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Is It Safe To Cross?

25/01/13 06:09:22


R Pesach Siegel

Parshas BeShalach - Is It Safe To Cross?


The Bnei Yisroel find themselves in a quandary, between a rock and a hard place. The Egyptians behind them, ready for blood, the Yam Suf blocking the way in front of them. They see Mitzrayim gaining on them and they are afraid, they are very afraid. They respond in two manners, they cry out to Hashem and they turn to Moshe and say, "Is there a shortage of graves in Mitzrayim that you took us out to the desert to die?"[1]


Moshe responds, "Hashem will fight your battle for you. You stand still. You be silent."[2]


Hashem commands Moshe to put aside his staff and extend his hand over the Yam Suf.[3] The Yam Suf splits, the Bnei Yisroel enter. The Egyptians follow....


When the last Jew emerged from the Yam Suf, Moshe was commanded to, again, extend his hand over the Yam, causing it to return to its previous state.[4] It is clear that just as the splitting of the Yam Suf was a miracle, so was the reversal of that process.




What convinced the Bnei Yisroel that their death was imminent? Had they not witnessed the ability of Hashem in controlling the elements of nature? Hadn't He demonstrated the love He has for His people?


Why was the splitting of the Yam to be done through Moshe's outstretched arm and specifically not with his staff?


How do we understand Moshe's injunction to the Bnei Yisroel to stand still and be still? Is there fault to be found with crying out to Hashem? Why should they remain quiet?


The Egyptians followed the Jews into the Yam. Didn't it occur to them that the Yam split for the Jew's benefit and that as soon as they would no longer have need of it, the Yam would return to its former state? Are they possessed of suicidal tendencies?


If the need for the splitting of the sea was to save the Jews, when that was no longer required, why wouldn’t the sea return to its former state on its own accord?




The Medrash Rabbah provides us with insight in the above issues. The Medrash tell us of a celestial court case that was underway at the time. The Bnei Yisroel were standing in judgement to be saved or perish. The lawyer for the prosecution was the Angel on high of Mitzrayim. His arguments are persuasive.


"Why is it", he says, "that the Jews are deserving of being miraculously saved and my children are to be put to death?" "Is it because my children are idol worshippers? The Bnei Yisroel also worship idols. Is it due to the fact that my children are uncircumcised, wear shatnez, grow their hair in a provocative manner? The Jews are also uncircumcised, wear shatnez, and grow their hair in a provocative manner."[5]


The Jews and the Mitzriyim are the same, they share identical flaws. This was actually the goal of Mitzrayim. To enslave the Jews so that they should be subservient to their culture, dragging them down, engulfing them totally in their "Tumah".


The prosecutor rests his case.


The posuk says that the Bnei Yisroel envisioned "Mitzrayim" (Egypt) pursuing them.[6] It would have been more accurate to state that the Mitzriyim (Egyptians) were chasing after them. Rashi explains that they had a vision of the Angel of the Egyptians - the soul of Mitzrayim, hence he is referred to as Mitzrayim.  


The Angel of Mitzrayim is the one who blurs the distinctions between the Bnei Yisroel and the Egyptians. The Bnei Yisroel were well aware of their shortcomings, they were fearful of their conformance to Egyptian culture. The danger was very real, there was no foreseeable reason why they should be saved and the Egyptians destroyed.


The posuk states that the Bnei Yisroel reached the awareness of "Vaya’aminu BaHashem uviMoshe avdo". - "They believed in Hashem and in Moshe his "servant."


 A servant has nothing of his own. He is null and void to his master's will. He exists solely for his owner.


Moshe Rabbeinu personified this ideal. He, personally, did not exist. This is not the exclusive "domain" of Moshe Rabeinu. Every Jew, by virtue of his connection to Moshe, has within himself the potential of being an Eved Hashem. The level that Moshe Rabeinu arrived at is the true identity of all of Am Yisroel.[7]


There are two components of every individual, one's essence and his actions.  The two are not always consistent with one another.


The Egyptians were idol worshippers, the Jews worshipped idols. The true essence of the Jews is not Avoda Zara or Shatnez, it is Moshe Rabeinu.




Had Moshe Rabeinu utilized his staff to save the Bnei Yisroel, they might have thought that there is some miraculous power contained within the staff. Hashem wanted it to be clear that their salvation was due to the essential difference between them and the Egyptians. The "Moshe Rabeinu" within themselves. It is for this reason that Moshe was commanded to use his actual hand to perform the miracle for it was due to his essence that the miracle was wrought.[8]


The Bnei Yisroel were commanded to stand still and be silent. When one "speaks up" in front of Hashem, then there is danger of the rest of his words uttered elsewhere being held up to the microscope and examined. Had they continued their prayers, the prayers that were offered to Avoda Zara would have been allowed entry to the court case. Their salvation lied in their silence. They were to stand silent and contemplate their essential nature, not the acts they did or the words that they said. Moshe instructed them to stand as a monument to Hashem.[9]


The Egyptians didn't delve deep enough into the Jewish psyche. They had a superficial understanding of their nature. They weren't privy to the difference between them. If the Yam Suf is to split for the Jews, then it must stay in that split state for the Egyptians as well. They were assured of this by their angel. They and the Bnei Yisroel are one and the same - Avoda Zara, Shatnez, hair style, uncircumcised. They followed the Jews into the Yam Suf. The Medrash states that the Egyptians didn't perish right away. They were shown that they were to die and the Jews to survive. In their final moments they were shown the distinction between themselves and the Jews.[10]


Now it is perfectly understood why it was necessary for Moshe to extend his hand a second time in order for the waters to cascade upon the Egyptians. It was only due to the distinction between Moshe's "hand" and the Egyptians hands that enabled the final act to unfold.

[1] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, pesukim 10-12

[2] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, pesukim 13-14

[3] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, posuk 16. According to the Chizkuni.

[4] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, posuk 26 (Question of Rav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, in his sefer Pirkei Torah).

[5] Vayikra Rabbah, parsha 23, piska 2 (The Bnei Yisroel were physically circumcised upon leaving Mitzrayim. The Medrash is referring to a spiritual internal flaw in Briso shel Avrohom Avenu. – Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita).

[6] Parshas Beshalach, perek 14, posuk 10

[7] Rav Mordechai Gifter, z”l, in his sefer Pirkei Torah.

[8] Rav Moshe Shapiro, shlita

[9] Rabbeinu Bachaye

[10] Mechilta (Quoted in the Sefer Rokeach)

Sun, September 20 2020 2 Tishrei 5781