awesome ultimate expert hen (mdyesowitch) wrote,
awesome ultimate expert hen

Why split the sea?

3/18/07 - Rabbi's class

If He had split the sea, but not brought us through on dry land, dayenu

We did this a little bit last year, but not as completely as the Rabbi wanted.

You can view the Dayenu individually and spend hours dissecting every line, but imagine this line, "split the sea, but not led us across on dry land, it would have been enough."

So we come out of Egypt, and we get to the sea, and He splits the sea, and then we don't cross through on dry land? What? How is that enough? How is that a good thing? What would be good about it? What happened here that makes it so good?

So there's two commentaries we'll use as the foundation for our discussion.

Rab Avraham HaRoi who wrote Shivlay Hleckath comments that the fact that sea gets split opened is a big miracle for us.

The RASHBAN - in his commentary on the Hagdaddah says - if it wouldn't have been dry, if it had instead been mud, it would have been difficult to cross.

It would have been muddy, but we would still have been happy. It wouldn't have been a comfortable crossing, but it would have been a crossing. You can go through comfortably, or uncomfortably. We would have been happy even uncomfortable, but how much more so, comfortably.

Moving into a bigger theological conversation, we read in the RAMBAM (in Hilchot Yisodei Hatorah) that the reason why we believe in G-d, is not because of miracles. Whenever a faith is based on wonders, the believer has misgivings that he's being tricked through magic or sorcery. You have to understand what Moses was about and it has to be authentic belief, regardless of what miracles were taking place. Moses miracles were not to serve as proof of his legitimacy, they were for a purpose. This is a great position, and he could have stopped before using any examples. What makes the relationship authentic, is the divinity of G-d and the reality of the people's relationship with G-d. But he continues:

It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and sank them in it. We needed food and he provided us with Manna, etc.

There's a footnote on the bottom of the page, in the Avodat Hamelech, and he wonders why the RAMBAM suggests that the whole purpose of the splitting of the red sea was to drown Egyptians. Why not speak of it as purposeful to save the Jews?

Wasn't it there to establish the relationship of the Jewish people and G-d? Perhaps G-d needed them to go through the Red Sea to help the Jews define who they were? If not, why pass through the Red Sea at all? We could have stepped to the side and G-d could have done whatever He needed to with the sea.

The RASHBAM asks why would you say that? It doesn't have to do with the punishment of the Egyptians, it has to do with us. We could have gone through nicely on dry land, but muddy, but it was always about us, not about drowning the Egyptians. Why would you think we would be untouched personally by the miracle occurring around us?

Can splitting the Red Sea be part of the Jewish salvation, or is it more to do with how G-d brought retribution to the Egyptians? That's the crux of the argument.

So at the crossing of the Red Sea, they sing a song, Az Yashir, which contains the lines - "With the breath of your nostrils, the water piled up." In Targem Onkelos (written by nephew of one of the Greek kings, Onkelos was a convert to Judaism and he was one of the first people to do a translation. It's older than the Talmud. Before he converted, he was a great scholar in the secular world, and after, he became a great Jewish scholar) "And with the word of your mouth, the water became wise; it rose like a wall, the depths congealed in the heart of the sea."

The terminology of G-d speaking, it usually says "V'yidaber" he speaks. The language of Moses is literally "with the breath of his nostrils". Onkelos feels that this is a bit of poetic license, and really he spoke, just like in creation. What happened at that moment is that G-d spoke. This is how G-d makes something happen supernaturally, out of the normal.

Rashi - based on the same line brings the from the Midrash "breath that comes out of both nostrils of the nose." The Torah uses language that the common man can relate to, so it's like when G-d is angry, and wind comes out of his nostrils. Effectively, out of anger, G-d split the sea.

Onkelos doesn't speak of this act of creation as a negative thing. When G-d spoke, things happened. It's a positive force.

Rashi says, No, it's a negative happening, a moment of anger, and that's why there's steam coming out of nose.

So if the purpose of splitting the red sea is to add to the relationship between G-d and the Jews, where's the anger coming from? Anger has nothing to do with it. If you go back and say maybe it's about retribution on the Egyptians, okay, so anger fits in beautifully. This was G-d's moment of expressing his anger on the Egyptians.

This brings us back to our original purpose of splitting the red sea. If it's about forging the relationship, then it's Vyidvber, saying to split the sea, and it's like G-d embracing the Jews, but if you say it's an act of anger, it's not like that. It's a powerful destructive force.

So in the Gemorah on Arachin - Rabbi Yehudah said, "Our forefathers in the wilderness put the THOBBH through 10 tests."

· 2 by the Red Sea,

· 2 by the Mann,

· 2 with the quail,

· 1 with the Golden Calf

· 1 with the spies.

2 by Sea: 1 when they went down and 2 when they came up.

