Crossing the Reed Sea

Tonight is the start of the seventh day of Pesach, when the freed slaves are said to have crossed the Reed Sea (one of my Grandfather's pet peeves is that a typo is constantly repeated - Yam Sof in Hebrew is the Reed Sea not the Red Sea). Some of my favourite midrashim come from this episode, so I thought they would be a nice warm up for the last days of chag, as we journey out of Pesach, over the sea, heading for Sinai and Shavuot.
The first is the story of Nachshon Ben Aminadav, and is told in Shemot (Exodus) Rabbah. When the tribes arrived at the Sea, no one knew what to do. God has promised salvation, but how could they escape the rapidly approaching Egyptian horsemen with a Sea in front of them. Nachshon saw everyone dithering, and was the first with the faith to trust God and Moses. He took a step into the water, but nothing happened. He carried on, water rising first up to his knees, then his thighs, then his belly. Everyone nervously watched, as he kept heading in, water up to his shoulders, then his chin... the gathered masses held their breath, and so did Nachshon, who just kept going. As the water reached his nose a huge cheer went up, as finally the water parted, and he could pass safely through, leading the other tribes behind him. His faith and courage in God and in Moses, this guy who had come from nowhere to lead them, was remarkable, and shows us all that sometimes we need to get our feet a little muddy before it all comes good.
The other midrash which I love, and which I mentioned on my Pause for Thought last week, is from the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 39b). Having allowed the recently freed slaves to make their way across the sea, the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit. The midrash suggests that in part to punish the Egyptians for their compliance with the enslavement of the Hebrews, but it seems also to protect the Israelites, God brought the sea back down upon them, killing the army. Having saved the Israelites, the ministering Angels burst into songs of praise and celebration but God stopped them. "The works of my hand are drowning in the Sea and you would sing in my presence?" Some of my biggest struggles with Pesach are around the suffering caused to the Egyptians and attributed to God - this isn't an image of God I'm very comfortable with. But this Midrash seems to remind us that the Rabbis of old were also uncomfortable with this image of God, and wanted us to remember that we don't celebrate at another's suffering, even if they are ostensibly an enemy.
I hope we can all work to understand this on a spiritual level, as well as a practical one, knowing that our inner world and thoughts about others affects us more than it affects the other, and hatred and wishing evil on the other harms us before it gets out into the world to harm anyone else.


  1. I really like this - Its inspiring to think that Nachshon just kept going - I wonder what that says about what God expects of us. I related to the story because sometimes I feel that God is not there, or abandoned by God - but so often in the last moment of a low ebb I feel God there. Its as though he does not want to impede our development by being to much of a hands on parent so to speak.
    And very true about hatred destroying us - I'm sure that is very true.
    Dan :-)

  2. I only use he as a figure of speech by the way - who am I to know...

  3. I love both these Midrashim. You tell them well. Courage and empathy.

  4. Rabbi Debbie

    I am looking for more insights regarding Yam Suf. I recenty released a story about the subject that has challenged Rabbis world wide as to whether or not the Reed sea was a future event just as Rashi notes that the song of Moses in Exodus 15 is also a future event. I make the case that the Tuvia Bielski was like that of a contemporary Moses who lead our people to safety through the sea of Reeds with the modern day Pharaoh hot on his heels. None the Less i am more appt to believe that the Gulf of Aqaba supports are forefathers intial crossing for the archeological evidence attest to this location.
    Kindest regards Steven Ben-DeNoon


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