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Split Your Sea

Split Your Sea


Behind them was an army bristling for war. Before them was an ocean, deep and impassable. They could neither advance nor retreat. They were ambushed. What could they do?

Moses tried an age-old tactic: he cried out to G‑d. But G‑d rebuked him: “Why do you cry to me? Tell the Children of Israel to journey forth.”1

Parting Waters

Journey forth, but how? There was an ocean before them! G‑d never addressed this question, and Moses never asked it. G‑d said to journey forth, and journey they did. That was the entire point. Don’t ask questions. Don’t raise doubts. If G‑d issues a command, He will provide the means to see it through.

Yet the Children of Israel hesitated. They were prepared to plow into the ocean, but they needed to be led. A leader appeared in the person of Nachshon, son of Aminadav, tribal prince of Judah. Leading his tribal column, Nachshon strode into the sea. Wading through the rising tide, the waters first reached his waist, then his chest and shoulders.

At the very last moment, as the waters reached his nostrils, the Red Sea parted and the Children of Israel followed him into the sea.2

The Sea Fled

The Midrash cites many reasons for which our ancestors merited the splitting of the Red Sea. According to at least one of our sages, the waters parted because of the merit of our ancestors’ profound faith and unwavering confidence that G‑d would protect them.3

All created beings are subject to change. Winds blow, waters flow, plants grow, even stones are subject to being worn down. Man, too, is subject to change. The only constant in our ever-evolving world is G‑d.4

However, the Jew emulates G‑d’s unchanging character. Our implicit trust, unshakable certainty, unchanging belief and absolute faith in G‑d manifest a measure of G‑d’s immutable character. In other words, when we believe, we personify the divine.

When our ancestors approached the waters with implicit faith in G‑d, the waters saw in them a measure of the divine. Because the created being cannot controvert its creator, the water instinctively and spontaneously receded before the personification of the divine.

Thus King David wrote in Psalm 114: “The ocean saw and fled.” Asks the Midrash: What did it see, and from whom did it flee? It saw divinity reflected on Moses’ raised arm, and fled from its position as an obstacle in G‑d’s path.5

Faith Actualized

The question is not why did the waters part, but why did the waters wait till Nachshon performed his act of brinkmanship?

The waters were waiting for the Jewish people to express their faith through action. It was not enough that the Jews believed. The sea demanded an external demonstration of their faith.

Faith is a quality of the soul. It exists within us at all times. Even when we deny our faith, our soul within continues to believe. But G‑d is not satisfied with concealed inner faith. G‑d challenges us to fan the flames of our smoldering but silent faith and bring it forth.

Silent faith is dormant. It cannot impact the physical world unless it is physically expressed. This is why the waters waited. They waited for our ancestors to give physical expression to their faith. When Nachshon sallied forth and expressed the faith that the nation carried within themselves, the waters quickly parted.6

Split Your Sea

Every Jew is capable of reaching the pinnacle of devotion that Nachshon reached at that moment. When a Jew resolves to perform G‑d’s will with total disregard for the obstacles, G‑d provides a way to overcome the obstacles.

If we are absolutely determined to keep Shabbat, G‑d will find a way to make it possible. If we are absolutely committed to bind tefillin (phylacteries) each morning, G‑d will find a way to make it happen. If we are absolutely committed to walk in the path of Torah, G‑d will give us the strength to do so. Like the Red Sea, our obstacles will recede and allow us clear and unimpeded passage.

See Midrash Tehillim 114:8; Bamidbar Rabbah 13:7; Radak’s commentary to Psalms 114:2. See, however, R. Bechayei’s commentary to Exodus 14:15, that all the tribes competed for the privilege of being first, and Nachshon, leading the tribe of Yehudah, triumphed.
Mechilta 14:15; Shemot Rabbah 23:5. See also Rashi’s commentary to Exodus 14:15.
Maharal (R. Yehudah Loew) of Prague (1525–1609), Gevurot Hashem, chapters 8 and 40.
Bamidbar Rabbah 21:6.
Tanya, ch. 45. See also Maggid Devarav Leyaakov, sec. 261, for an explanation on why meditation is not sufficient in prayer. Note the link explained there between oral articulation in prayer and the splitting of the Red Sea.
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, and a frequent contributor to The Judaism Website— He has lectured extensively on a variety of Jewish topics, and his articles have appeared in many print and online publications. For more on Rabbi Gurkow and his writings, visit
Illustration by Chassidic artist Baruch Nachshon.
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Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA December 10, 2014

