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The splitting of the Red Sea was a remarkable miracle; is there a parallel in Jewish history? Was it truly the only time that water "deferred" to man? Indeed, in the Talmud Chullin 7a, Chazal recount an incident in which R' Pinchas ben Yair was on his way to perform the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim, redeeming Jewish captives. He came to a river that was impassable. He commanded the water to split, so that he could pass through. The river responded, "You are performing the command of your Master, and so am I. You might be successful in your efforts to rescue the hostage, while I am assured of success. What makes you think that your mitzvah takes precedence over mine?" R' Pinchas ben Yair, responded, "If you do not split immediately, I will decree upon you that all of your water should dry up!" The river split, and R' Pinchas ben Yair passed through. Chazal summarize the story with the observation that R' Pinchas ben Yair's power was equal to that of Moshe and all of Klal Yisrael.
Keeping this in mind, the Sfas Emes wonders how Krias Yam Suf demonstrates the singular greatness of Klal Yisrael. After all, did a similar miracle not occur for an individual? He offers a profound response. Certainly, Hashem can alter the course of nature for a single tzaddik. The righteous have extraordinary merits which grant them access to miracles. When, however, did Hashem alter nature for an entire nation? The chidush, novelty, of Krias Yam Suf was that an extraordinary miracle took place for an entire nation. This phenomenon demonstrated to the world the kedushah, holiness, of Am Yisrael--not just the individual Jew--but the totality of the nation!
Horav Tzadok Ha'kohen, z"l, M"Lublin supplements
this thought. Am Yisrael's innate kedushah was
exhibited to the world through the miracle of Krias Yam Suf.
After all, what virtue did the Jews have that made them more
worthy than the Egyptians to be spared? They had sunk to the
nadir of depravity, to the forty-ninth level of tumah,
spiritual impurity. What distinguishes one idol-worshipper from
another? The answer is that while externally the Jews may not
have displayed a spiritual demeanor that would merit Krias
Yam Suf, their inner being, their penimius, was inherently
One miraculous occurrence followed another; is there a relationship between the two? Chazal seem to think so. They say in the Talmud Pesachim 118a: "A man's sustenance is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea." Simply, put, providing man with sustenance is as great a feat as Krias Yam Suf. The Zohar Ha'kadosh questions Chazal's statement. Is there any act that is difficult for Hashem to perform? Was Krias Yam Suf difficult for Hashem? Is it difficult for Hashem to sustain a person?
A number of explanations address this Chazal. The Chozeh M'Lublin, z"l, suggests a profound insight. Chazal are not focusing their observation upon Hashem. They are, rather, speaking to man concerning which path to take when life becomes more demanding. Earning a living is -- by any standard -- a complex endeavor. It demands great fortitude and commitment. It requires determination, resolution, and -- most importantly -- faith in the Almighty. What does one do when the situation is bleak, when prospects for success are -- at best -- limited, when every way one turns the door to success "seems" closed?
Chazal's message is to follow the lesson of Krias Yam Suf. The Jews were trapped. They could either look forward to dying at the hand of the Egyptians or to drowning in the Red Sea. What could they do? They had no other choice but to be boteach b'Hashem, trust in the Almighty. They turned to Him in the hope that He would spare them. With this hope and trust, they entered the threatening waters of the Red Sea to be saved by Hashem. Likewise, when we are faced with the challenge of parnassah, livelihood, trusting humans is ineffectual. Absorbing one's mind - and even soul - in the anxiety that accompanies the quest for parnassah is wasteful and detrimental to one's physical and spiritual health. Only one approach will achieve success -- bitachon, true trust in Hashem. If one truly believes that Hashem will help him, He will.
Horav Simcha Bunim, z"l, M'Peshischa gives a similar
response with a slightly different twist. At the Yam Suf,
the Jews had no idea how they would be rescued. In fact, the
splitting of the Red Sea was probably the last thing they expected
to happen. With regard to parnassah, Hashem sends salvation
from a source that, for the most part, is unheralded. We have
no idea from where Hashem will bring about our sustenance. We
have only to trust that He will.
The Midrash explains that Klal Yisrael were privy to remarkable spiritual revelations as they stood by the shores of the Red Sea. Indeed, Chazal tell us that a common maidservant was able to perceive greater revelations of the Shechinah than Yechezkel Ha'navi! This is derived from the word "zeh," "this," of the phrase "Zeh Keli V'anveihu," "This is my G-d and I will beautify Him." The Jews were able to point with their finger to the awesome sights they were experiencing. Yet, as Horav Shalom Shwadron, shlita, notes, the maidservant remained a simple maidservant despite her exposure to such heightened spiritual vision. In contrast, the navi Yechezkel, despite the fact that he did not experience all there was to see, remained a navi. What happened? Why did so many, who saw so much, just relinquish their unparalleled experience?
Horav Schwadron recounted this Chazal in the presence of Horav Meier Chadash, z"l. He added his own inferences stating that, as life goes on, complacency takes hold of an individual- causing him to forget his extraordinary experience. Horav Chadash took issue with this statement. In order to impress his contention with what seemed to be the logical explanation of Chazal, he cited an incident that occurred in his own experience. When he was a young man in Russia, just before the first World War, he was caught by Russian soldiers without his required papers. This was a period in which the gentiles did whatever they chose, treating the Jew as some type of lowly parasite. The desire for Jewish blood was unleashed. Quickly, the soldiers determined that this young, Jewish man was guilty of treason and should be executed. They set up the firing-squad in preparation for carrying out their decision. Sensing the hopelessness of the situation, Horav Chadash nervously began reciting Vidui and Krias Shma.
