The day that seals the seven (in Israel) days of Passover, Shvi’i shel Pesach (“Seventh of Passover”), which begins this year on Sunday evening and ends on Monday night, is different from the other days of the holiday. It is a “Yom Tov,” a special day in which “melacha” (certain types of activities) are forbidden as on the first day of Passover.
We will hear Shirat Hayam (The Song of the Sea) read in the synagogue. This is the song sung by Am Yisrael under the direction of Moshe Rabbeinu after the great miracle of the Parting of the Red Sea. The miracle occurred on this day – seven days after Am Yisrael was liberated from Egypt.
The Parting of the Red Sea is undoubtedly the biggest and most impressive of the miracles involved in the Exodus. It was preceded by many impressive events such as the Ten Plagues that we related on Seder night. But at the last moment, after the nation was already liberated from slavery in Egypt and was on its way to freedom, the former masters recanted. Pharaoh, along with the Egyptian army that was among the strongest in the world at that time, chased the Jewish nation and caught up to it as it was camped at the edge of the Red Sea.
The situation was dire – the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other.
If we try to imagine ourselves in the same situation, we will sense the despair they must have felt then. And in this desperate state, the nation turns to Moshe with these harsh words: “They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Isn’t this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, “Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert!” (Exodus 14, 11-12) With these hard and bitter words, the nation expressed its growing desperation.
We would have preferred, they said, to have remained slaves in Egypt rather than be slaughtered here, in the desert, by the Egyptian army! And then, a miracle occurred! A miracle of inconceivable measure. The sea was parted in two, dried, and became a comfortable passageway for the Jewish nation. And if that was not enough – when the Egyptian army stepped down onto the land that was created in the sea and chased Am Yisrael, the water immediately returned to its place, covering the Egyptians and drowning them, and all this right before the eyes of Am Yisrael.
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (c. 1269-c.1343), also know as Ba’al Haturim, notes in his commentary on the Torah that Am Yisrael merited this impressive miracle because of Avraham Avinu’s dedication at the Binding of Isaac. These words cause us to take a new look at the story.
The Binding of Isaac is the Jewish nation’s founding, establishing story.
Avraham Avinu, who was privileged to have a son to continue his path when he was a very old man, suddenly receives a puzzling directive from G-d. He must sacrifice his son on an altar. This appalling directive was never meant to be carried out, as the Torah notes at the beginning of the story “And the Lord tried Avraham.” It was always meant to be a trial. Indeed, at the last moment, G-d instructs Avraham, “Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him.” But Avraham had proven that he could stand the trial.
With superhuman courage, he was prepared to obey G-d’s commandment to sacrifice his only son.
The dedication displayed by Avraham in the Binding of Isaac was passed on to his descendants. Throughout the years, under unbearable conditions, the Jews courageously withstood similar trials, preferring to die rather than surrender their faith.
A spark of this dedication and sacrifice for a cause was seen at the Parting of the Red Sea. Our sages tell of one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, who was there with the entire nation and was not caught up in the despair. Nachshon sensed the same distress. He saw the Egyptian army advancing and saw the sea before him, and he made a decision.
He jumped into the stormy waters. The waters reached his chest and he kept on going. The water reached his nose and he was about to drown, but he kept trying to swim. And then, the sea parted and the miracle of the Parting of the Red Sea occurred.
This sort of courage is almost supernatural.
No man can plan such an act in advance. The place from which this sort of dedication emerges is deep inside us.
This kind of courage lives deep in our hearts and comes out in our most difficult moments.
The Parting of the Red Sea expressed G-d’s dedication and love for Am Yisrael and is overtly supernatural. No one predicted or planned this miracle. Even if they thought redemption would come from somewhere, no one thought the sea would part. There is a clear connection between the Binding of Isaac in which Avraham Avinu displayed supernatural dedication to the will of G-d, and the Parting of the Red Sea that displays the same sort of dedication, but in reverse – G-d’s to Am Yisrael.
It is no wonder then that it is said: “It is as difficult to pair man (and wife) as the Parting of the Red Sea.” Many of us realize that our pairings came from an unpredictable source. We thought our partners would appear to us naturally from a certain source and suddenly they came from an unexpected place. In this way, our pairings are similar to the Parting of the Red Sea.
The author is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.
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