motzei Shabbos: parashas Beshalach 5782 – Sweet Waters
“And Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.” – Exodus 15:22, JPS
For three days after the miracle of the splitting of the sea that led to their deliverance, they were without water. This occurred as a test of their emunah (faith) in G-d, to prove whether or not they believed that He would provide for them, even though the situation appeared bleak. Yet, upon arriving at Marah, they complained, because the only water source was too bitter for them to drink.
According to Rashi, instead of grumbling, they should have approached Moshe in a respectful manner, saying, “Entreat mercy for us that we may have water to drink” (Rashi on Exodus 15:25, sefaria.org). In any case, Moshe responded by crying out to H’Shem, Who showed him a tree, to cast into the water, in order to make the bitter waters sweet (Exodus 15:25).
“There He made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (Exodus 15:25, JPS). Sforno explains, that, the test was designed, “to find out if they would be willing to accept statutes, i.e., laws not given to our intelligence to understand, as well as social legislation” (sefaria). If so, this would determine whether or not, they would receive the commandments at Sinai.
Thus, to accept that despite all understanding, a tree that is thrown into bitter waters will somehow have the effect of purifying those waters, so that they are no longer bitter, rather, that they become sweet, was a “lithmus test” of sorts, that would indicate their level of acceptance of commandments, some that have no apparent rational basis, and others that could only be understood over time.
We may remind ourselves of this teaching, by taking this to heart, in regard to our own belief and practice, within the context of the yoke of heaven: the acceptance of the commandments as incumbent upon us to observe, in all diligence, ultimately, for our own benefit. Whether we understand the nature of those commandments on a rational basis or not.
“And He said: ‘If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of HaShem thy G-d, and wilt do that which is right in His eyes, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the L-RD that healeth thee.’” – Exodus 15:26, JPS 1917 Tanach