14.8. Crossing the Sea of Reeds (14:19-22)

 (19) The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them; and the pillar of cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them,

(20) and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel. Thus there was the cloud with the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night.

(21) Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split,

(22) and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

(19) The angel of God, who had been going ahead of the Israelite army, now moved and followed behind them: Normally, at sunset the pillar of cloud would be replaced by the pillar of fire, and at dawn vice versa, but here both pillars came together in order to keep the Egyptians away from Israel.

(20) And it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel: The two pillars were joined together, and therefore:

Thus there was the cloud with the darkness, and it cast a spell upon the night, so that the one could not come near the other all through the night: On the Egyptian side there was only darkness and gloom, because of the pillar of cloud, but on the Jewish side the pillar of fire lit up the night.

(21) Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split: In order for the Jews to trust Moses, God had to make it seem to them that it was Moses who was performing this miracle.

(22) And the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground: The Midrash understands this verse as: “And the Israelites (first) went into the sea (and only then found that they were walking) on dry ground.” That is, first they entered the sea, and only then did it part.

According to the Midrash, at first the sea would not part, and, despite Moses’ exhortations to proceed, the people would not move. But then, Nahshon the son of Amminadab, the prince of the tribe of Judah (see 6:23, and Num. 1:7) entered the water, going deeper and deeper until the water had reached unto his nostrils, and only then the waters parted. The lesson to be learned here is that the miracle of salvation occurred only at the very last moment, and only when the Jews, rather than remaining entirely passive, did everything they could possibly do to show their initiative, and to demonstrate their trust in God that the salvation would come.

The waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left: In this description there remains a certain duality. God drove back the sea with a strong wind all night (which makes it seem like a natural event), but the waters formed a wall for them on their right and on their left (obviously a miraculous event). This reflects two different perceptions of those same events among the Jewish people. Some of them perceived the events as something entirely normal (the wind blew so hard that the bottom of the sea was exposed), while others saw what was happening as a something truly miraculous (God Himself had split the sea for them).

Such substantially divergent assessments of the very same events in our lives occur frequently, because God runs the world such that we can perceive events as either natural or miraculous, depending on our outlook[1].

[1] For example, in the modern Jewish world some people choose to perceive the creation of the State of Israel as a natural event (it does not seem to violate any physical laws, after all), while others see it as an “open miracle” (since the return of a people to their land after two thousand years of exile runs contrary to all the laws of history and sociology).

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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