What vs. How
(while the Jews were encamped at Marah), He (G-d) established for the nation a
decree and an ordinance, and there He tested it” (Ex. Ch.15 V.25).
portion takes place after an amazing string of events where the Jews had seen
and experienced the hand of
G-d. First they had seen the ten plagues performed by His emissaries Aron
and Moshe. Then, after having been freed by Pharaoh, Pharaoh reneges and chases
the Jews. While the Jews are standing between the water on one side, and the
Egyptian army on the other, G-d miraculously splits the sea. But it was not just
what G-d did, but how He did it. The Mechilta (Midrashic source) explains that the
ground on the bottom of the sea turned solid so the Jews would be able to walk
easier, and fresh fruits and spring water were literally coming out of the walls
that the water had created (when the sea split, it split into twelve different
compartments, one for each tribe). These extra “smaller” miracles indicated
to the people the special concern G-d had for them.
after seeing these amazing events, there was an inevitable letdown. A person can
only gain a certain amount through visual stimulus. Visual events can provide a
beginning, but something tangible must come into place in order to reinforce
that which they have seen.
that the Jews had escaped their jailers, they were counting down forty nine days
until the receiving of the Torah. In this time, they were meant to spiritually
prepare themselves. In the meantime, however, G-d wanted to give them a few
commandments to “hold them over” until the receiving of the Torah.
the aforementioned verse it mentions a “decree” and an “ordinance”. This
means that at Marah, G-d gave them a few commandments. The decree was the
mitzva of Parah Adumah—the Red Heifer (the Red Heifer enabled the Jews to
remove the spiritual taint of death). Amongst the ordinances was Shabbos.
was such a fundamental mitzva such as Shabbos, first given “quietly” with no
specific mention, merely alluded to at Marah, before being given explicitly at
Har Sinai as one of the Ten Commandments?
a general rule, the way in which something is given sets the tone for how it is
Judaism, a great premium is placed on the value of tznius—modesty: that things
don’t always have to be broadcast from the roof. Very often, the more things
are exposed to the public, the more cynical people become about them. Everything
seems to be known about them, thus removing from their uniqueness. Sadly, we
live in a society which places a tremendous premium on external values - where
if something is not done with pomp and circumstance, it's almost as if it
didn’t happen. These ideas are antithetical to Judaism. (Incidentally, this is
the mistake of
some people who wrongly decide that traditional Judaism is anti-woman, as
opposed to understanding that there are external and internal roles. We will,
G-d willing, discuss this more in depth another week.)
set this tone, G-d initially gave the mitzva of Shabbos in relative privacy, at
Marah (of course the process at Har Sinai was also necessary, so the Jews could
hear from G-d first hand). It was meant to be a lesson for the ages, to see the
internal value as opposed to the external one.