Rebecca Masinter

Parshas B'shalach - Change the Paradigm

Parshas B’shalach has some high highs and low lows. Bnai Yisrael left Egypt and crossed the Yam Suf, received heavenly bread, and were led in the desert by Hashem Himself with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. Inspirational, right? But we also have the beginnings of the complaints right here in B’shalach. From the point the nation stood at the banks of the Yam Suf with Pharaoh's army pursuing from behind, the complaints and accusations against Moshe started. And these complaints surfaced again and again over the next 40 years. “Are there not enough graves in Egypt that you brought us here to die in the wilderness?.... It is better for us to serve Mitzrayim than to die in the wilderness!” Can you imagine? After the ten plagues, after leaving Mitzrayim after 210 years and after seeing open miracles, Bnai Yisrael turned against Moshe with such venom? It strikes us as appalling and very problematic. But, there is another way to frame this encounter and it is explained in the Sefer Kuzari by R’ Yehudah HaLevi, and noted by Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch. They don’t condone the attacks on Moshe, but they do shift the paradigm and view this Parsha from a different perspective. You see, says R’ Yehudah HaLevi, the very fact that the Jewish people were argumentative, pushing back against their leader, is proof that they weren’t hypnotized, duped, or easily taken in. There was no drinking of the Kool Aid in that generation. Their minds were clear, their thoughts were lucid, and they didn’t simply accept situations that seemed perilous. And yet, this same nation, ultimately was willing to completely accept Hashem’s dominion, and to completely trust Moshe Rabeinu and his teachings, not only temporarily, but for thousands of years throughout difficult and perilous times. The arguments they originally engaged in provide important evidence of the authenticity of Moshe and Hashem’s Torah. The same nation that wouldn’t blindly trust even after the miracles of the Exodus, but rather argued and fought, that same nation accepted Hashem’s Torah completely and devotedly and that speaks to the truth and overwhelming impact of Moshe’s teachings. What’s happening here is really fascinating. The facts are still the facts. At the Yam Suf, right after leaving Mitzrayim, Bnai Yisrael turned against Moshe with complaints and accusations. Yet, R’ Yehudah HaLevi and R’ Hirsch show us that without changing the facts, we can choose to change our perspectives. We can reframe the story and look at it from another perspective, a framework that speaks to the glory and honesty of the Torah, Moshe, and the Jewish people. It’s up to us how we want to see the situation. As mothers, we have this opportunity all the time. Our children’s behavior is what it is. The facts can be there, crystal clear. And yet, we choose how we frame it to ourselves. Do we frame it as, “this child is pushing my buttons” or “he’s trying to manipulate me”, or “how can he speak that way after all I’ve done for her?” or can we see, my child’s behavior is trying to tell me how much pain he’s in right now, or how scared she is or simply that he’s overtired or hungry. One Shabbos, one of my children abruptly and abrasively called to me from across the room. I don’t even remember what he said. But I do remember that my husband whispered to me, “Look, he’s trying to engage with you!” In one short comment he helped me reframe my perspective, to not get upset at the style or content of the words, but to see and respond to the desire for connection inherent in his communication. That is the gift of perspective. We can’t change reality, but we can choose how to see it. We can choose to shift the paradigm. And when we shift our paradigm to one of positivity, potential, and goodness, then we give the gift of that new paradigm to our children and they learn to see themselves as tenacious, not stubborn, persuasive, not argumentative, stimulating, not challenging, creative, not messy, and the gift of that perspective really does yield a new reality.