Land Ahoy!

Rabbi Zvi Teichman

It is Shabbos Shirah, the Shabbos we recall the greatest of all miracles, the Splitting of the Sea and the joyous outburst of song that erupted from that experience. 

It also contains within it the secret to overpowering our enemies, as the marauding Egyptian army found their demise.

Might there be a correlation between this ecstatic expression of joy and the quashing of our enemies? 

At the splitting of the sea two remarkable things happened. Our enemy met its doom as the water crashed down upon them, tossing them about until the sea spat them out upon the dry shore. More amazingly is the fact that the Children of Israel miraculously walked ביבשה, on dry land, בתוך הים — amidst the sea.

The verse reports how when our enemies heard of the decimation of Pharaoh’s army they became agitated and gripped with terror. Edom was confounded, Moav trembled and Canaan dissolved.

This fear still echoed years later when prior to entering the Holy Land, Yehoshua dispatches two spies to scout out the land who hear a firsthand report from Rachav, the innkeeper at their lodgings, who gets wind of their true identity, telling them how ‘your terror has fallen upon us… for we have heard how G-d dried up the water of the Sea of Reeds before you when you came out of Egypt…’.(יהושע ב י) 

Why does she emphasize the miraculous ‘drying up’ of the riverbed rather than the more significant devastation of Pharaoh’s troops? Wasn’t it the fear of retribution and punishment that they truly dreaded?

King David exults in joyous song to the Holy One, Who calms the roar of the seas, the roar of their waves and the multitude of regimes. Awed are the inhabitants of the furthest ends by Your signs. (תהלים סה ח-ט) ,

The Midrash explains this equation between the mighty waves that are calmed and our enemies who are quelled with the following observation: just as the waves that roar mightily, prostrate themselves quietly before the sand on the shore, so too will our enemies who stand up to us be humbled in kind. (שוח”ט תהלים ב)

On the third day of creation G-d said, יקוו המים — “Let the waters be gathered,ותראה היבשה  — and let the dry land appear. 

The ‘Song of the Day’ for Tuesday begins A psalm of Assaf: G-d stands in the Divine assembly. (תהלים פב א)

The Talmud tells us that this refers to the moment in Creation when He gathered in the water and ‘He revealed the land and prepared it for His assembly.’ (ר”ה לא.)

There is something unique to this very moment that points to His assembly, the Jewish nation, and their firm stand and secret to survival in this world. (רש”י)

There is a tension and conflict that exists between the ‘waters’ and the ‘shore’ of the land. The natural force of water should inundate the world, encompassing it and flooding it. But G-d infused the granules of sand at the edge of the sea with the ability to stifle the water’s overwhelming power. 

It is only by the recognition of that ultimate power, the Almighty that invested the shore with its might, by which we deserve to exist. The moment we deny that reality, the waters will indeed naturally deluge a world that refuses to accept that truth. Wasn’t that the fate of the Generation of the Deluge, and the army of Pharaoh that were overcome by this ‘natural’ consequence to their rejecting a pledge of allegiance to the Creator of the world?

G-d responded to Moshe’s desperate entreaty to Him as the nation was struck with fright upon seeing the enemy approaching, by saying: מה תצעק — “Why do you cry out, אלי — to me?” 

The Midrash explains that G-d was simply enlightening Moshe that there is no need for prayer, ‘for just as I gathered in the water revealing dry land for one singular man, Adam, at Creation, how much more so will the waters recede naturally for the sake of the entire Holy Assembly who will declare “This is my G-d and I will build Him a Sanctuary”!(שמו”ר כא ח) 

הפך ים— He transformed the sea, ליבשה — into dry land, בנהר יעברו   through the river they passed,— ברגל  on foot, שם נשמחה — there we rejoiced, בו — in Him. (תהלים סו ו)

Joy is the emotion one feels when there is no opposition to one’s existence. When one’s sense of being is complete, free from any fear of loss, one experiences absolute joy.

