BESHALACH: The Sixteenth Sedra of the Torah
Exodus 13:17-17:16

The Eternal has brought Egypt to its knees.  Ten plagues have weakened the people, denuded the land, and established the presence and power of the Eternal over life and death in Pharaoh’s realm.  The redemption of the Children of Israel leaves an indelible mark on their spring renewal festival in the observances of unleavened bread and the Pesach offering, and in the treatment of Israelite firstborn as consideration for the firstborn of Egypt that were lost in the tenth plague.  As the Eternal had foretold, Pharoah and the Egyptians came to virtually driving out their former captive slaves.  With their exodus, Moses and Israel face a new set of challenges, but the Eternal is their Guide.

By way of the wilderness at the Reed Sea to Etham

When Pharaoh let the people go (Beshalach), God did not lead them by the more direct route through the land of the Philistines, lest they retreat to Egypt in the face of war.  Instead, He leads the people around by way of the wilderness at the Reed Sea.  The Children of Israel go up from Egypt organized for battle.  Moses takes the bones of Joseph with him to fulfill the promise that Joseph had obtained from the Children of Israel before his death (cf. Genesis 50:25).  They set out from Sukkot and encamp at Etham at the edge of the wilderness.  Constantly the Eternal shows them the way during the day with a pillar of cloud and lights the way for them at night with a pillar of fire, allowing them to travel both day and night without interruption.

To encampment near the Reed Sea

The Eternal tells Moses to instruct the Children of Israel to turn back and encamp facing Pi-hachirot and Baal-tsephon between Migdol and the Sea.  Pharaoh would then imagine the Children of Israel to have lost their way in the wilderness.  The Eternal would empower Pharaoh’s will to pursue them: “Thus will I gain glory through Pharaoh and through all of his army so that Egypt will know that I am the Eternal!” (14:4)  The Children of Israel act accordingly.

When the king of Egypt is told that the people has fled, Pharaoh and his servants regret having released Israel from serving them.  Pharaoh harnesses his chariot and takes all the chariots of Egypt, all commanded by officers, and among them 600 elite chariots.  His will empowered by the Eternal, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and the Egyptians pursue the Children of Israel even as they depart determinedly.  They are overtaken at their encampment near the Sea, near Pi-hachirot facing Baal-tsephon, by all of Pharaoh’s chariot horses, horsemen and army.

Frightened at Pharaoh’s approach, “the Children of Israel cry out to the Eternal.” (14:10)  They blame Moses for risking their lives in the wilderness: “Were there no graves in Egypt so that you had to take us out to die in the wilderness?!” (14:11-12)  Did we not tell you at the time that we preferred Egyptian bondage to death in the wilderness!  Moses entreats the people not to fear but to remain confident and witness “salvation by the Eternal which He will perform for you on this day!” (14:13)  Today will be the last day that you will see the Egyptians forever: the Eternal will fight on your behalf, and you, be quietly confident!

Crossing through the Reed Sea


The Eternal says to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me?  Tell the Children of Israel to proceed with their journey, and you, lift your staff and extend your hand over the sea, and divide it, so that the Children of Israel can march into the sea on dry ground!” (14:15-16)  I, for My part, will embolden the Egyptians to go after them.  Thereby shall I gain glory through Pharaoh, his army, his chariots, and his horsemen, and Egypt will know that I am the Eternal!

God’s angel who was going before the Israelite camp now moves behind them, as does the pillar of cloud, coming between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel.  The cloud together with the darkness casts a spell upon the night, so that one camp does not approach the other camp all that night.  Moses extends his hand over the sea, and the Eternal drives back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, He turns the sea into dry ground, and the waters are divided.

“The Children of Israel march into the sea on dry ground with the waters as a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (14:22)  The Egyptians follow them into the sea with all of Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots and his horsemen.  By the morning, looking down from a pillar of fire and cloud, the Eternal wreaks havoc upon the Egyptian camp.  He starts by locking the chariots’ wheels.  As the Egyptians find it difficult to drive their chariots, they realize that the Eternal is fighting against them on Israel’s behalf.  Now the Egyptians attempt to flee from Israel!

