Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Parshat Beshalach

The Miracle at the Sea

The splitting of the Red Sea is generally considered to be the greatest miracle ever performed.

Indeed, when Yehoshua takes over the leadership from Moshe, God tells him that he will make him great in the eyes of the people so "that they may know that as I was with Moshe, so will I be with you" (Yehoshua 3:7). God does this by performing for Yehoshua, a similar miracle that He had performed for Moshe. As Moshe had split the Red Sea, so too, Yehoshua would split the Jordan River (ibid 13-16).

It is therefore, of interest that the text of this week's parsha and some commentaries, explain the miracle in natural terms.

"The Lord led the sea with the strong east wind all night and He made the sea into dry land and the waters split." (Shemot 14:21). Note how the text does not say that God made the sea split. It says that He used an intermediary: the wind. The wind made the sea split and the sea into dry land.

How? Firstly, it as not just any wind: it was an east wind. Rashi states that the east wind is the strongest wind. Yet, it was not just any east wind: it was a strong east wind, i.e. the strongest of strong winds.

However, this wind did not just blow the waters apart; it also made the sea into dry land. How was it possible that the seabed was not muddy? The Rashbam says that the wind froze the soil, in the same way that winds freezes rivers. He is even bold enough to say that God used natural sources.

Yet, there was one final miracle. "The waters were to them as a wall from their right and from their left" (ibid 22). How was it possible the water stood still as two walls that encompassed them? The Sephorno explains that not only did the wind freeze the seabed; it also froze the waters into two walls.

We can therefore assume that the walls of ice began to melt and that once the first cracks appeared; they crashed down on the Egyptians.

However, none of these sources suggest that the splitting of the Red Sea was not a miracle. The fact that it was predicted, that began when Moshe raised his hand, that it ended when Moshe raised it hand, that there was enough time for all Israel to cross safely, that the waters crashed down right at the moment when all the Egyptians were trapped on the seabed, all show that the event was a truly fantastic miracle.

However, these commentators are arguing a subtle point. God always or almost always uses nature to make miracles, the miracle is in the timing. Therefore, miracles continue to happen today. When a natural event occurs to help us out in a difficult situation, we can thank God for the miracle that He has performed for us.

Rather than saying that God does not exist for He does not do miracles anymore, we are actually able to see God daily as He manipulates nature, to allow us to live.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Beshalach, entitled: "The Shorter Way" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Beshalach, entitled: "The 3 Day Game" appears at

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