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The Splitting of the Sea

The Splitting of the Sea

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In Hot Pursuit

The shortest route for the children of Israel to the Promised Land, would have been straight across the land of the Philistines. However, G‑d wanted to give the newly-born Jewish nation the opportunity to throw off the remnants of Egyptian influence, and to educate them in the new ways of a holy life, through the Divine Torah which was to be given to them on Mount Sinai. Furthermore, the shortest way to the Holy Land would have involved the people in a war with the Philistines, and it was doubtful whether the children of Israel, who had just left centuries of continuous slavery behind, would be strong enough to fight like free men; they might decide to return to Egypt rather than face a bloody war. Therefore, G‑d led the Jewish people in a round-about way. Instead of following the coast of the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Promised Land, they were led southwards through the desert.

After three days, Pharaoh received word of the progress of the children of Israel. The unexpected direction of their march made him think that they had gotten lost in the desert. Pharaoh now regretted that he had permitted them to leave. He immediately mobilized his army and personally took the lead of his choicest cavalry and war-chariots in hot pursuit of his former slaves. He reached them near the banks of the Red Sea, and pressed them close to the water, in an effort to cut off their escape.

Fear gripped the children of Israel as they saw the pursuing hosts of their enslavers. Some groups among them were ready to fight the Egyptians; others preferred to drown in the floods of the sea than risk defeat and return to slavery. A third group of frightened and feeble people began to complain against Moses, fearing that he had lured them out of the safety of Egypt to die in the desert. "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert?," they exclaimed (Exodus 14:11), "Is it not this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert." But Moses, calm and firm in one of the most trying moments of his life, said: "Don't be afraid! Stand firm and see the L-rd's salvation that He will wreak for you today, for the way you have seen the Egyptians is [only] today, [but] you shall no longer continue to see them for eternity."

Then Moses led the Israelites onwards until they came to the very borders of the Red Sea. The pillar of cloud now changed its position; for, retreating from the front to the rear of the Hebrew hosts, it floated between the two armies; over the Israelies it shed a brilliant light, while it spread a veil of darkness over the Egyptians. But the Israelites seemed now helplessly hemmed in by overwhelming dangers: the Egyptians were close behind them, and the waves of the Red Sea were breaking at their feet.

The Miracle of the Red Sea

Then G‑d spoke to Moses: "raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and split it, and the children of Israel shall come in the midst of the sea on dry land." Moses did as G‑d ordered him. He raised his staff, and stretched his hand over the sea; a strong east wind rose and blew the whole night. The waters of the Red Sea were immediately divided and gathered into a wall on either side, leaving a dry passage in the midst. The Israelites marched at once along that dry path which extended from shore to shore, and gained the opposite side in safety.

The End of the Egyptian Army

The Egyptians continued their pursuit, without hesitation, in the same track. But the wheels of their carriages became clogged in the bed of the sea, and slipped off. They were unable to proceed; and they felt that they were once more vainly struggling against the L-rd. They turned to flee, but it was too late; for at the command of G‑d, Moses stretched forth his staff, and the waters resumed their usual course, closing over the chariots and horses and warriors, over the whole force of Pharaoh (Exodus 14:28). "Not even one of them survived."

Thus G‑d saved the children of Israel from the Egyptians on that day. Israel saw His great power; they recognized G‑d and believed in Him and in His servant Moses.

Israel's Song of Praise

Then Moses and the entire congregation sang this Song of Praise to G‑d for their miraculous rescue (Exodus 15:1-18):

1. I will sing to the L-rd for He is most exalted; the horse with its rider He cast into the sea.

2. The might and retribution of God was my salvation; this is my God and I will glorify Him, the God of my father and I will exalt Him.

3. The L-rd is master of war, the L-rd is His Name.

4. He hurled Pharaoh's chariots and his army into the sea; the elite of his officers were drowned in the Sea of Reeds.

5. The deep waters covered them; they dropped into the depths like a stone.

6. Your right hand, 0 L-rd, is adorned with power; Your right hand, 0 L-rd, shatters the enemy.

7. In Your great majesty, You destroy those who rise up against You; You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw.

8. At the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up, the flowing streams stood erect like a wall; the deep waters were congealed in the heart of the sea.

9. The foe had said: I will pursue them, I will overtake them, I will divide the spoil, my lust shall be sated upon them; I will unsheath my sword, my hand shall annihilate them.

10. You blew with Your wind, the sea enveloped them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. Who is like You among the supernal beings, 0 L-rd! Who is like You, resplendent in holiness, awesome in praise, performing wonders!

12. You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them.

13. In Your loving kindness You led the people whom You redeemed; in Your strength You guided them to Your holy abode.

14. The nations heard it and trembled; pangs of fear gripped the inhabitants of Philistia.

From Our People by Jacob Isaacs published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society 1946-1948
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