The splitting of the Sea of Reeds (not the Red Sea!), enabling the Israelites to escape Pharaoh’s Army, and the closing back in of the Sea to destroy the Egyptian pursuers is a pivotal and defining moment in the history of our people. The story tells us much about who we are…or should be.
It is our practice to read of this, including the famous Song of the Sea (Az Yashir Moshe, etc.), Exodus 15:18, on the Seventh Day of Passover. This year it is Friday, April 10th. Our tradition holds that it was the seventh day following the first Seder that God destroyed Pharaoh’s Army in a miraculous coup de grace.
I like this story for three reasons. If you have been following my drashot over the years, you might be able to guess what they are.
First, we are told that the Israelites were deathly afraid, being trapped between the Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s Army on the other. They complained bitterly to Moshe. The response? “Stop whining and move forward!” Exodus 14:15. The Midrash is that it was only once Nachshon, Prince of Judah stepped into the water up to his neck that God split the Sea. The lesson is that God wants us to have faith and act upon it. Speeches and prayers are not enough. Know what must be done and act upon it.
Second, the singing of the Song represents the first, unified and spontaneous expression of faith in God by the Israelites. When before does the Torah tell us that anyone sang to God in prayerful song? It is at that moment that we truly become a people. Zeh kali v’anveyhu—“This is my God and I will glorify him”—says the song. When God sees us as a unified and proactive force, the sky is the limit.
Third, as joyous as the moment of the miracle is, it is a central tenet of our faith that we cannot truly or fully rejoice and not be mindful of the suffering of others. The Midrash has God scolding the angels who are rejoicing at the triumph over Egypt. “How dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying?” Oh, if only the world shared that view. How often do we hear or see actual rejoicing (singing, dancing and giving out candy) in some quarters when Jewish blood is spilled, when streets and town squares are named for those who would kill Jews? Yet it is the Jewish tradition to spill wine out when recalling the plagues visited upon Egypt. Innocents suffered because of their ruler’s intransigence and our joy is diminished. I am never prouder to be a Jew than when I hear the steps that Israel goes to in protecting the human life of its sworn enemies, sometimes even risking its own soldiers’ lives, when it is forced to defend itself.
This is what it means to be a Jew—to recognize the miracles around us, to be mindful of the needs of others as we are all God’s creatures, and to be proactive in following God’s ways.
This Shabbat is the 8th and concluding day of Passover. We will be privileged to learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman at 9:45 a.m. discussing the very interesting Haftarah traditionally read on the final day of Passover. Naturally, we will conclude in time for the Sermon and Yizkor at approximately 10:45 a.m. Come as you are stay as long as you like.
If you have not yet finished all of your Passover Matzoh, remember that there is still time and matzoh does remain kosher and of similar consistency through the remainder of the year.
Chag Sameyach and Shabbat Shalom,