The soldier in charge of the squad demanded that Horav Chadash stand erect and not fidget, since he was making it very difficult for the soldiers to aim well. Overcome with fear, the rav trembled, shaking back and forth. Once again, the soldier called out to him harshly to stand straight. This time, the soldier's scream awakened the Russian general who was taking his afternoon nap. He took one look outside and immediately scolded the soldiers for the terrible thing they were about to do. The soldiers quickly dispersed, and the rav was saved.
"One would think," continued Horav Chadash,
"that after such an incredible experience, life would not
be the same. After a little while, however, I began to notice
the captivating power of complacency, and I realized that I was
falling prey to this 'affliction'. It was causing me to lose
sight and forget the amazing miracle that had saved me from certain
death. Immediately, I made up my mind to grasp hold of the 'past'
and transform it into the 'future,' forcing myself to remember
the miracle. I made every effort to concretize in my mind my
belief in Hashem, recognizing that if He desires that I remain
alive, then nothing whatsoever will be an obstacle. I
reviewed this notion constantly, never forgetting the past, seeking
every opportunity to translate what had happened in the past into
the present and future."
Bnei Yisrael were privy to an unprecedented array of miracles, ranging from the ten plagues to the many miracles that occurred during the Exodus, and the splitting of the Red Sea. The Jews clearly saw that Hashem was with them during times of crisises. Was this the most important lesson? Or is there another miracle which, although less profound in nature, is more significant in its message? Horav S.R. Hirsch, z"l, observes that Bnei Yisrael were acutely aware that Hashem was close to them during the critical stages of their development. What about their recognition of Hashem's role in their everyday necessities? This was the lesson of the miracle of the manna. Hashem takes into account the needs of every human being. One can--and should-- rely on Hashem for his sustenance.
All the amazing supernatural phenomena that accompanied Bnei Yisrael's exodus from Egypt, even Krias Yam Suf, all faded in significance when Bnei Yisrael confronted the stark reality of the impending hunger menacing their families. Horav Hirsch declares that this concept is reflected in Chazal's dictum; "It is as difficult to provide man's sustenance as it is to split the Red Sea." Regardless of its source, the threat of hunger looms over man, undermining every principal and abrogating every resolution. Indeed, as long as the overwhelming anxiety of parnassah, earning a living to support one's family, envelops a person, he cannot achieve his potential in Torah study.
How does one free himself from the tentacles of this tension? One must acquiesce to the belief that the concern for man's material needs does not rest on man alone. In fact, it does not depend upon him at all! Man must acknowledge the fact that he can do only his own part, but ultimately he must depend upon Hashem for success in his endeavors. It is his duty to endeavor to provide sustenance for his family, but he must be convinced that every single human being is ultimately sustained by the Almighty.
The one who does not "accept" Hashem as the sole provider is bound to toil away his days, laboring to ensure himself and his dependents material support. He will do anything to achieve his goal. He will compete ruthlessly; he will cheat, if necessary; he will fall prey to any scheme, regardless of its dubious nature, just to earn sufficient money. The pursuit of money can become an obsession, a demanding, unrelenting and ruthless contrivance that has the power to destroy so many and so much.
Hashem sought to cure the young nation of this malady. He led the people into a stark, barren desert where they would be made to feel the anxiety, where the material requirements of the present would be inaccessible, and where the prospects for the future were dubious. They saw for themselves what the obsession of earning a living can do to an individual. Until now, they did not worry about tomorrow--they were slaves for whom their masters provided daily sustenance.
Now Hashem set down the rules for gathering in one's sustenance.
He would provide Bnei Yisrael with their daily bread,
courtesy of Heaven. They should remember that whatever they needed
would be provided; not more, not less. They did not have to worry
about tomorrow, for Hashem would provide for them. They had only
to trust Him. Only after they had exhibited unreserved confidence
in Hashem, could they be assured that His Torah would be
observed, His mitzvos adhered to, with no fear of unrealistic
anxiety about material hardship interfering in their avodas
Hashem. The individual whose overriding concern in life is, "What
shall I have to eat tomorrow?" has no place in the panorama
of Jewish belief. One's persistent concern for his material
future will ultimately lead him astray from Hashem and His Torah.
It would do us well to show more concern about our spiritual
future and leave the material dimension to Hashem.
1. Was every Egyptian idol destroyed prior to Bnei Yisrael's
exodus from the country?
2. Did all the Jews leave Egypt?
3. Specify another name for the city of Pisom.
4. Why did the Egyptians regret sending out the Jews?
5. How was the entire world made aware of the miracle of Krias
6. Why was it necessary for Hashem to have the Egyptians' bodies
washed up on the shore?
7. Which mitzvos were Bnei Yisrael commanded in
8. On which day did the manna begin to arrive?
9. What virtues was Yehoshua to seek in the men that he chose
to fight Amalek?
1. No. Baal Tzfon was left standing to permit the Egyptians
to think that one of their gods was capable of defeating Hashem.
This would encourage them to chase the Jews and end up at the
bottom of the Red Sea.
2. No. Four fifths of the Jews perished in Egypt during the
three days of darkness. These people were wicked and refused
to leave Egypt.
3. Pi Ha'chiros.
4. They missed the money which they had "lent" to them
during the three days of darkness.
5. As the Red Sea split, so, too, did every water in the world
6. So that the Jews should not think that the Egyptians were
somehow spared death and were on the other side of the water.
7. Shabbos, Dinim, and Parah Adumah.
8. On the sixteenth of Iyar.
9. Fear of sin and the ability to neutralize Amalek's witchcraft.
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