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The Rabbis of the ancient Midrash tell us a very strange thing about the splitting of the sea. They say that when the Jews were walking through the sea on dry land, they actually had wonderful fruit trees, with apples and pomegranates as it is? You had to add fruit trees? Why not say they were Hershey almond bars, too, and so, why are they saying such a thing?
So I think the Rabbis here are maybe picking up on something upon very fascinating going on just beneath the surface of this text. Let’s actually read the story of the splitting of the sea together and try to see if we can discern the kind of elements that the Rabbis might have seen here. As we begin to read, we are going to play one of our favorite games, where else in the Torah have we heard this kind of thing before? What are the words remind you of, what are the ideas remind you of?
Let’s start with this, a moment just before the sea split, what did it look like? Vayolech Hashem et-hayam beruach kadim azah kol-halailah vayasem et-hayam lecharavah vayibak’u hamayim, ‘God caused a great wind that blow over the waters, all night long’. When else was it dark and there was nothing else but water and there was a wind of God blowing over the waters?
That happened at the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Choshek al-penei tehom, ‘Darkness was on the face of the deep’, veruach Elokim,‘and the spirit or the wind of God’, spirit and wind are both the same word, merachefet al-penei hamayim, ‘was hovering over the waters’. You know, we don’t often think about this image of the world before creation as the Torah portrays it to us. The only thing that was really there was water. There was water, water everywhere and it was dark and now, just before the sea splits, it is the same setup. What is the first thing that happens in creation? God makes light and then he separates between the darkness and the light. Anything happened like that here at the sea of reeds?
Well, there is this pillar of cloud by which God leads the people of Israel and the pillar of cloud moved itself from the front of the people to the back of the people. Vayavo bein machaneh Mitzrayim uvein machaneh Yisrael, ‘and it separated between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel’. Such that vayehi he’anan vehachoshech vaya’er et-halaylah, ‘the pillar of cloud shown on the Israelites camp and lit up the night with light’ but for the Egyptians, vayehi he’anan hachoshech, ‘and the clouds created darkness’. One more time, separation between light and darkness. A pillar of cloud creates light for Israel, darkness of Egypt.
And now, what’s the next thing that happens in creation? This mysterious when God says, yehi rakia betoch hamayim vihi mavdil bein mayim lamayim, ‘and sky will divide between waters and waters’. There were upper waters and there were lower waters whatever that means and there were sky and between. Does that remind you of anything at the splitting of the sea? Was there another time when there were two bodies of water that were separated? There surely was but this time, it wasn’t vertical separation but horizontal separation. Vehamayim lahem chomah miyeminam umismolam, ‘and the water was for them a wall from their right and from their left’ and what was between, sky. One more time. So there was separation between light and darkness, there was separation between waters and waters and then there was one more great separation between waters and dry land. Vayomer Elokim yikavu hamayim mitachat hashamayim el-makom echad vetera’eh hayabashah, ‘let the waters gather into one place and the dry land be seen at the sea’. At the sea it happens again, the sea splits and the waters gather themselves, allowing the dry land to appear.
It’s all happening again. In creation, what did dry land allow for? It allowed for life on land. Vegetation, animal life, human life. What did the dry land in the midst of the sea allow for? It allowed for life. Israel faced the possibility of extinction but not when the sea is split and a path of dry land opened up between the waves. Then life was possible. Yavo venei-Yisrael betoch hayam bayabashah, ‘the Israelites went through the sea on dry land’. They went and of course, who do they leaved with? We know from the exodus story, the leaved with their animals. Animal life, human life possible because of the division between water and land, because of the existence of dry land.
But there’s just one element missing and that seems to be where the sages come in. The missing element from creation is plant life. It is the trees. The sages with their comment seems to be dropping us a little hint, nudging us in the direction of seeing creation one more time at the sea. Yes, of course, there were trees. As it says in creation, etz pri oseh peri lemino, ‘fruit trees bearing fruits’, it was all there too.
Sages weren’t just randomly making up fairy tales about the splitting of the sea. They were helping you to discern a pattern that held for the Israelites. The division between light and darkness, the division between bodies of water and the division between land and the sea. For Egypt, all of those divisions collapsed. As dawn broke over the camp of the Egyptians, vayashkef Hashem el-machaneh Mitzrayim be’amud esh ve’anan, ‘God looked out towards the camp of the Egyptians with a pillar of fire and cloud and no divisions between them. Light and darkness all mixed up this time and then what happened, vayahom et machaneh Mitzrayim, ‘God mixed up sought chaos among the camp of Egypt. The two walls of water collapsed, the separation between them gone. The separation between land and sea, gone. One more time, utter chaos. Waves crashing in a world ruled by water. It evokes non-creation. Veha’aretz hayetah tohu vavohu, ‘the world was in utter chaos, darkness on the face of the deep’ and one more time, nothing but the wind of God, blowing over the waters.
