Crossing the Sea
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
This coming Shabbat we celebrate the Hebrews crossing the sea, the beautiful Parshat B'Shalach. This Parsha is written in great detail and there is a rhythm which builds to the drama of the crossing. Following the crossing, and perhaps equally dramatic, is the Song of the Sea, led by Miriam. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement, the glory and the gratitude of the moment.
I have often wondered about the suffering of the Egyptian people during the many plagues that were inflicted upon them and I shudder of the violent end that the army of Pharaoh suffered. Certainly there were so many insufferable injustices inflicted upon the Hebrews, but I often wonder at the suffering of a population when they are in the hands of a leader that brings harm onto his/her people. Pharaoh was part of God's plan to extricate the Hebrews from Egypt. God hardened Pharaoh's heart many times and each time it was the Egyptian population who suffered terrible harm. Violence does not cancel out violence but Parshat B'Shalach leaves room for difficult questions as well. I am always grateful for this story of our people and its impact upon us generations later when we commemorate it at the seder, but Passover is all about the questions and here are a few of mine.
Crossing the Sea
He is but a father
Poor, impoverished, hungry,
The world he knew was frightful,
It fades in the desert behind him
The world before him unknown
He shepherds his family
Between two watery mountains
They whisper to him as they flee,
"Pass, pass, the other side is near."
He is but a soldier
Following orders to go to battle
He is a father and a husband
Watery mountains shimmer wildly
to his right and to his left
The roar thunderous as they collapse
He tries to shield himself
but to no avail
3 Ribono Shel Olam,
From a most humble servant,
As I spill a drop of wine onto my plate
You, who formed the universe in seven days
And created all things,
all living and breathing beings You are indeed a great warrior
You insist upon justice toward all You have chosen us,
the descendants of Abraham and Sarah
and saved us
and redeemed us
and delivered us
For this I am most grateful
as I dip my finger into the wine
Ribbono Shel haolam
Always in my mind is a question
A question that burns within me
And creates confusion in my heart Why is it that through the deaths of others
that our freedom became possible?
Are creation and destruction two sides of the same coin?
Perhaps I lack understanding....
Where lies Your compassion
in the drownings, the plagues, the suffering
the slavery and the cruelty? Grant me the ability to understand
where is the holiness of life hidden in needless death?
You, Magen Avraham, Poked Sarah
We celebrate You, we worship
Your laws, Your justice
Why is our victory their deaths?
Why is one mother's happiness another mother's sadness?
Why, Ribbono Shel Olam, does the death of innocents
come as easily as the death of the guilty?
The drop of wine stains the tablecloth red. Oh God of the Heavens and of the Earth,
You are The Creator of All things
You are The God of Justice
We celebrate the majesty of your knowledge and Your creations
But You also destroy
The path to our land is littered with both jubilation and destruction
The Sea the final home to so many
Freedom is not simple
It comes with a cost
It comes with a price
It comes with questions
It comes with ten red drops on a tablecloth.
Image from Paramount Pictures
Exodus 14:27-30 Translation from Sefaria
Moses held out his arm over the sea, and at daybreak the sea returned to its normal state, and the Egyptians fled at its approach. But the LORD hurled the Egyptians into the sea.
וַיָּשֻׁ֣בוּ הַמַּ֗יִם וַיְכַסּ֤וּ אֶת־הָרֶ֙כֶב֙ וְאֶת־הַפָּ֣רָשִׁ֔ים לְכֹל֙ חֵ֣יל פַּרְעֹ֔ה הַבָּאִ֥ים אַחֲרֵיהֶ֖ם בַּיָּ֑ם לֹֽא־נִשְׁאַ֥ר בָּהֶ֖ם עַד־אֶחָֽד׃ The waters turned back and covered the chariots and the horsemen—Pharaoh’s entire army that followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.
וּבְנֵ֧י יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל הָלְכ֥וּ בַיַּבָּשָׁ֖ה בְּת֣וֹךְ הַיָּ֑ם וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם׃ But the Israelites had marched through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
וַיּ֨וֹשַׁע יְהוָ֜ה בַּיּ֥וֹם הַה֛וּא אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מִיַּ֣ד מִצְרָ֑יִם וַיַּ֤רְא יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ אֶת־מִצְרַ֔יִם מֵ֖ת עַל־שְׂפַ֥ת הַיָּֽם׃
Thus the LORD delivered Israel that day from the Egyptians. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the shore of the sea.