(Torah Portion Bechukosai) Travel Itinerary!
When the Jews were freed from Egypt they traveled for seven days until they came to the Red Sea. The sea split for them and the Egyptians drowned bringing the Egyptian rule over the Jews to its conclusion.
For the next six weeks the Jews traveled toward Mount Sinai where they were to reach their goal to experience G-d’s Revelation.
One who studies the Torah’s account of the experiences and challenges the Jews faced over this six-week period will discover a lot of what went on during this time.
Since we are currently in that same time period – as we head towards the holiday of Shavuos which commemorates the G-d’s Revelation – I thought it would be appropriate to examine the series of events that occurred during this time.
After the Egyptians were drowned at sea, their bodies along with their chariots were spat out on to the sea shore. Their chariots were adorned with precious gems and materials and the Jews gathered these riches becoming fabulously wealthy. There was so much spoils that they had to be persuaded to continue traveling. They then traveled three days without water arriving at Marah where the waters were bitter. They began complaining to Moshe about their thirst and Moshe prayed to G-d. G-d instructed Moshe to throw a piece of wood into the waters and miraculously they became sweet.
At Marah the Jews were given and taught a few laws, such as the laws of Shabbos, the Red Heifer and judicial laws, in order to become familiar with them.
The Jews then traveled to Eilem, where they found 12 streams of water, which represented the 12 tribes, and seventy date trees which represented the 70 elders.
On the 15th day of Iyar, a month after the Jews left Egypt, their food provisions – the leftover Matza that they had with them – became depleted and they began to complain to Moshe, “Why did you bring us to the desert to have us die from hunger…”
G-d told Moshe that each morning the Jews would find an Omer measurement of Manna – food from Heaven – and that evening they would be provided with quail.
They were instructed that the Manna could not be left over night for the next day, so that they would be dependent each day on G-d’s benevolence. Friday was the exception when they received a double portion and the extra portion was saved over Friday night because on Shabbos the Manna did not appear.
The entire Jewish nation then experienced their first Shabbos with total observance!
The Jews then traveled to Refidim where they had no water. The Jews complained to Moshe and Moshe pleaded with G-d for assistance. G-d instructed Moshe to take his staff he used when he split the sea, and use it to hit a rock. Moshe, in the presence of the elders, hit the rock and water gushed forth.
Because the Jews complained against Moshe and ultimately this was a complaint against G-d, their weakened spiritual state left them vulnerable for an attack by our nemesis, the nation of Amalek. Joshua lead the physical battle, while Moshe, in view of the Jewish army, stood on a mountain with his hands stretched heavenward to remind the army to place their faith in G-d, rather than on their own strength. Amalek was weakened but not completely wiped out.
At this point the Torah tells us that Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, joined the Jewish nation. However, some of our Sages tell us that chronologically this did not occur until after the Torah was given. The rule is that the Torah does not always state events in order, for it is not a mere historical document, rather, a Book of Law.
The Jews arrived at the Sinai desert and Mount Sinai on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the first of Sivan, and they used the day to settle in. The Jews were totally unified at this point.
On day two, Moshe ascended the mountain rising to Heaven where G-d instructed him to teach the Jews some of the laws and to tell them that if they accept the Torah they will become his treasured, holy and kingly nation. The Jews accepted this, and on the next day, the third of Sivan, Moshe returned to G-d telling Him the Nation’s positive response. G-d told Moshe to instruct the nation to prepare themselves for three days by not being intimate with their wives, by washing their clothing and making sure that they do not ascend the holy mountain. During these three days, the Jews immersed in a Mikveh, offered sacrifices on an Altar, after which they were sprinkled with the blood, and they were circumcised. They then fully accepted the entire mandate of the Torah. These (except for the sacrifice) are the same processes that a convert to Judaism must follow today.
The seven Noachide Laws that non-Jews are obligated to observe were reviewed at this time.
Moshe was instructed by G-d to write a Torah scroll beginning from creation until the point of the Revelation and to read it to the nation.
On the day of the Revelation, there was thunder, lightning, smoke, a thick cloud hovering over the mountain and a continuous shofar blast from a ram’s horn. The nation stood transfixed at the foot of the mountain and the area trembled.
Moshe was summoned on to the mountain and then G-d revealed Himself when He proclaimed the Ten Commandments!
Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks