Last week’s Parshas Beshalach recounted Mara’s undrinkable, bitter water. The Jews are taught that if they follow the Torah, they will avoid all the diseases inflicted upon Egypt, “For I am God your Healer” God says.
In one verse, (Exod. 15:25) God sweetens the water, together with commanding the Jews in three mitzvos: honoring parents, setting up courts, and the Sabbath. The connection in one verse of God making the waters drinkable, and these three laws, teaches an inextricable bond between them: life is worthless without Torah, but primarily, without the lesson of these three laws.
I would like to briefly address an idea that may tie all three commands together, and explain why these commands were needed at this point.
The Torah teaches three beings that we are not to curse: parents, princes (leaders), and God. These three beings are all authority figures. Our parents commence our lesson of authority, followed by other leaders and then God. This is God’s design, that we must acclimate the acceptance of authority from youth, if we are to successfully transpose this rudimentary model onto God and accept all He outlines in Torah. By accepting God, we will enjoy the best life. Cursing ay of these beings displays the inability to live by God’s standards.
When the Jews left Egypt and the shores of the Red Sea, they were finally rid of their oppressors, who were also their authority figures. God wished to imbue the Jews with the new authority: Himself. He taught the Jews these three laws of honoring parents, courts, and Sabbath for this reason. The first two are obvious, and with little thought, we understand how Sabbath imbues man with God’s authoritative, Creator role. These lessons were needed at this juncture since the Jews’ authority figures had been stripped of them, and there was a “risk”. The Jews’ freedom was not for freedom’s sake, but to accept God’s Torah on Mt. Sinai and serve Him. But their temporal freedom before arriving at Sinai freedom ran the risk of tasting so good; those freed slaves may reject new authority. These three laws addressed the Jews’ precarious state at this precise juncture in the nation’s development.
We once mentioned that God hurried the Jews out of Egypt, to the point that their loaves didn’t rise. Matza is what became of their loaves. God underlines this with much significance in the Torah. What is so essential about loaves which didn’t rise, and which became matza due to a hurried ousting, that an entire holiday is built around them?
The Jews were fed matza, even before their hurried oust. This is the “poor man’s bread” we refer to at the Seder. History teaches that Egyptians were the creators of bread. They most certainly ate it. So the Jews saw their oppressors enjoying this soft food, while they broke their teeth on matza throughout their bondage. The the enslaved Jew, bread assumed the identity as “free man’s food”. I once suggested that this is why the Jews were baking bread that night they left Egypt, as they were finally free and planned on enjoying the literal “taste” of freedom. They wanted to portray the image of freedom, so they were preparing bread for themselves. And they shared such a universal desire for bread, that the Torah says that when ousted by the Egyptians during the Death of Firstborns, the Jews carried their “loaf”, and not their “loaves”. (Exod. 12:34) The Torah emphasizes this significance that loaf, by repeating in verse 39, “They baked the loaf”. It appears that the Torah wishes to speak of the loaves in a collective, as if all loaves shared something in common. I suggested that the loaves were significant to the Jews. It represented their freedom.
What was God’s response to this loaf? He rushed them out so the loaves would not rise and become bread. God retarded the process of their loaves, so they could not express their identity with Egyptians who enjoyed unbridled freedom. That is not the freedom God had in mind. Due to these considerations, God also quickly taught the Jews the lessons of authority. These lessons would also serve as a sampling of the Torah they were about to receive. The retarded loaf and the lessons at Mara served to inculcate into Jewish consciousness that freedom per se is not God’s plan: they must accept God’s authority. Two sides of one coin.
The lesson taught at Mara’s bitter waters: life is truly bitter without accepting the authority of God, and the incomparable sweetness of His laws.