Initially they complained before the sea split. "Did you bring us out here to die? Were there not enough graveyards in Egypt?" They didn't see the water splitting, they got nervous. Okay, so it makes sense.

Upon their ascent from the Red Sea, they complained, as Rav Huna said, "The Jews of that generation were weak in faith. As Rabbah bar Mari said, "What is the meaning of the verse in Psalms written - they tested G-d by the red sea, and in the red sea. And ultimately G-d brought them out for his name's sake." It teaches us that after the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, they were rebelling, and "Just like G-d is gonna pull us out as we cross it, the Egyptians are going to come out too" and therefore standing in the water, they were rebelling. Therefore we understand that they rebelled at the sea, and also in the sea.

Rashi's commentary on Psalms reiterates the literal translation, that they honestly thought that the Jews would go out one side and the Egyptians out the other side.

Rashi's grandchildren say it doesn't make sense. They're watching the Egyptians down, but they're not drowning, how did they come up with the idea? How could they still think that G-d was going to pull them out?

They think that's too unbelievable. They propose the ideas\ that they didn't cross the sea of reeds to the other side, they came out the same side they went in a couple of miles further down the road. For the sake of their departure for Egypt, they went nowhere. They could have walked easier on the banks, maybe, rather then make this arc in the water. And that's why they had doubts. They were coming out on the same side, maybe the Egyptians were going to be there waiting for them.

So why go through the water? We thought they went through to the other side, thereby putting a barrier between them and the land of Egypt, but if that's not the case, the only way it makes sense to cross the Red Sea then, is to punish the Egyptians. The Jews, in terms of their departure, didn't gain anything by going through the Red Sea.

Rashi believed that the crossing was a crossing, and that they felt the Egyptians might find a way to get them anyway. But maybe the only purpose was to draw the Egyptians in, and so for that purpose, it wasn't necessary to bring the Jews across.

In Devraim, (4:34) it says: Has any G-d performed miracles that he took for himself a nation from amist a nation with challenging, signs, wonders, war, with a strong hand, with an outstretched arm, and with great and awesome deeds.

Ibn Ezra on the verse comments - and by a mighty hand - the reference is the Israel's departure by a high hand.

The outstretched arm refers to the pillar of fire and cloud.

And by great terrors; the drowning and his Pharoah along with his army at the splitting of the sea.

Wouldn't you assume from the phrasing "with a mighty hand" that it centered around the plagues? Translated into the relationship of G-d and Jews, it doesn't refer to the Egyptians until the last idea, with "great terrors" it's drowning Egyptians ON BEHALF of Israel. He relates it back to us and our relationship with G-d. The destruction of Egypt is on our behalf. The Ibn Ezra takes the entire verse and removes the negative connotations to redefine it as our relationship with G-d, saying effectively, when you look back on history as the plagues and the splitting of the sea, talk about it in the context of his relationship with us. Other commentaries on the verse don't go this way.

Do we look back on history and say, this is retribution on the Egyptians, or should we look back on history and downplay the retribution and focus instead on the relationship between the Jews and G-d. The way the relationship came out, the Egyptians were destroyed, but it's all about us.

The mighty hand, the outstretched arm, it's all defined in the context of our relationship. So is it a retribution or is it for our relationship with G-d?

But doesn't it has to be one of the other, that either G-d did this establish his relationship with us, or did he do it to punish the Egyptians. The commentaries like to see something the whole way, through a single dimension. If it's punishment, it's punishment. If it's relationship building, it's relationship building. If it's anger, okay, it's anger.

Onkolos wants to say, it's an expression, literally, of G-d's relationship.

In Psalms 136 it says, "And he brought Israel out of the midst, for His kindness is forever. With a strong hand and with an outstretched arm...who split the red sea in to sections...and you took the Jews through it....and you drowned the Egyptians in it..."

Three separate things to thank G-d for.

· Splitting the red sea,

· bringing the Jews through it,

· drowning the Egyptians.

3 separate things. The splitting of the red sea, independent of the Jews going through it, and punishing the Egyptians, what's the purpose? How can it be a thing by itself? Who cares? If the Red Sea was by itself and it split, who would care? Why thank G-d for that independently? King David is telling us that it stands on its own merits, not just for the purpose of bringing us close to G-d or punishing the Egyptians. It's a reality on its on merit.

We can debate back and forth about the primary or secondary reasons for splitting of the sea, but to walk away and say it's neither. The Red Sea split and that was a kindness from G-d, even without what we conventionally think of as the "purpose;" those things are besides the point.

And no commentary has yet responded to King David's thought. Every act that G-d did in Egypt, there was a direct translation to the purpose. To talk about the Red Sea and divorce it from the translation that either G-d is taking the Jews out or punishing the Egyptians, is strange. To say, we're just doing it, like a great show that you're witnessing. And now it has a truth independent of anything else, is a bit odd.

