Beshalach – Tending the Garden
Our front garden was recently redone, as it was overgrown with weeds and it needed to be entirely torn out and replaced. The young plants are mostly thriving, although they still appear sparse until they mature some more and fill the empty space. During a conversation an acquaintance commented on the garden, noting that it seemed to be doing very well. I concurred, and remarked that we are now waging a war against the weeds, fighting to keep them at bay. A hobbyist in agriculture, my acquaintance laughed, explaining that this was a battle I could not win. He elaborated, pointing out that wherever the ground is exposed to sunlight weeds will grow in. Not all hope was lost however. He explained that the plants would soon grow larger, covering the soil with their shade. At that point weeds would have a harder time taking hold and the garden would become manageable.
The seed of this idea germinated within, and I realized it reflects a prominent theme in our tradition of character development. When soil is not utilized for something positive, a negative force will fill the vacuum. This is true in every context. It is well known that an uninhabited house will decay more quickly than a home in which people live. Any potential not used for something positive will be utilized by the negative. When the promise is stated in the Torah that the children of Israel will inhabit the Promised Land, the Torah states that this will not happen suddenly, but gradually. “Little by little I shall drive them from before you, until you multiply and will inhabit [all] the land.” Exodus 23:30) The commentaries explain the danger of coming into a sudden inheritance is that the nation will not immediately have the numbers to fill the land. Standing empty and unused, the land will attract unwanted intruders, filling with wild beasts. Instead, a gradual replacement will occur, with the indigenous population driven out only as the people expand and are prepared to occupy more space.
Following the crossing of the sea the children of Israel camped at Marah. “And they came to Marah but they could not drink water at marah, for [the waters] were bitter. Therefore they called its name Marah.” (Exodus 15:23) The people complained and the water was sweetened when Moses threw in a tree branch at God’s instructions. The verse conclud