Then the Eternal directs Moses once again to extend his hand over the sea, the result being that the waters return upon Egypt and upon its chariots and horsemen.  By morning the sea returns to its full strength.  Although the Egyptians seek to escape it, the Eternal hurls them into the midst of the sea.  The returning waters cover all of them, all of Pharaoh’s army that marched after them into the sea.  Not one of them remained, while the Children of Israel had walked through the sea on dry ground between the walls of water on their right and on their left.

On the other side of the Reed Sea

As the Eternal on that day saves Israel from the hand of Egypt and Israel sees the Egyptians lying dead upon the shore of the sea, Israel perceives the great power which the Eternal wielded against Egypt.  They fear the Eternal, and they believe in the Eternal and in Moses His servant.

Moses and Israel sing this song to the Eternal:

Let me sing to the Eternal, exceedingly triumphant;
horse and rider has He cast into the sea!

The Eternal, my strength and my song, has become my salvation;
this is my God, whom I enshrine, the God of my father, whom I exalt.

The Eternal is a man of war:
Pharaoh’s chariots and army has He thrown into the Reed Sea.

Your right hand, O Eternal, majestic in power;
Your right hand, O Eternal, shatters the enemy.

With Your nostrils’ blast waters are piled up, rivers stand still like a heap;
The enemy thinks: I shall pursue and overtake, I shall divide the spoil!
You blow with Your breath, the sea covers them;
they sink like lead in the mighty waters.

Who is like You among the gods, O Eternal!
Who is like You, majestic in holiness,
praiseworthily awesome, working wonders!

You stretch out Your right hand, earth swallows them;
You lead Your redeemed people
in lovingkindness and strength
to Your holy abode.

Peoples have heard, they tremble;
terror grips the inhabitants of Philistia.

Then the chiefs of Edom are dismayed,
trembling seizes the heads of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan melt away.

Terror and dread fall upon them;
before Your immense power they become dumb as stone,
until the people You have redeemed crosses over.

You will bring them and establish them
in the mountain of your possession;
You have created a foundation for Your dwelling, O Eternal,
the sanctuary which Your hands have established, O Lord.

The Eternal will reign for ever and ever!

Then Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aaron, takes the timbrel,
and all of the women go out after her dancing with timbrels.

Miriam sings for them:

Let me sing to the Eternal, exceedingly triumphant;
horse and rider has He cast into the sea!

Through the wilderness of Shur to Marah, then encamping at Elim

Moses directs Israel’s march away from the Reed Sea to the wilderness of Shur.  They go for three days in the wilderness without finding water.  When they arrive at Marah, which means “bitter,” they are unable to drink its water because of its bitterness.  The people complain against Moses: “What shall we drink?” (15:24)  Moses cries out to the Eternal, who teaches him about a certain kind of wood, which he throws into the water.  The water becomes sweet.

This is the place of statute and ordinance.
This is the place of trial.


The teaching continues:

If you obey the Eternal your God and do what is right by Him, heeding His commandments and His statutes, then I will not impose upon you any of the malady that I have imposed upon Egypt, I, the Eternal, your Healer.

They arrive at Elim, a place of twelve springs and seventy palm trees.  There they encamp, by the water.

Wilderness of Sin

All of the congregation of the Children of Israel leave Elim.  They arrive at the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month of their exodus from Egypt.  There they complain against Moses and Aaron: It would have been better for us to die by the hand of the Eternal in Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we had enough bread to eat, because now you have brought us out to this wilderness to kill us with famine!

The Eternal responds by telling Moses that He is about to rain down bread from heaven which the people can go out each day and collect.  This will be a test, He explains, to see if they follow His instruction or not.  The portion which they gather on the sixth day will be twice the usual daily portion.

Moses and Aaron explain this to the Children of Israel as follows:  In the evening you shall know that it is the Eternal who brought you out from the land of Egypt, as He shall provide you with meat to eat.  Then, in the morning you shall behold the glory of the Eternal when He satisfies you with bread in response to your complaints against the Eternal.  Yes, your complaint is properly against the Eternal.  After all, who are we that you should rail against us?