So in mysticism, they use the marine life –vs- the terrestrial life as a great example of different types of relationship with G-d. In marine life, everything is connected to its source, it's aware of it's source and doesn't see itself independent. The terrestrial life is independent, we don't think of ourselves as attached to the earth.

This is the different between the spiritual world and the physical world. In the spiritual word, everything is attached to its source. Nothing has true independence. They are just an extension of the source they come from. And we, although G-d created us, there's a sense of independence. We don't sense our continual dependence on G-d for continuance. So therefore in principle, the spiritual world, a great spiritual truth, never loses its spiritual relationship with G-d and never departs from its spiritual truth. In our world, we feel free, and we can do whatever we want. We don't have the sense that we can't do something repulsive to our spiritual source. We don't have that sense of not being able to do something out of the spiritual context of G-d. Mankind in the world must continually explore his relationship to the spiritual and stretch to achieve spirituality, where the spiritual beings in the spiritual realm can't get away from that spirituality.

So you in the world were thinking that everything in the world is normal and independent, and then there's a hiccup, a burst of something beyond nature comes into the world and attracts the attention of the beings in the material world. And the people witness an occurrence which is beyond the natural occurrence. G-d enters nature by doing something beyond the natural things. And the beings created in nature stand in awe.

G-d comes down on the mountain and speaks...incredible. Then 40 days later, the Jews create the Golden calf. How does that happen? Something so utterly paramount, the first two commandments, which are the only two that G-d uttered in the revelation, are the 2 that they break.

When something beyond nature breaks through nature, because it's not in the natural terms of the people who experience it, it doesn't create lasting change, when it's over, we revert back to who we are. We are unchanged at our core by the experience.

We cross the Red Sea. G-d fought our battle. We didn't fight with the Egyptians, we didn't do a thing. How long does it take before we're kvetching again. We don't have food, we don't have water. Can't the people even wait a moment to complain? When the people fight Amalek, and they're fighting, and Moses is holding up his hands. We start to understand that we have to work for the religion. After Amalek, between Amalek and the Golden Calf, there's no testing of G-d at all. For close to 3 months, there's peace. So when G-d is doing things for us, as great as it doesn't touch us. For example: the victory over the Egyptians was greater, there were no Jews lost. In the war with Amalek, there were. However, after the moment that battle with the Egyptians are over, because we didn't fight it, it didn't change us. When we have to fight our own battle, when we get involved, and start to understand what it means to become a people, we start realizing this isn't so simple, this is how we start to live, and we stop whining.

And then G-d gives us the Torah, and once again, it doesn't take because it didn't come from within us, because it was supernatural, it didn't last.

When G-d bursts through into creation, he changes nature, but not human nature. To change human nature must come from within the human.

There's a law of nature that water flows, and G-d suspended that law. He didn't change human nature and because of that, right after the moment of the suspension of nature, the human reverts to his own nature.

What we want from a miracle is that ability to change ourselves. And we must do that work for ourselves, and we can witness a great thing, but if we're not invested as human beings into changing our human nature in reaction, it doesn't touch it. We can go right back to how we were and be untouched.

G-d created our independence and that's who we are. But G-d created infinite worlds that exist in a spiritual source. G-d would like to create an insight for us to the spiritual beings who sense their source. How can I show them how those who live within their source relate to me and can the Jews take a lesson from that and somehow change their ways. So he splits the red sea. He takes a society that stands for dependency and sensing their source to revealing what infinite spiritual life is; stand and witness that. And in your independent lifestyle, draw from the other side of how dependant life lives, how things attached to their source live. Take a look at a spiritual way of living, like marine life, how they sensing their source, are devoted to its makeup. And you as independent creatures, take this view.

The problem is that you can stand there and watch the miracle and see the insight, but still be ultimately unaffected. So G-d splits the red sea, independent of everything, to show us how things independent of their source life exist, to allow us look into nature and discover beyond nature. The next thing that happens is that we have to walk through it. Because if we don't walk through it on our own, it won't have a lasting impact.

If G-d would have split the red sea alone, it would have been a truth. We would have been allowed to see how the infinite breaks through into the finite and the laws of nature suspend to show us the infinite. As I witnessed G-d changing nature, that should change me, but it doesn't unless I walk through the revelation. I can't simply watch G-d suspend nature. I must take an active role in changing my own nature. This how mysticism takes these thoughts to show great moments of how the infinite breaks through the finite and provides a lasting effect. The only way it can take a hold is the human elevates himself and allows from his humanness to change his nature and how his infiniteness touches the finite.

G-d changes nature and looks at the change in nature and wonders if it will be enough to bring a revelation about in the Jewish people. So then G-d walks the Jews through the sea so they can experience the revelation for themselves and work through it in their own human nature and find this experience of touching the infinite.
Tags: passover class, religion

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