Beach Bums

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

A superficial reading of the events leading up to the splitting of the sea reveal a massive deception taking place.

The Jews ostensibly left for only a three-day journey. It was merely a ruse. Pharaoh gets wind of their intention not to return and pursues them with a vengeance. 

G-d then instructs the nation to make an about-face, marching back towards Egypt. Pharaoh suspects they are confused. He observes them encamped opposite the last surviving idol, Baal-zephon, attributing their sudden retreat to the powers of this deity. This too was orchestrated by G-d to lure Pharaoh and his troops into the trap.

G-d moved the sea with a strong east wind the entire night before the miraculous splitting of the sea, in order to delude the Egyptians into thinking that this parting of the waters resulted from a natural phenomenon that would give them equal safe passage, as they chased the Jews into the sea. Pharaoh and his mighty warriors quickly discover it is all an illusion.

It would seem that the greatest take away from the story of the splitting of the sea is the lesson of the power of self-delusion. Pharaoh is relentless in grasping for straws of hope that uphold his determined, but very shallow beliefs.  

Was he such an ideologue of his theological philosophy that he couldn’t let go?

There is a famous liturgical poem composed by the 12th-century scholar and paytan, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, entitled Yom LaYabasha, which reflects on the mighty events on the Seventh of Pesach, ‘The day the depths turned to dry land, the redeemed ones sang a new song.

The very first line reads: הטבעת בתרמית רגלי בת נעמית ופעמי השולמית יפו בנעלים — You caused to sink with deception, the Anamite’s daughter’s feet, but the footsteps of the wholesome one, (Israel), were beautiful in shoes.

Clearly, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi asserts the primacy of this message in portraying not his downfall as much as his folly. But what is this emphasis on ‘sunken feet’ in contrast to the protective ‘beautiful shoes’ of the Shulamis, His beloved people, the wholesome one?

The imagery seems to be comparing the bare feet of the Egyptians with the shoed feet of Israel.

Who is the Anamis the Egyptians herald from that is referenced here?

The Torah lists the six children of Mitzraim, among them Anamim. Fascinatingly, all his children’s names, לודים, ענמים, להבים, etc., end with the letters י and מ, the letters that comprise the word for ים – the sea. The Midrash states that these descendants all sought to settle and develop their families, and subsequent nations, near the sea. It was these folks that eventually comprised the Egyptian nation.

Psychologists allege that there are people who seek ‘blue spaces’ for the connection with the beautiful, natural and calming forces of nature that are anxiety reducers and very therapeutic.

The sense of being part of this greater force called nature has a powerful impact on one’s attitude and perception of self. 

Perhaps it was this limited awareness of man’s role in the world that gave the ancient Egyptians their misguided approach to life, where man was viewed as an ‘aspect’ of nature, beholden to the powerful forces that surrounded him, striving to carve out his station on the totem pole of nature.

Have you ever noticed that in ancient depictions of life in Egypt, many of the people are portrayed barefoot? 

There is a contemporary scientific theory called ‘earthing’, or grounding, which alleges that walking barefoot transfers energy to the body.

The Egyptians sought comfort and security but never purpose or true personal values. They were a nation of ‘beach bums’.

The Jews’ disruption of their mindless lives disturbed their ‘blue’ universe. They reacted as much of animal life responds – quash the encroacher. They truly lived with a very narrow view of the world and its purpose. It was nearly impossible for them to give up these ‘natural’ instincts and distortions, for the primary force in the universe.

It was thus vital for G-d to repeatedly display before humanity how the misconceptions of man, and his unwillingness to perceive truth, can lead him into the precipice and oblivion. 

The Holy Shelah teaches in the name of the Maharshal, that the donning of leather shoes and our stepping on the ground in movement forward, represents man’s mastery over the three strata of life that exists beneath him — earth, plant, animal. In this act man expresses his G-d given role to see oneself distinct and divided from the forces of ‘nature’ but employing them to promote G-d’s name in all that one endeavors to accomplish. It was for this reason that the blessing we say every morning, שעשה לי כל צרכי, He provided me my every need, is associated with the act of putting on our shoes.

With purpose and mission, we forsake the proverbial pleasure of ‘sand between the toes’, placing our shoes firmly upon our feet, marching on in that arduous journey towards that ultimate destination, where we will shed our shoes, placing our feet on the only earth that can truly energize us — the Makom HaMikdash – the eternal abode of Hashem.

May we never permit ourselves to be deceived by the pursuit of hollow objectives that often become so tempting and comfortable it is nearly impossible to relinquish them.

May we stride with purpose, preserving our feet from becoming muddied by the lure of illusory pleasures. 

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