Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 2: Beshalach

(Exodus 13:17-17:16)

moses_parting_the_red_seaI want to start this week’s Weekly Words of Wisdom (With Rabbi David Schneider) by thanking everyone for the wonderful letters of praise for the column which I received last week. Obviously I can’t reply to both of them personally and Mother, when I’m ready to get back in touch with you I will, but thank you anyway. They were greatly appreciated, especially given the mountains of hate mail the Jewish Chronicle received about my column – the usual, depressing mix of Jew-baiting and rabid anti-semitism. Quite frankly, I’d have thought the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi’s office would have better things to do with their time.

This week’s parsha tells of the first miracles in the wilderness – the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharoah’s army, the manna from heaven, and so on. Before each miracle, the children of Israel despair – they’re hungry, thirsty, trapped. They’ve forgotten the previous miracles and I suppose we can understand. It’s difficult sometimes to feel positive if, say, your wife has got her lover the builder who’s a woman to move into your house without asking you, and the one friend you felt you had, who you’ve really put into because she’s blind and recovering from an operation and because there was some almost mystical and not at all sexual bond between you, doesn’t seem particularly excited by the news that your marriage may be over. In fact, she seems a little bit scared and tells you to work at it – that’s when she’s actually returning your calls, before she goes all quiet on you and won’t even open the door, even though you know she’s in there and have been banging on it for half an hour till the neighbour comes out in his pyjamas and threatens you with a snooker cue.

But back to the Children of Israel. It must have been a bewildering experience for them. Rabbi Chananel tells us that God didn’t lead them directly to the Promised Land because He wanted them to witness His miracles. You could say it was quite a diversion as it added about 40 years to the journey. That’s some wrong turn!

I’m joking, of course. Though if you’ve ever driven a car and had a Jew do the map-reading you’ll know that that sort of time-consuming detour is nothing unusual.

I’m still joking.

No, they (the Israelites, not the people in the car) must have been bewildered, lying there at night in their tents, like a man who spends the night on a camp-bed in a half-finished extension in his own house, the wind flapping at the temporary plastic sheeting pinned carelessly over the hole where the double-glazed folding doors should have been hung at least two months ago, the still unplastered walls mocking him in the dark. They (the Israelites) may have had to contend with the howl of the jackal and the distant growl of the desert bear, but is it any easier for him to listen to the drip-drip of unfinished pipe-work and some sounds he really shouldn’t have heard coming from the his wife and the builder who’s a woman in the bedroom upstairs?

Under those circumstances it would be totally understandable if he’d rushed upstairs and thrown the builder who’s a woman out of his house and told her, whilst she’s at it, to lose some weight and shave. But the parsha teaches us not to despair. There’s always a miracle round the corner, always another way. Why lower yourself to an undignified shouting match when you can buy up every copy of the Jewish Chronicle in a two-mile radius and cover every surface of the house several inches deep in your picture and your column. And OK, it means that no-one in a two-mile radius actually got to buy a JC and read your column, which slightly defeats the object, but at least it rubs her smug little face in it. It’s one thing drowning like Pharoah in the Red Sea, but it’s far, far worse drowning in Jewish Chronicles, with the Weekly Words of Wisdom of the man you’ve rejected shining out at you from every angle. I’d like to see her tell me I’m a nobody who smells of rust after that!

This column first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle

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