‘Matchmaking is as difficult as the Splitting of the Sea’ because when trying to unite two opposite entities, man and woman, the innate tension betwixt the two is as strenuous as that between the force of the sea and the shoreline. When each one will willingly bend its nature, accepting the direction of G-d’s Divine guidance in each one’s reactions and instincts, will they achieve the exquisite joy of finding one’s soul mate.  

‘Providing sustenance is as hard as the Splitting of the Sea’ since from the time man was cursed due to his sin, with the decree that ‘thorns and thistles it will sprout for you’, the land will naturally resist man’s efforts and man will experience the hardship of procuring a livelihood. Only perforce man’s happy submission to the guiding hand of Providence will man succeed in providing joyously from His fruits and bounty.

The Jewish nation is likened כחול על — to the sand on, שפת הים — the seashore

Water bonds well, but it has no individuality. Every granule of sand, although miniscule, stands independently.  Its collective strength lies in the joining of numerous individual particles.

Our strength as a nation is contingent on each morsel of ‘sand’, however minute it may be, to assume its unique role. The nations that seek our destruction, like the waves of the ocean, break when it faces the reality of the ‘dry shore’ that G-d uncovered — His Holy Assembly, who declare with every step that they take, ‘this is my G-d’, causing the crashing waves to ebb!

The splitting of the sea was thus the reenactment of that moment in Creation when G-d gathered the water, allowing for the dry land to appear. Perhaps that is why it was necessary for there to have been twelve distinct paths for each of the tribes to traverse. Others allege there were 600,000 individual channels for every Jew who was numbered, to travel through. The united strength of the ‘sand upon the seashore’ empowered them to break the overpowering waves.

(Based on a remarkable essay entitled ‘More than the Roar of the Waters’ written by Rabbi Rephael Menachem Shlanger, a disciple of the great Gaon, Rav Moshe Shapiro zt’l, in his book Shivtei Nachlasecha)

The Torah describes how וחמושים עלו בני ישראל מארץ מצרים, The Children of Israel were armed when they went up from Egypt. Alternately Rashi quotes from the Midrash that the root of this word is חֹמֶֹש, a fifth, alluding to the opinion that only a fifth of the nation actually left, as the other four fifths died during the plague of darkness. The Midrash records other opinions that suggest either one out of fifty, maybe one out of five hundred, or perhaps only one out of five thousand merited to leave. That would mean that before the plague of darkness there were either thirty million, three hundred million, or perhaps three trillion Jews, of whom only 600,000 exited from Egypt. 

May I boldly suggest that perhaps what the Torah is telling us is that although the Jews had descended to the lowest depths of impurity there was still a healthy percentage, a ‘granule’ of purity that was unscathed, each one of them were prepared to do battle against the waves of impurity in restoring that pure morsel to its full expression and strength. 

It is interesting to note that the varying opinions all revolve around the number five. The Maharal teaches that whereas the number four represents the four scattered directions of the world, the number five symbolizes that dot in the center of those four directions that unifies them all into one. 

As long as we ‘arm’ ourselves to do battle with those inner forces that seek to flood us with its brutal force, by focusing on that aspect within ourselves that instinctively cries out ‘this is my G-d’,  we are assured that G-d will gather the waters exposing the dry land that is filled with the fruit of our arduous efforts. 

The teacher of the illustrious Sh’lah, Reb Shlomo of Lublin, known as the Maharash M’Lublin, points out that the word used here implying armed/fifth, וְחַמֹֻשִים, contains the same letters as וּשְֹמֵחִים, and they were happy!

When we identify our enemies both from within and from without and are ready to accept the power of the ‘granules of the shore’ we each personify, declaring with absolute faith, “This is my G-d and I will build Him a Sanctuary”, that is the moment we will quash our enemies and exhilarate with utter joy over the privilege we have, to be his Holy Assembly!

May we recite Az Yashir each day in a joyous expression and acknowledgement of G-d’s loving involvement in our daily lives, bringing our collective ‘granules’ together in quashing the tidal wave and roar of our enemies, once and for all.

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