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The Three Great Lies of the Exodus
Video 6 of 6
This is actually the moment where all the signs would come true all at once; the snakes, the leprous hand, the water and blood. Yes, it all came true in stages, the first plague, the tenth plague, but now at the sea it's all happening at once. The Children of Israel collectively they're this one, great snake as it were, a column of people triumphantly snaking its way through this chasm in the ocean. Then the ghostly white flesh, the color of a stillborn that dies in a womb, that dies in water, the Egyptians die in water, they're vanquished by the crashing waves. Then finally you look out on the placid sea that covers it all. It almost makes it seem as if nothing happened, and the only trace of that great moment of triumph is when Israel looks back.
Vayar yisrael et mitzrayim meit al sefat hayam - Israel saw Egypt dead on the shores of the sea. What of the water? The water wouldn't have been bloody, it's too big. Just like the Nile, there would have been just a trace. Think back to that sign. Take the water, G-d had told Moses, and pour it on the ground; Vehayu ledam bayaboshet - and when it hits the ground it will turn to blood. Water, waves, lapping the shore, lapping the ground. When they do the faint trace of blood from the bodies of the Egyptians on the shore is the only memory that the ocean gives you of what just occurred there. Other than that, you can virtually go sunbathing by the Sea of Reeds and you'd never know anything happened. The water covers it all.
But you know what? The very next words of the verse, right after Israel sees Egypt dead on the shores of the Red Sea; Vaya'aminu baHashem ube'Moshe avdo - they believed in G-d and in Moses. There are those words again, the words from the three signs. The people believed when they first saw the three signs, but now, now that it was over, now that the culmination had happened, now they really believe. You know, those two moments of belief, I don't think they're separate moments. I think they play off each other. The second moment is magnified because of the first one. Let me try to sketch out the emotional power of this culminating moment, with perhaps a whimsical analogy.
An analogy from the world of music. One of the great films of my childhood was Star Wars by George Lucas. Perhaps the greatest of the film scores ever composed by John Williams was the score that he composed for that film. Hear some of his music here. He does something clever with his music and I want to point it out to you. The music you're listening to has a sort of mournful or hopeful quality to it, and this is one of those hopeful moments in the film, it's sort of at the beginning where the great hero protagonist is not yet a hero, he's hanging around his farm, dreaming of perhaps being of service to a great cause, a cause that's larger than him. But he's a nobody, and how could he really be of service to that cause? How could he mean anything in the larger scheme of events?
But that same music, that piece, appears again at the end of the film. Listen to it here, but it sounds so differently now, doesn't it? The music you're listening to now is a march, it has an entirely different emotional quality to it. It's triumphant, exultant, it's the climactic moment of the film, when that little farm boy had managed to singlehandedly destroy the enemy's greatest weapon and now, that joy and triumph was being celebrated. But you the audience listening to that joy and triumph can detect a special sweetness in it, because you remember the time that musical theme was first played, you remember when it was only just a hope. The sense of triumph that you experience now is magnified by the fact that you understand that it's the realization of a hope. Hope and triumph are not two unrelated concepts. Triumph is nothing but the blossoming of hope.
The questions we asked in the beginning about the violent nature of this all, I think they all fall away. Israel was the victim of terrible violence, violence covered by lies. At every stage in the redemption there was memory of that pain, memory of those lies, and the chance for those lies and that pain to be redeemed. The aggressor could have stopped and been a part of the process of redemption at any moment, even perhaps to the very end. The exodus is a story of both justice and compassion, of compassion for Israel wrought through the process of justice and compassion held out even to the last for the aggressors themselves. In the end hope did blossom into triumph and because it did, we could leave behind the pain and the anguish forever.
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