At the direction of Moses, Aaron bids the congregation to draw close before the Eternal “as He has heard your complaints.” (16:9)  They turn to the wilderness and see the glory of the Eternal in a cloud.  Moses himself is assured by the Eternal of what Aaron and he had explained to the Children of Israel.

So, in the evening quail appear and cover the camp, and in the morning, when the dew lifts, the Children of Israel see a fine, flaky, frost-like substance on the ground.  They ask each other “what” (mahn) that substance is.  Alternatively, they say it is mahn.  (Cf. 16:31)  Moses explains that it is the bread which the Eternal is giving them and which they need to collect in sufficiency for everyone in their respective tents, a measure per person.  Thus the Children of Israel collect, some more and some less, but never too much or too little.  Moses cautions them not to leave any of it over until morning.  But some do, and it becomes wormy and bad-smelling.  Moses is angry at them.

They collect it every morning before it has melted from the heat of the sun, enough for just that day.  However, on the sixth day they gather in a “double portion of bread” (16:22), two measures for each person.  The chiefs of the congregation report this to Moses, who explains that the double portion had been mentioned by the Eternal in anticipation of the Sabbath on the next day.  “Bake whatever you bake, cook whatever you cook,” he says, “and whatever is left over set aside for yourselves to be kept until the morning” (16:23).  So they did, and there was no bad smell or worms.  “Eat it today, for today is Sabbath for the Eternal; today you shall not find it in the field” (16:25).  For six days shall you gather it in, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there shall not be any on that day.

Nevertheless, some of the people go out on the seventh day to gather.  Of course they do not find anything.  To them the Eternal says, through Moses:  How long will you refuse to keep My commandments and My teaching?  “See that the Eternal has given you the Sabbath.  Therefore He gives you on the sixth day enough bread for two days.  Let each person stay where he is and not go out on the seventh day” (16:29)!  And so the people observed the Sabbath on the seventh day.

The House of Israel calls it manna (mahn) (16:31, cf. 16:15); it is like white coriander seed, and its taste is like a wafer in honey.  The Children of Israel ate the manna for forty years until they were settled at the border of the Land of Canaan.  Moses directs Aaron to fulfill the Eternal’s command of preserving an omer measure of the manna, one-tenth of an ephah, for posterity: place it in a jar which is to be kept before the Eternal throughout future generations.  Aaron sets it aside for preservation before the Testimony (cf. 31:18).

Encamping at Rephidim

All of the congregation of the Children of Israel leave the wilderness of Sin, journeying in accordance with the Eternal’s command, and eventually they encamp at Rephidim, where there is no water for the people to drink.  The people demands of Moses water to drink.  Moses replies: “Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you try the Eternal?” (17:2)  Again the people accuse Moses of bringing them up from Egypt only “to cause me and my children and my livestock to die from thirst!” (17:3)  Moses communicates his desperation to the Eternal, asking for help lest they stone him!

The Eternal has Moses appear before the people with some of the Elders of Israel and “your staff, with which you struck the Nile.” (17:5)  The Eternal would stand before him on a certain rock at Horeb.  You, Moses, strike the rock, and water will come out of it, and the people will drink.  Thus does Moses in the sight of the Elders of Israel.

The place is called Massah and Meribah (“Trial and Quarrel”) after the quarreling of the Children of Israel and after their trying the Eternal, as they questioned, “Is the Eternal in our midst or not?” (17:7)

At Rephidim

At Rephidim, Amalek attacks Israel.  Moses appoints Joshua to assemble a contingent of men who will go out and fight against Amalek.  “On the morrow,” says Moses, “I will stand at the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”  Joshua carries out the instructions of Moses to fight against Amalek.  In the meantime, Moses, Aaron and Hur, go up to the top of the hill.  It then occurrs that when Moses raises his hand, Israel prevails, and when Moses lowers his hand, Amalek prevails.

