February 3, 2012

One of the seminal moments in the history of our people occurs this week.  The miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea (some of you may refer to it as theSeaofReeds) is the crescendo of “our” departure fromEgypt.  A cursory examination of the actual verses opens up an obvious question.  There is a widely accepted maxim that when God performs a so-called miracle --- he follows the laws of nature as much as possible.  God wants to cause as little havoc as possible to thereby leave those watching or experiencing the miracle to retain their freedom to “believe or not believe.”

Our question comes from 14:21 and 14:27.  If God moved the sea for us at night, why does the Torah say the Egyptians drowned in the day?  I know this adds fuel to the posture that our Torah is not “word of God” or even “divinely inspired.”  Like many of you I sometimes wonder and wander in my belief.  I make no secret of my conviction or principle, but it is a never ending quest.  This concept is one I read a few years ago and after being here seven months realized how germane it is to us at CSI.

God could have created a more natural event by creating a more modest miracle.  Had the miracle occurred in daylight our people could have “seen” where they were going thereby diminishing the miracle and vice versa for the Egyptians.  Specifically, the Egyptians “got engulfed in the sea in the daylight.”  Why did God enlarge the miracle?  The Egyptians could have drown in the night and made things seem much more --- normal.

The Hebrew word for miracle is nes, which is similar and comes from the same root as the word for test, nisayon.  The power and force of a nes is directly related to the nesayon the person or people and what they had to overcome to merit the miracle.  The Ramban tells us that the Jews traveled within Egypt at night from cities and towns all over to assemble in the city of Ramses for their grandiose exit (if you cannot recall that dramatic scene from The movie, you need to see it again—and again!)    Can you imagine or envision walking into that sea—in the dark?  The reality is that the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.

Whatever your take, we learn an important lesson here.   Observing the Torah and performing the mitzvot in an emotionless manner definitely gets one some reward.  The real reward, however, comes from fulfilling the mitzvot with passion, doing more than the minimum.  Even in my short stay here at CSI, I see the work and dedication our tireless leadership puts out day after day---with much of it at “night” when it would be easy to curl up at home with a book or your loved ones.  Just as our forefathers were “bold into the night” let us revel in the work our CSI foremothers and forefathers have been doing here for 120 years.  May God continue to give us strength M’dor L’dor, from generation to generation!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham