“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the L-RD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.”
– Exodus 14:21-22, JPS 1917 Tanach
“If they came into the sea, why does the Torah write: “they came unto dry land?” If they came unto dry land why does the Torah call it “sea?” (Shemot Rabbah 21.10). The verse teaches that the sea was not split for them until they had set foot in it while it was still sea up to the level of the nostrils (to demonstrate their faith). Immediately after they had done this the sea was converted to dry land.
– R’ Bachya on Exodus 14:22, sefaria.org
The midrashimare not always meant to be taken literally, rather to make a point. Perhaps, one inference to be drawn from this particular midrash, concerns the nature of emunah (faith). While the faith required by B’nei Yisrael to enter into the narrow passage created in the midst of the sea is comprehensible, an even greater faith would have been required if they began to enter the water, even before the splitting of the sea.
The nature of faith, is not only an abstract quality of belief, per se, in something that is unseen. True emunah is to actually believe in what one cannot see, beyond speculation, as if it exists in actuality, and has an influence in a person’s life. Therefore, while many people confess a belief in G-d, only in tandem to the day to day challenges, does that belief become more of an actuality.
Belief in G-d is more than an intellectual exercise in speculation, in order to compel us to have a reference point (usually, somewhere in Heaven) to direct our prayers towards in times of need. The nature of faith denotes an interface between a person’s belief system and practice, not as something removed from a person’s life, compartmentalized in a region of the mind, wherein a disconnect exists to that person’s practical existence.
At the Sea of Reeds, the Almighty’s Presence within the pillar of fire, and the pillar of cloud, were manifestations of His actual existence. Additionally, the splitting of the sea served as a sign of His power, not only to the Children of Israel, also to the rest of the world at that time. The existence of G-d, the manifestation of His Presence, and the signs of His interaction in this world are not as easily found in our lives, surroundings, or greater environmental milieu. Instead, emunah (faith) requires a profound degree of awareness.
“The L-RD is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation; this is my G-d, and I will glorify Him; my father’s G-d, and I will exalt Him.”
– Exodus 15:2, JPS 1917 Tanach
The midrash states that even a lowly handmaid saw more at the Sea of Reeds than the prophet Ezekiel saw in his visions (see Ezekiel ch. 1). In other words, she was able to perceive more in regard to H’Shem, because of her actual experience, where G-d’s intervention was clear. The midrash emphasizes the importance of seeing G-d’s direct interaction in our lives; this type of interaction is referred to as hashgacha peratis – G’d’s guidance over the life of every individual on earth, even on a personal level. Once we begin to open our eyes to this truth, then our belief will take root in our soul.
The redemption of B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) began on Shabbos, specifically, the tenth of Nissan. That Shabbos became known as Shabbat HaGadol. What was so special about the Tenth of Nissan? That day was when the Children of Israel were commanded to bring a lamb into each and every one of their homes. “Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household” (Exodus 12:3, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Why was this the beginning of the Redemption for B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel)? Because the lamb was to be the first national offering, made by each and every family, for the sake of using the blood of the lamb as a sign, placed upon the doorposts and lintels of their homes. The blood would serve as a sign, whereby, “the L-RD will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He seeth the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side-posts, the L-RD will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you” (Exodus 12:23).
And, so, the tenth plague, the slaying of the first born, was not enacted upon the Children of Israel. They were spared, because of their emunah (faith) in H’Shem, that compelled them to carry out the commandment, regarding the Pesach lamb. They had been further commanded, “none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning” (Exodus 12:23).
“Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, And shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself for a little moment, Until the indignation be overpast.”
Today is a day of fasting and prayer in Israel, as well as throughout the world. According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the last day of the year, when the year is reckoned by the monthly perspective, beginning with Nissan, the first of the months.
Today is also Yom Kippur Katan (small Yom Kippur), the day before Rosh Chodesh (the New Month). Yom Kippur Katan, observed almost every month on the 29th of the month, is a day of fasting, prayer, and teshuvah (repentance), in preparation of the New Month.
Even moreso, today, before the month of Nissan; and, especially because the day has been declared a day of fasting and prayer, in lieu of the coronavirus plague. Instead of letting the plague run its course, we pray for its end.
Instead of letting the plague overwhelm our lives, we pray for strength to continue with our daily tasks. Instead of letting the plague divert our attention from what is most meaningful in life, we pray for guidance to focus on what is essential.