Eventually the hands of Moses become tired.  So they set up a stone on which he can sit while  Aaron and Hur hold up his hands, one on each  side.  Thus his hands remain steady until the setting of the sun, allowing Joshua to defeat Amalek and his people by the sword.

The Eternal instructs Moses to record this account in writing and to recite in the hearing of Joshua that “I will surely erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” (17:14)  Moses builds an altar and names it Adonai-Nissi (“The Eternal is My Banner”), explaining that it is a memorial upon the throne of the Eternal; war for the Eternal against Amalek in every generation.


Haftarah for Shabbat Shirah
Judges 4:4-5:31

The Judges were charismatic rulers of the tribes of Israel between the rules of Joshua and Samuel.  They were welcomed by the people in response to various external challenges.  Jabin, the king of Canaan, reigned in Hazor and was the latest oppressor of Israel. His military commander was Sisera, who lived in Charosheth-hagoyim.


Deborah the prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, is the leader of Israel at that time.  She could be found under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth El in the hill country of Ephraim.  The Children of Israel would come to her for judgment.

She sends word to Barak son of Avinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali: The Eternal, God of Israel, commands that you should take ten thousand men of the Children of Naphtali and of the Children of Zebulun and march with them up to Mount Tabor.  I will draw to you, to the Wadi Kishon, Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his army, and deliver him into your hand.  Barak agrees to go, but only if Deborah accompanies him.  Deborah agrees to accompany him but points out that he will not earn glory by his plan “for by the hand of a woman will the Eternal deliver Sisera!” (4:9)


When Sisera is told that Barak son of Avinoam has gone up to Mount Tabor, he moves all of his nine hundred iron chariots and all of the people that is with him from Charosheth-hagoyim to the Wadi Kishon.  Deborah announces to Barak that this is the day when the Eternal will go out before him and deliver Sisera into his hand.  So Barak comes down from Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men, and the Eternal discomfits Sisera and all of the chariots and all of the camp.  Barak pursues them as far as Charosheth-hagoyim.  All of the camp of Sisera falls by the sword before Barak.  Not one survives, except Sisera, who jumps down from his chariot and flees on foot.


Sisera reaches the tent of Yael, wife of Heber the Kenite.  Heber “the Kenite” had actually separated himself from the Kenites, from the Children of Hobab, father-in-law of Moses.  He pitched his tent as far as Elon-betza’ananim, which is by Kedesh.  There was peace between Jabin, king of Hazor, and the house of Heber the Kenite.

Yael goes out to welcome Sisera into her tent, and she covers him with a blanket.  Thirsty, Sisera asks for water; Yael gives him milk and covers him again.  Sisera asks her to conceal his presence from anyone who might come looking for him, then he falls asleep from exhaustion.  Yael quietly takes a tent pin and a mallet and drives the tent pin all the way through his temple into the ground.  Thus he dies, and thus does Barak find him when he reaches the tent of Yael: “Come, and I shall show you the man whom you seek.” (4:22)

God subdues Jabin, king of Canaan, on that day before the Children of Israel.  Israel’s hand grows increasingly severe against Jabin until they cut him off entirely.


So, on that day,
Deborah and Barak son of Avinoam

When the people in Israel
fully dedicate themselves,
bless the Eternal!

Hear, O kings,
give ear, O rulers:
I shall sing to the Eternal,
the God of Israel!

When You came out from Seir,
the earth shook,
the heavens dripped.
This was Sinai
before the Eternal,
the God of Israel!

In the days of Yael,
the roads had ceased to be,
wayfarers went on roundabout paths,
missing their destinations,
until you arose, O Deborah,
until you arose, O Mother of Israel.

When they chose new gods,
was there a fighter in the gate?
No shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.

My heart is with the leaders of Israel
who are devoted to the people:
Bless the Eternal!

You who ride on asses,
who walk on the way,

Let them loudly declare
the righteous acts of the Eternal!
Let the people of the Eternal
come down to the gates:
Awake, awake, O Deborah!
Awake, awake, break out in song!
Arise, Barak,
and capture your captive,
O son of Avinoam!

