Parashat Beshalah: The Special Opportunity of Shabbat Shira
Parashat Beshalah is famous for the miracle of Keri’at Yam Suf – the splitting of the sea, through which Beneh Yisrael were rescued from the Egyptian army that pursued them and trapped them against the ocean. In the Torah’s narrative of the events, we find a series of three verses (14:19-21) which, while they seem rather ordinary, are actually very unique.
The first verse tells that that the angel which had been leading Beneh Yisrael as they journeyed went behind them, as did the pillar of cloud which had traveled in front of them. Rashi explains that the cloud went behind them to miraculously block the arrows and stones which the Egyptians hurled at Beneh Yisrael from behind. The second verse tells that the cloud not only protected Beneh Yisrael, but also created a thick darkness in the Egyptian camp behind them, while providing illumination for Beneh Yisrael. Finally, the third verse tells that Moshe lifted his staff over the sea, whereupon the waters split, allowing Beneh Yisrael to safely cross.
What makes this series of verses so exceptional is the fact that they each contain the exact same number of letters – 72.
This might not, at first glance, strike us as very significant, but in truth, this is of great importance. The Zohar teaches us that these three verses allude to the 72 combinations that form special Names of G-d. Each Name is formed by taking one letter from each verse and combining the three letters together. Specifically, the first letter of the first verse, the final letter of the second verse, and the first letter of the third verse form the first Name; then, the second letter of the first verse, the second to last letter of the second verse, and the second letter of the third verse form the second Name, and so on.
What is the significance of these Names?
The word "Hesed" ("kindness") has the Gematria (numerical value) of 72, whereas the word "Gebura" (literally, "power") – the word used to refer to G-d’s attribute of strict justice – has the Gematria of 216, which is three times 72. By forming the 72 Names, each of which consists of three letters – for a total of 216 – we neutralize the "Gebura," the judgments, with "Hesed" – kindness. We take 72 – "Hesed" – and use it to displace the "Gebura" (216).
Our Sages teach that at the time when Beneh Yisrael were trapped against the sea, they were threatened by G-d’s attribute of judgment. The prosecuting angels argued that they were not deserving of a miracle. Moshe overcame the judgments by invoking the 72 Names, and so these Names are alluded to specifically in the verses that speak of the unfolding of Keri’at Yam Suf.
Every year, on Shabbat Shira – the Shabbat when we read Parashat Beshalah – we have a special opportunity. When we read these verses, and listen attentively to the reading, we are able to access the power of these 72 Names, the ability to "sweeten" any harsh judgments that were issued against us, by invoking G-d’s abundant "Hesed." May we all be worthy of Hashem’s kindness, so that we will experience miracles and salvation just as our ancestors did at the sea, as G-d promised, "As in the days when you left Egypt, I shall show you wonders" (Micha 7:15).