Parashat B’Shalach: Three Mornings

Parashat B’Shalach: Three Mornings

(delivered by Rabbi J.B. Sacks on February 4, 2023)

 Boker tov! In stressful times, in desperate times, it is natural for people to yearn for a better day. The kind of future that one projects depends, at least to some extent, upon the age, background, and character of each individual. A deprived young boy may hope for a bicycle, while a destitute young girl may yearn for a doll or even a dress. An older person may pray that their business venture or professional career will be met with success.

For what should a community pray? The psalmist expresses the hopes and aspirations of k’lal Yisrael, the Jewish people, stating,[1] “וַאֲנִ֤י ׀ אָשִׁ֣יר עֻזֶּךָ֮ וַאֲרַנֵּ֥ן לַבֹּ֗קֶר חַ֫סְדֶּ֥ךָ, As for me, I will sing of Your strength; I will chant in the morning of Your loving kindness.”

In context, the psalmist means every morning there is loving kindness available to us, and for which we should render thanks. Nonetheless, the midrash[2] tries to link the word “boker,” “morning,” to a specific event.

At first the midrash specifically links the psalmist’s boker to this morning’s Torah reading concerning the demise of the Egyptian army on the banks of the Sea of Reeds. We read:[3]

וַֽיְהִי֙ בְּאַשְׁמֹ֣רֶת הַבֹּ֔קֶר וַיַּשְׁקֵ֤ף יְהֹוָה֙ אֶל־מַחֲנֵ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יִם בְּעַמּ֥וּד אֵ֖שׁ וְעָנָ֑ן וַיָּ֕הׇם אֵ֖ת מַחֲנֵ֥ה מִצְרָֽיִם׃

At the morning watch, A-d-nai looked down upon the Egyptian army from a pillar of fire and cloud, and threw the Egyptian army into panic.

As a second possibility, the midrash suggests that the psalmist’s boker refers to the moment when G!d provided manna, the food that G!d provided our famished ancestors throughout their wilderness wanderings. As Moses explained to our ancestors,[4] “בְּתֵ֣ת יְהֹוָה֩ לָכֶ֨ם בָּעֶ֜רֶב בָּשָׂ֣ר לֶאֱכֹ֗ל וְלֶ֤חֶם בַּבֹּ֙קֶר֙ לִשְׂבֹּ֔עַ It will happen when G!d will provide you with meat enough in the evening and bread enough in the morning to satiate,” since manna was understood as tasting of what substance one wanted.

Finally, the midrash opines that the word boker in the psalm refers to the glorious morning when G!d gave the Torah to our people. Next week, we’ll read:

וַיְהִי֩ בַיּ֨וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֜י בִּֽהְיֹ֣ת הַבֹּ֗קֶר וַיְהִי֩ קֹלֹ֨ת וּבְרָקִ֜ים וְעָנָ֤ן כָּבֵד֙ עַל־הָהָ֔ר וְקֹ֥ל שֹׁפָ֖ר חָזָ֣ק מְאֹ֑ד

וַיֶּחֱרַ֥ד כׇּל־הָעָ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בַּֽמַּחֲנֶֽה

“On the third day, when it became morning, there was thunder, lightning, and a dense cloud on the mountain. The sound of the shofar was very strong, and the entire people, who were in the camp, trembled.

These interpretations consist of short comments, usually a citation of a verse without much explanation. Yet they reveal three mindsets about what kind of boker, morning, might lead human beings to join together to sing and celebrate the kindness they experienced from a loving G!d. In doing so, they help lay out the hopes and aspirations of a huge swathe of humankind.

Those who have experienced the ravages of war, those who have felt the sting of injustice, those who have suffered from the ravages of hate, pray for the boker of yam suf, they pray for the morning when they can cross their Red Sea to safety and calm, and peace. We all yearn for the morning when tyranny will be obliterated, when oppression, suppression, and repression will be no more. We hope for the day when the Pharaohs of our time, and their supporters and sycophants, will be removed from their perches, humbled, and all peoples “will lie under their vine and their fig tree, with none to make them afraid”[5] in a secure environment of a new free world.

The second boker animates the hearts and minds of humanity. It is the craving for the morning when there will be manna for all. In the U.S., the wealth gap has continued to grow, and more and more people are working more and more hours at more and more jobs, and getting less and less pay, and fewer and fewer benefits than ever before. In most of the world, including here at home, large segments lack the basic necessities of life, with hunger and food insecurity more and more common, with privation and lack of proper housing and decent clothing increasing. More and more people work for their own economic security as well as that of their loved ones. Yes! The world desperately needs the boker of manna, when there will be bread, and sufficient nourishment, and housing, and clothing, and health care, for all.

Finally, the third boker is the boker of matan Torah, the giving of Torah. It is the light of Torah, with its humane outlook and demands, that will help secure and ensure the first two boker’s. Only when lex talionis, the law of the claw, where revenge underpins and guides how people and communities act toward others, only when that is eliminated from the heart of humanity, and the just and compassionate humane values of the Torah are established and applied, will political and other freedoms, and financial and other forms of security, will be established more firmly and enduringly. The hearts that are saturated with hateful short-sightedness, the minds that are bent only on what they need or want at the moment always find ways to block the path to the gates that lead to the morning of kri’at yam suf and the morning of manna. It is the boker of the giving and living of Torah that helps assure us of the continued blessings of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” that promotes and upholds the common good.

Let us, therefore, dedicate ourselves to the attainment of the three blessed boker’s: to work for a just distribution of manna, the world’s resources; to bring out the utter defeat of the modern Pharaohs at each and every Red Sea opportunity, and, above all, to help usher in an era when the decent, ethical, and moral values of Torah will prevail in the hearts and minds of humankind. Alevai.

Shabbat shalom.


[1] Psalm 59:17.

[2] Exodus Rabbah 23:6.

[3] Exodus 14:24.

[4] Exodus 16:8.

[5] Micah 4:4.

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