Instead of letting the plague compel us towards a mindset of fear, anxiety and worry, we pray for G-d to enlighten us with hope, faith, and peace of mind. Instead of letting the plague contribute to a sense of claustrophobia, we pray for G-d to show us how to use our time wisely.
Measure for measure, H’Shem enacted judgment upon Egypt. Turning the Nile River into blood, reminded Pharaoh of his guilt, concerning his decree against male infants, that they be drowned in the Nile. And, the perishing of Pharaoh and his army at the Sea of Reeds was an expression of H’Shem’s judgment against Pharaoh. As implied by Yisro’s words:
Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law, “heard of all that G-d had done for Moses, and for Israel his people” (Exodus 18:1, JPS). “Now I know that the L-RD is greater than all gods” (Exodus 18:11, JPS). He continued, by making the implication that in the same manner that the Pharaoh conspired against the Children of Israel, so was his army destroyed. I.e., measure for measure, by means of water.
Although Yisro had worshipped many gods, according to Tanchuma, he had renounced idolatry. Yet, it was not until he heard of H’Shem’s plagues against Egypt – each one symbolizing H’Shem’s superiority over an Egyptian god – and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, that he recognized H’ Shem as “greater than all gods.”
Up until then, his belief was predicated upon rational inquiry; he had his doubts about the efficacy of the many deities that he used to worship. Yet, when he heard of H’Shem’s greatness being demonstrated in a tangible way through the plagues, and the splitting of the sea, his belief was upgraded to the level of da’as (actual knowledge). So strong was his belief in H’Shem, that he chose to align himself with truth. Only H’Shem is the One true G-d. All other so-called deities are no-things.
“Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink.”
– Psalm 69:14, JPS 1917 Tanach
Some mornings, it is as if I’m stuck in the mire of my past; a sign for me to somehow reconcile my feelings in an honest way with myself and G-d. Waiting patiently for insight, I felt compelled to write in my journal this morning, as well as share a few words. These are candid words; I hope that they will be accessible to others for the sake of their own journey. For myself, a glimmer of light has appeared on the horizon. My hope is that the same will be true for others in due time, according to G-d’s will.
It is a progressive path, not an overnight realisation, as if everything shifts into resolution at once. The uphill climb is not easy; it takes effort, determination, and constant hope. “The L-rd is good unto them that wait for Him” (Lamentations 3:25). Perhaps, quoting this verse sounds like a contradiction. How is it possible to act and wait at the same time? Keeping with my routine, staying the course, and placing my trust in G-d, I also wait for his response to the prayers of my heart.
B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) were slaves in Egypt for 216 years; yet, they were not forgotten by G-d, who eventually heard their cries. Didn’t G-d hear their cries all of those years of bondage in Egypt? Of course, He did; however, all of the circumstances for their deliverance did not fall into place until that time.
Moreover, it is written, as revealed to Abraham when he enacted the covenant of the parts, that B’nei Yisrael would not be brought into Eretz Canaan, until the iniquity of the Amorite was full (see Genesis 15:16). In other words, G-d could not reasonably displace a people until the full measure of their immorality was brought to light by their sinful conduct. Only then could G-d permit the Israelites to enter the land, that was previously occupied by an iniquitous nation.
“Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thy heart, dost thou go in to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the L-RD thy G-d doth drive them out from before thee, and that He may establish the word which the L-RD swore unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
Deuteronomy 9:5, JPS 1917 Tanach
Regarding the circumstances of our lives, when we pray for something that will make a major impact for us, we need to fully place out trust in G-d, knowing that through His wisdom, the timing and manner of actualization of our prayers is best placed in His hands, and not our own. Otherwise, we may even run the risk of thwarting His plans for us. This was the case of the Ephraimites, who attempted to leave Egypt thirty years prior to the Exodus. They were defeated in battle by the Philistines.
So, when we look to G-d to provide safe passage for us, as He did for the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds, into some place of renewal in our lives, let’s acknowledge that this is only possible through complete emunah (faith) in Him, despite whatever the circumstances are in our lives – His timing is perfect. He can even change a negative situation into a positive one, like He did when B’nei Yisrael appeared to be trapped at the Sea of Reeds, when Pharaoh’s army approached.