Re: Ella - What is G-d? G-d is the reason the cosmos is here, but even more than that; G-d is the Compassionate Shepherd of the Universe that has no physical body, and beyond that; we claim G-d has taken special interest in His people.
From Tanach, Psalm 23 tells us, “…The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want... He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even when I walk in the valley of darkness, I will fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they comfort me.”
Isaiah, a prophet, tells us of G-d’s love and personal interest in His people (Isaiah 60:21): “And your people, all of them righteous, shall inherit the land forever, a scion of My planting, the work of My hands in which I will glory.” Reply

Ella london December 10, 2014

What is G-d? Reply

Rebecca Essenburg Kalch Norwood, MO March 30, 2013

to anonymous in Texas I pray that G-d will give you what you stand in need of. May He give you peace, faith, joy and strength to walk thru this trial until His deliverance comes for you. Reply

Abraham Jos Bangalore March 29, 2013

The act of faith it is said that, Nachshon, son of Aminadav, tribal prince of Judah stepped into the sea and kept walking till it reached the nostrils and then it parted. According to Exodus 14:21, it was a strong east wind that seperated the sea. If this verse is true then all those who were in the sea with water upto their nostrils would have been thrown away...!! Reply

Anonymous March 29, 2013

Split your Sea AMEN AND AMEN ! G_d BLESS. Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA March 28, 2013

Leaps of Blind Faith It is truly amazing what happens when we realize Gd is in control. Historically, it has been hard for people to wrap their head around the idea of the Might of the Lord because so often He is or He may seem concealed. With faith there is no place we might enter and not have hope. Sometime we see where we are able to land when we jump, but other times when we jump, we jump to safety, amazingly through prostrating our hearts before Gd. Reply

Anonymous Austin, Tx January 9, 2011

thank you Going through an impossible time now myself. Inside, I have this faith. In moments of clarity, I know that this faith is stronger than the problems I face. Just not sure which way to walk. Praying for G-d to bear me up as I make my way. I will recall the image of that brave soul who walked into the water up to his nose, unafraid and certain. Faith. Reply

Lazer Gurkow February 5, 2009

Response to Anonymous Dear Reader,

You touch on a very difficult question; one that has no answer in terms of human comprehension. We are not capable of undersanding why G-d saves the ones he does and allows others to perish.

But here is one thing we can be sure of: The Torah promoses us that G-d cries and suffers when we cry and suffer. To those who ask where was G-d during the Holocaust, the only true answer I can offer is - in the crematoria and gas chambers, holding the hand of every dying man, woman and child while criying along with them

Why did he not split the sea for them?

A question that has a perfectly valid answer, only one that transcends human understanding.

We have been promised that when the Moshiach will come, many cosmic mysteries will be resolved for us, including this one. Reply

Anonymous Alexandria, VA via February 5, 2009

Excellent Thank you Rabbi Gurkow for such a wonderful article. It is a dose of encouragement in these tough economic times. Reply

Rabbi Eli Feldman Sydney, Australia via January 18, 2008

where was god in the holocaust? Dear Anonymous,
You are in good company.
The greatest rabbi of our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, had no answer to this question and was bothered by it himself.
But despite our questions, despite the difficulties, despite the irreconcilable anguish, there is one fact that we all know.
Nazism is dead and the Jewish people are still alive.
And that is the greatest proof that God is with us.
Because despite all the obstacles, the Jewish people are eternally connected to the eternal God and are thus invincible.
We cry, we mourn, but we continue to believe and remain connected to our eternal creator. Reply

Anonymous phoenix, arizona February 8, 2006

parting of the Red Sea What always disturbes me when I read a story such as the parting of the Red Sea is: If G-d was there to make that happened, where was G-d when the Jewish people had to endure unspeakable torcher and death during the Holocost? I always struggle with this question. I am a Jew. I really would be interested in your answer. Reply

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