They come from Ephraim,
whose root is in Amalek;
after you comes
Benjamin among your peoples;
from Machir come down leaders;
and from Zebulun,
wielders of the marshal’s staff;
and officers in Issachar
with Deborah.

Among the divisions of Reuben,
great were decisions of the heart.
Why did you remain
among the sheepfolds?

Gilead remained across the Jordan;
why did Dan sojourn at Oniot?

Asher stayed at the seacoast
and dwelled by his landings.

Zebulun is a people
that reproaches its very life.

Naphtali is on the open heights.

The kings of Canaan came and fought,
but they took away no spoil of silver.
From their courses in heaven
fought the stars against Sisera,
and the Wadi Kishon swept them away!

Tread well, O my soul!

Curse Meroz,
says the angel of the Eternal,
curse its inhabitants,
for they came not
to the aid of the Eternal
against the mighty.

Yael, most blessed of women—
water he asked for,
milk she gave him—
her hand she put to the tent pin,
her right hand to the mallet,
she pierced through his temple,
at her feet he fell down dead.

Through the window
peered Sisera’s mother:
Why is his chariot late in coming?

Surely they are dividing the spoil!
A couple of wombs for every man,
spoil of dyed cloths for Sisera.

May all your enemies thus perish, O Eternal!
May His lovers be as the coming out of the sun
in its might!

And the Land was tranquil for forty years.


Exodus Rabbah 21:4

When the king of Egypt is told that the people has fled, Pharaoh and his forces pursue Israel as far as the Reed Sea.  Frightened at Pharaoh’s approach, “The Children of Israel cry out to the Eternal.” (14:10)  Soon thereafter, the Eternal asks Moses, “Why do you [singular] cry out to Me?  Tell the Children of Israel to proceed with their journey…” (14:15-16).  The Children of Israel are the ones who cried out, not just Moses, yet the Eternal asks Moses alone why he cried out!

Here is how Rabbi Judah bar Shalom explains the apparent contradiction, in the name of Rabbi Elazar:  When a poor man brings his petition to a human master, the human master pays him no heed, whereas if a rich man brings a petition, the human master accepts it immediately.  Not so the Holy One, blessed be He: All are equal before Him—women, slaves, the lowly, the wealthy.

This is reflected in Scripture’s treatment of Moses and the lowly one, respectively.  With respect to Moses, the Psalmist subtitles Psalm 90, “A prayer of Moses, the man of God,” and with respect to the lowly, Psalm 102, “A prayer of the lowly, when he is faint and pours forth his plea before the Eternal.”  The one is prayer, and the other is prayer, in order to teach you that all are equal in prayer before the Omnipresent.

So here is what happened.  When Israel went forth out of Egypt, Pharaoh pursued them, “and the Children of Israel cry out to the Eternal.” (14:10)  Then Moses also begins to pray, and the Holy One, blessed be He, says to him:  “Why do you [Moses] cry out to Me?” (14:15)  My children have already prayed to Me, and I have heeded their prayer!  Tell the Children of Israel to proceed with their journey….

Exodus Rabbah 21:10

“The Children of Israel march into the sea on dry ground with the waters as a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (14:22)  If “into the sea,” then why “on dry ground?”  If “on dry ground, then why “into the sea?”  From this paradox we learn that the sea was not divided for them until they came into it up to their nose!  After that it became dry ground for them.

Rabbi Nehorai taught:  An Israelite woman was crossing into the sea, holding her crying child.  She reaches out and secures a piece of fruit for him from the midst of the sea and gives it to him, as was said: “He led them through the deeps as through the wilderness.” (Psalms 106:9)  Just as in the wilderness they lacked nothing, so also in the deeps they lacked nothing.  This is what Moses said to them: “The Eternal, your God, has been with you for these past forty years: you have not lacked a thing.” (Deuteronomy 2:7)  If they lacked anything, they had only to mention the thing and it was created before them.  Rabbi Shimon taught: They did not even need to mention the thing, but if they just had a thought of the thing, it was made for them, as was said: “They tested God in their mind when they requested food for themselves.” (Psalms 78:18)