In the series that we did for Passover, I made the argument that in the plagues, God distinguished himself, not just as a powerful force but as the creator himself. The exodus was intended as a kind of revelation of God as creator. Egypt didn’t believe in a creator. They believed in many Gods, each God controlled their own particular domain. But Judaism taught a different truth. There was one God in charge of it all. One force controlled the Nile and could turn it into blood. Controlled the amphibian world and could bring frogs on Egypt. Controlled insects and could bring lice. Controlled precipitation and could bring hail. Controlled human life and could bring death to the firstborn. Over and over Pharaoh resisted that message until finally, the ultimate act, creation itself would be on display. Those who acknowledged the existence of the creator would have the benefits of creation and those who denied the creator, would live in an uncreated world. If you deny the force that created all these order in the world then live in a world of disorder and see what you can make of that.
So now let’s stand back and add it all up. The fate that the Egyptian army meets at the sea, is a reflection of the great sin of Egypt against humankind. Their refusal to see other humans as brothers, their willingness to cast baby boys into the water and drawn them mercilessly. Now, the perpetrators would meet the same fate that they inflicted upon the victim. They too would be drawn in the water. And at another level, their fate corresponds to another denial because when you deny the brotherhood of men, you are also denying the father that makes men brothers. If there is no creator then there is no brotherhood of mankind. There’s nothing that makes us one family. You just happen to be here and I happen to be here. The sin of throwing babies in the Nile was only possible if you deny the father in heaven that made us part of one big family. If you deny that father, the creator then try to live in that world. You will fail.
At the sea, Egypt rips the dark fruits of its own poisonous theology.
1. Bereishit: Thank You, God...For Not Making Me A Woman?
2. Noach: Why Aren't Dinosaurs In the Torah?
3. Lech Lecha: The Battle For Abraham's Legacy
4. Vayeira: Abram, Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael and...Exodus?
5. Vayeira: Epilogue
6. Chayei Sarah: Eliezer and Samuel's Surprising Connection
7. Vayeitzei: Understanding Rachel's World
8. Vayishlach: From Jacob to Israel
9. Vayeishev: Does God Speak To Us Today?
10. Miketz: Reversing the Sale of Joseph
11. Vayigash: Understanding Pharaoh's Dream
12. Vayechi: A Tap On The Shoulder
13. Shmot: Does God Really "Love" Us?
14. Va'era: Seeing God in Science
15. Bo: God's Justice In Action
16. Beshalach: Fruit Trees In the Sea?
17. Beshalach: Epilogue
18. Yitro: Seeing Ten Commandments in the Burning Bush
19. Mishpatim: Does Our History Become Laws?
20. Mishpatim: Epilogue
21. Terumah: Angels In the Tabernacle? Part I/2
22. Tetzaveh: Angels In the Tabernacle?- Part 2/2
23. Ki Tisa: A Closer Look At Kiddush
24. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
25. Pekudei: A Giant Chiasm In Sefer Shmot
26. Vayikra: How Can We Relate To Sacrifices Today?
27. Tzav: A Deeper Look At The Priestly Role
28. Tzav: Epilogue
29. Shemini: What Does Aaron Teach Us About Loss?
30. Tazria-Metzora: Rejoining the Community
31. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Social Justice...and Sacrifices?
32. Emor: An Epic View of Jewish Holidays
33. Behar-Bechukotai: Walking With God
34. Bamidbar: Why We Count
35. Beha'alotecha: Where It All Went Wrong
36. Shelach: How Can We Relate To Such a Vengeful God?
37. Korach: Why Did Korach Rebel?
38. Chukat: Why Did Moses Hit The Rock?
39. Balak: What Is Israel's Purpose In The World?
40. Pinchas: What Is True Leadership?
41. Matot-Masei: The Art of Negotiation
42. Devarim: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 1/2
43. Va'etchanan: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 2/2
44. Eikev: Why Does The Nation Of Israel Merit The Land?
45. Re'eh: Why Do We Need Both Oral and Written Law?
46. Shoftim: The Significance of Saving Private Ryan
47. Ki Teitzei: How To Merit Long Life
48. Ki Tavo: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 1
49. Nitzavim: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 2/2
50. Vayeilech: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 1/3
51. Ha'azinu: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 2/3
52. V'Zot Habracha: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 3/3
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