On the seventh day of Passover, we mark the splitting of the Red Sea, the legendary miracle that allowed the Children of Israel to escape from the grip of Egyptian slavery.
It is a miracle that cannot be fathomed in modern times. Just as we cannot imagine God speaking to someone no matter how great, as he did to Moses, we cannot imagine what it might have been like to witness God’s hand in action. After all, it was such a supernatural act: the waters parting and the Israelites walking on dry land with the waters returning to their natural setting just as the Egyptians were lured in, thinking that the dry land would be maintained for them, as well.
Moving to Israel from the United States as a young adult played a large part in my transformation into believing that, in fact, we do witness miracles in modern times. When you read the Torah, it all seems so obvious. We read the narrative. We are swept away by God’s glory as it is described in the text.
However, when you yourself live through a miracle, there is no text. The wording is for you to formulate and to create an aha moment when you become capable of saying, “Wow. What just happened defied nature; it defied logic.”
Surviving in Israel: A modern miracle every day
Living in Israel has allowed me to understand the concept of a modern miracle because we live it here each day. The joke goes that living in Israel compels you to believe in God because the country is sometimes run in such a disorderly and undisciplined manner, there is no way it could survive from one day to the next if there wasn’t God to create a daily miracle of ensuring Israel’s continuing existence.
To understand various modern miracles, we do get assistance through the accounts of people who are older than we are and via books that have been written describing miracles that have taken place in relatively recent times but before many of us were born.
A few years ago, during the Passover holiday, I eavesdropped on a conversation aboard an Israeli bus between an American tourist and an Israeli in his seventies, born before the establishment of our modern Jewish state.
They were both speaking somewhat cynically about the state of affairs in Israel, the United States and other places in the world. The tourist, who was visiting for the holiday, delivered a quip at one point which he felt was quite appropriate for the time of year.
“You know what we need? We need another miracle like the splitting of the sea.” His vantage point was of a resigned outlook that those kinds of things just don’t happen anymore.
However, the Israeli passenger was coming from a different place. Though he was quite small at the time, he said that he had memories, even if faint, of the founding of the state.
From that perspective, the Israeli man did not think that miracles were limited only to stories of far away and long ago, indeed from ancient times but instead that we were experiencing them even today.
I quickly took notes of some of the comments he made during the bus conversation, including a statement that struck me powerfully, in a way that without exaggeration changed my own perspective on the supposed mundane day-to-day life of modern times.
HE SAID so profoundly, “1948 was a splitting of the sea. 1967 was a splitting of the sea. Today is a splitting of the sea. You just have to look past the water.”
“1948 was a splitting of the sea. 1967 was a splitting of the sea. Today is a splitting of the sea. You just have to look past the water.”Elderly Israeli man
Passover, Remembrance Days: Israel's ancient and modern histories come together
In Israel, the ancient and modern aspects of history come together with a quick succession of special dates. A week after Passover, we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, followed a week later by Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen and Independence Day.
I had the occasion to sit next to a Holocaust survivor during a bus ride who told me of his harrowing escape from the Nazis and his eventual arrival in Israel, then under British rule.
“For me, it seemed an eternity,” he said of his efforts to “leave hell and reach paradise.” I told him that for me, it seems so miraculously quick, just a few years between the end of the war and the declaration of Israel’s independence.
I then shared with him the comment comparing our modern redemption with the biblical splitting of the sea. The survivor began to weep.
“I marked the seventh day of Passover in a concentration camp one year, read about the exodus from Egypt and wondered if God could pull off something like that again,” he recalled emotionally.
“I suffered terribly but eventually was redeemed. I literally felt God’s hand, so yes, the establishment of the state in 1948 was a splitting of the sea.”
“I suffered terribly but eventually was redeemed. I literally felt God’s hand, so yes, the establishment of the state in 1948 was a splitting of the sea.”Holocaust survivor
Then he relayed an important lesson. “You know what another connection is between the exodus from Egypt and the establishment of Israel? We took the first step. Nachshon son of Aminadav led the people into the sea before God split it,” he said, “and we Jews started coming back to the land of Israel before it became the State of Israel.”
It was time to get off the bus. He got up slowly from his seat. “That’s the miracle of each day,” he said. “Hitler wanted me dead but here I am in our own country. And despite my advanced age, each day, I am able to stand up and live another day.”
One year, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I was walking down a street in Jerusalem when the siren sounded in memory of the victims, who could only yearn for Jerusalem. We stood at attention until the completion of the siren.
When it fell silent, I looked up to resume my walk and the first sight I saw was of a bus with a sign lit up at the front, saying that it was headed for the Western Wall. Yes, 1967 was also a miracle of the proportions of the splitting of the sea.
When I was in elementary school, a teacher once congratulated me for achieving a passing grade on a difficult exam by declaring that for me, it was like crossing the Red Sea. I think I felt both excited and insulted at the same time.
Amid the recent unrest in Israel, I asked a bus driver with whom I was chatting on a ride, “What’s going to be?” He replied with the popular Israeli expression, “We made it past Pharoah, we’ll get past this.”
“Yes,” I said to the driver. “There are still miracles. All you have to do is look past the water and redemption won’t be too far away.”■