Another interpretation of “You have not lacked a thing” (Deuteronomy 2:7): You have lacked nothing of the material world, not things, nor words to request them, nor thoughts to hold the words, but one thing that you did lack is a word of repentance.  Hence “these past forty years in the wilderness!” (Psalms 106:9)  In the meantime, “Take words with you, and return to the Eternal.” (Hosea 14:3)

Talmud Sanhedrin 39b

“Give thanks to the Eternal as it is good,
for His mercy is without limit!”
(Psalm 118:1)

When the Egyptians pursued Israel to the shores of the sea and failed to destroy them but were destroyed themselves, the ministering angels sought to sing out in thanksgiving, but the Holy One said to them, “’Give thanks to the Eternal as it is good’: the work of my hands is drowning in the sea, and you would sing a song of thanksgiving?  ‘For His mercy is without limit!’

Said Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina:  He does not rejoice, but He lets others rejoice, as can be learned from the blessings and the curses that would come upon Israel: “As the Eternal rejoices over you to do you good, so will the Eternal cause rejoicing over you in the event of your destruction.” (Deuteronomy 28:63)

Said Rabbi Yonatan:  When Judah defeated the children of Amon, Moab and Mount Seir, they sang only the words, “Give thanks to the Eternal, for His mercy is without limit!” (II Chronicles 20:21)  Why did they not sing, “Give thanks to the Eternal as it is good?”  They omitted the words, “as it is good,” because the Holy One does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked; to Him it is not good, “for His mercy is without limit!”

Midrash Psalms 106:1

“Give thanks to the Maker of wondrous deeds, He alone…
Give thanks to the Divider of the Reed Sea…!”
(Psalms 136:4,13)

God’s daily wonders for us are compared to the splitting of the Reed Sea!

Said Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat: Many times a day our bodies may be in danger of mortal attack, perhaps by a snake or some other predator of nature, whereupon another force of nature, another of God’s wonders, defends us against them.  We do not sense the danger, we do not sense the defense.  Who does?  “Maker of wondrous deeds, He alone!”  (Psalms 136:4)

Exodus Rabbah 25:11

See that the Eternal has given you the Sabbath.” (16:29)

He could just as well have said, “Know that the Eternal has given you the Sabbath!”  Why “See?”  This is what the Holy One, blessed be He, meant:  If idolators should argue with you and ask you why you observe this particular day as the Sabbath, say to them, “See the evidence: No manna comes down on this particular day, so this is the day on which we observe the Sabbath!”

Why “has given you?”  To you was the Sabbath given and not to idolators!  From this we learn that if some idolators should come and observe the Sabbath, they would receive no reward to say the least.  The Sabbath is “a sign between Me and the Children of Israel forever.” (31:17)  Said Rabbi Chiya bar Abba:  In the way of the world, when the king and his lady are sitting and talking with each other, one who comes and sticks his head between them—is he not subject to the death penalty?!  So it is with the Sabbath, a sign between the Holy One, blessed be He, and Israel: One who comes and inserts himself between them is deserving of death. (Yalkut Shimoni Ki Tisa 31)

The Staff

Yalkut Shimoni Psalms 896

“The Eternal will extend your mighty staff from Zion;
be dominant in the midst of your enemies!”
(Psalms 110:2)

Which staff?

It was the staff of Jacob,
as was said:
“For with my staff I have crossed over this Jordan…”
(Genesis 32:11)

It was the staff that Judah left with Tamar,
as was said:
“And she said…and your staff which is in your hand…”
(Genesis 38:18)

It was the staff of Aaron that turned into a serpent,
as was said:
“Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and before his servants…”
(Exodus 7:10)

It was the staff that was in the hand of Moses
when Joshua and his men fought with Amalek,
as was said:
“…And the staff of God will be in my hand.”
(Exodus 17:9)

Midrash Vayosha in Jellinek, Beit Hamidrash I, pp. 42-43
Pirke d’Rabbi Eliezer 40

I was standing by the well, where I found Tsipporah daughter of Jethro, and I recognized that she was most modest.  When I proposed marriage to her, she explained that it was her father’s practice to test any man who requests the hand of one of his daughters in marriage.  The test involved a tree in her father’s garden, and whenever previous suitors approached the tree, the tree swallowed them!

