often rerouted. Seldom are we able to travel in a direct nonstop path. I can imagine Uri Levine as a young Israeli child, learning about the Exodus for the first time and wondering to himself why this trip from Egypt took 40 years. He decided that should never happen again and in 2008 invented Waze.

Sometimes God takes you the long way in life. That’s hard, because the direct route makes so much more sense. Were all about efficiency. But God has a different destination in mind. The nation of Israel began their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land by immediately turning away from it. Rather than take the shorter, coastal route to Canaan, God directed Israel southeast toward the Red Sea. The direct route led through the land of the Philistines, and while God could have simply destroyed the enemy, his concern lay more with the unprepared and fearful hearts of his people. A journey of three weeks would ultimately take 40 years. But God wanted to give His people something more than a parcel of land; he offered them a change of heart. In the end, the land, the journey to it, and even God’s word along the way came as but the means by which they would learn to know and trust him. God often leads us according to the needs of our heart, not always according to its desires.

Today’s world is full of books, videos and programs promising a fast-track for almost anything from weight loss to riches to success and fame. This is the age of speed dating, speed networking, speed yoga, and even speed meditation. It’s a time of rush, rush, rush in the attempt to do more, sooner, faster. But there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of evidence that packing in more actually achieves more. If squeezing more into your day isn’t enabling you to accomplish more – and to feel good about the more that you accomplished – perhaps some slowing down is in order.

Life-changing ideas symbolized by the route on which God led the Israelites when they left Egypt shows that there are no fast tracks. It is better by far to know at the outset that the road is long, the work is hard, and there may be many setbacks and false turnings. You’ll need grit, resilience, stamina and persistence. In place of a pillar of cloud leading the way, you will need the advice of mentors and encouragement of friends. But the journey is exhilarating, and there is no other way. The harder it gets, the stronger you become.

There is an idea called the Slow Movement that is designed to counteract the notion that faster is always better. This movement is about seeking the right speed to do things, savoring hours and minutes spent rather than measuring and counting them and doing things as well as possible rather than as fast as possible. As Carl Honoré, the key advocate of this movement, put it: everyone wants to know how to slow down but they want to know how to do it quickly. He points out that we become obsessed with speed, trying to cram more and more into less and less. Even instant gratification takes too long. But, Honoré says,” we are so marinated in the culture of speed that we fail to notice the toll it takes on our lives, health, work, and relationships. And too often, it takes a wake-up call to achieve a different perspective. Honoré says he still loves speed, but now he is living his life instead of rushing through it.

There are two practical tips to leverage the full benefit of time in our lives. First, resist temptation to accelerate at all costs. Don’t let anyone deprive you of the necessary growth pains you’re going through. Embrace and leverage the learning potential of time. Second, embrace the living journey. In an age where we crave speed and instant solutions, let’s revisit and ingrain in ourselves again the importance of time, and the outcomes that only time can bring. There are no shortcuts the building character, maturity, credibility and influence.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out that it was a result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness until they acquired courage. In addition, another generation arose during the wanderings, that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery. In other words: it takes a generation born in freedom to build a society of freedom. Changing human nature is very slow indeed. It takes generations, even centuries and millennia. Change takes time. Even God, himself, could not force the pace. That is why he led the Israelites in a circuitous route, knowing that they could not face the full challenge of liberty immediately. What this meant was that almost from the dawn of their history as a nation, Jews were forced to learn that lasting achievement takes time. Nelson Mandela called his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom. On that journey, there are no shortcuts.

As we learn in the Babylonian Talmud,” there is a long way which is short and a short way which is long”. The journey of the Jewish people through the wilderness from slavery to freedom is undoubtedly filled with trials and tribulations, yet ultimately through their circuitous route, they become a unified nation, a people of Israel, stronger from their experiences, more mature through their overcoming adversity and eventually, more assured that leaving Egypt was in fact the right thing to do. Sometimes, the harder we work for something, the more we appreciate what was accomplished once we arrive at our destination.


Beshallach Queen Parody

Soon after allowing the children of Israel to depart Egypt, Pharaoh chases them in order to force their return. The Israelites find themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. They call to God: Save Me, Let Me Live, Don’t Stop Me Now, I Want to Break Free. God says Now I’m Here.  He had One Vision. God tells Moses to raise his staff over the water and the sea splits which allows the Israelites to Breakthru.   As the sea closes over the pursuing Egyptians, the Israelites look back and see: Another One Bites the Dust. Moses and the children of Israel then sing the Song at the Sea to praise and show gratitude to God, realizing The Miracle they just witnessed.

In the desert, the people suffer thirst and hunger. They think: It’s a Hard Life, Living on My Own.  They come to realize that Those Are the Days of Our Lives. The people repeatedly complained to Moses and Aaron. We Are Driven by You.  How will you provide for us? Moses says Aaron: you are my brother and You’re My Best Friend.  We must work together and Play This Game.

Moses reassures the people that everything will be all right. They respond: You Don’t Fool Me. God miraculously sweetens the bitter water of Marah. Later, when the people are again thirsty, God tells Moses how to bring forth water. Moses turns to the thirsty people and says: We Will Rock You.  As he strikes the rock, water pours out.

God causes manna to rain down from heaven each morning and quails appear each evening. It was Heaven for Everyone and A Kind of Magic.

The people are instructed to gather a double portion manna on Friday, as none will not descend on Shabbat.  Some people disobey, saying, I Want It All but cannot find manna on Shabbat.

In Rephidim, the people are attacked by the Amalekites. The Israelites are Under Pressure, waiting for the Hammer to Fall. However, the Amalekites are defeated by Moses and an army raised by Joshua. After the victory, the people of Israel break into song, chanting:  We Are the Champions.

And now you know the rest of the story.