I inquired of her as to the origin of the tree.  She said that it was originally the staff that the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the eve of the Sabbath of Creation (cf. Mishnah Avot 5:6), which He entrusted to Adam the First.  Adam entrusted it to Enoch, and Enoch entrusted it to Noah.  Noah entrusted it to Shem, and Shem entrusted it to Abraham.  Abraham entrusted it to Isaac, and Isaac entrusted it to Jacob.  Jacob brought it down with him into Egypt and passed it on to his son Joseph.  When Joseph died, the Egyptians plundered his house and brought the staff to the palace of Pharaoh.  “Jethro my father was one of Pharaoh’s sorcerers.  He coveted the staff and stole it.  He brought the staff to his house.”

On the staff was engraved the divine name, and also the initials of each of the twelve plagues which the Holy One, blessed be He, would in the future bring upon the Egyptians in Egypt.  Jethro planted the staff in his garden.  Later, when he returned, he found that it had flowered and produced blossoms.  With it he tested anyone who wished to marry one of this daughters.

When I heard her earnest words and saw how badly the other shepherds treated her sisters and her, I rescued Tsipporah and her sisters from them.  I did also draw for Tsipporah and her sisters, and I watered their flock.  They returned to Reuel their father, and I came with them.  They entered the house first, and I remained outside.  Jethro was curious as to why they had returned so quickly.  “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds,” they said.  I was listening outside as they told their father that I was an Egyptian.  Since I did not then come in and declare that I am a Hebrew man, I lost the right to enter the Land of Israel.  Jethro, for his part, urged his daughters to invite me to eat with them out of appreciation for whatever beneficence I showed them by rescuing them from the shepherds.  When I entered and was dining with them, I spoke with Jethro and asked him for Tsipporah’s hand in marriage.  “If you can bring me the staff that stands in my garden,” said Jethro, “I shall give her to you!”  I went to his garden.  I read the letters upon it and brought it to him safely in my hand!

From this act, Jethro inferred: This man must be the prophet whom the sages of Israel divine will one day redeem Israel from Egypt!  Therefore he gave him Tsipporah his daughter as a wife.

Midrash Psalms 114:9

 “When Israel went forth from Egypt…
the sea saw and fled…”
(Psalms 114:1,3)

What did the sea see?

It saw the name of God engraved upon the staff,
and so it fled,
as was said by the Eternal to Moses:
“Raise up your staff and extend your hand over the sea,
and divide it!”
(Exodus 14:16)

Exodus Rabbah 26:2

In order to quench the people’s thirst at Rephidim, the Eternal commands Moses to strike a certain rock at Horeb to bring forth water. (17:1-7)  He instructs Moses to use “your staff, with which you struck the Nile.” (17:5)  Moses reacted:  Master of the universe, the staff with which I struck the Nile, that is the staff of punishment!  It defiled the waters of the Nile.  It brought ten  plagues upon Egypt.  Said the Holy One, blessed be He: My way is not like the way of flesh and blood, who wound with a knife and heal with a dressing: by that with which I wound I also heal!  That is why it was said, “Your staff, with which you struck the Nile, take it in your hand” (17:5): In order that it be known that the staff that was used for punishment is actually the staff of blessing!

Yalkut Shimoni, loc. cit.

It is the staff that was in the hand of David
when he vanquished Goliath,
as was said:
“He took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones…”
(I Samuel 17:40)

And it is the staff that was in hand of every king since,
until the Temple was destroyed
and it was then hidden
and will in the future be restored to the hand of the anointed king
who will subdue the nations of the world.
Therefore was it said:
“The Eternal will extend your mighty staff from Zion;
be dominant in the midst of your enemies!”
(Psalms 110:2)

Rabbi Levi explained the verse to refer to
all of the good accomplishments and consolations
that the Holy One, blessed be He,
would in the future provide from Zion.


Copyright © 2019 Eric H. Hoffman
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