We’re familiar with the story of the Exodus and how, when the Jewish nation was trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, the sea miraculously split. What is perhaps less known is that when the Jews were about to enter Israel, G‑d again performed a miracle and the Jordan River split. And as we read in the haftarah on the last day of Passover in the Diaspora, in the messianic era G‑d will split the Euphrates River.1

Why will there be another “water splitting” at the time of ultimate redemption? To understand this, we first need to analyze the differences between these events.

Splitting of the Red Sea—Twelve Splits

As we read in the Torah, when the Jews were at the Red Sea, G‑d commanded Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, and a strong wind blew in from the east and battered the sea all night, forming a path of dry land. As the Jews walked onto this path, the water solidified and towered over them on either side. When the Egyptians pursued the Jews, the water came crashing down on them and they all drowned.2

The sages of the Talmud and Midrash provide additional details about the Splitting of the Sea: At the same moment that the Red Sea parted, all the other water in the world split as well.3 Additionally, the sea actually split into 12 separate paths, one for each tribe.4 And what is perhaps most fascinating is that the Jews didn’t actually “cross through” the sea, they went in a semi-circle and came out the same side of the sea that they went in.5

Jordan River—One Split

When it came time to cross the Jordan River, the kohanim advanced with the Holy Ark, and as the soles of their feet touched the waters of the Jordan, the waters at that point halted in their course, piling up into a wall and forming a path, while the water on the other side of the path continued flowing downstream. Thus, the riverbed became dry, and the whole nation was able to cross the river through one large path.6

Euphrates River—Seven Splits

In Isaiah we read how, at the time of the redemption, G‑d will “dry up the ‘tongue’ of the Egyptian Sea, and He shall lift His hand over the river with the strength of His wind, and He shall beat it into seven streams . . .”7 The commentaries explain that the river in question is the Euphrates River, and the seven streams correspond to the seven different places on the side of the Euphrates that Jews were exiled to. (According to many, this refers to the 10 Lost Tribes.) 8

Why the Difference?

The chassidic masters explain that we can understand the difference in the number of splits by contrasting their purpose.9

Why did the Red Sea split? It could not solely have been in order to get to the other side and be rid of the Egyptian pursuers. After all, as we mentioned, the Israelites’ route through the sea didn’t even take them across—they came out on the same side they went in. As for getting rid of the Egyptians, G‑d had already shown through the 10 plagues that He had many alternate ways of taking care of the Egyptians. So there must have been a deeper and more spiritual reason for why the sea had to split.

The same is true with the splitting of the Euphrates River into seven streams—it will not be necessary for the sea to split, yet there is a deeper meaning that correlates to the number seven. The Jordan River, however, simply split into one path, as the purpose was simply to get to the other side and enter the land of Israel.10

Revealing the Hidden—Twelve and Seven

The mystics explain that water conceals everything beneath its surface. Thus, the sea represents the realm of a spirituality so distant from ours that it is hidden from us. Splitting the waters and revealing the dry land on which the Jews could walk expresses the idea that the hidden realms become in some way revealed and accessible.

The chassidic masters11 explain that the Splitting of the Sea occurred on the way to the receiving of the Torah and the beginning of their divine service. The sea split into 12 separate paths, representing each of the 12 tribes, for it revealed the source of each tribe’s unique divine service as a preparation for the receiving of the Torah.

In the messianic era, however, the river will split into seven. Seven corresponds to the three patriarchs and four matriarchs of the Jewish people. Each of them in turn represents another one of the seven attributes or sefirot that all of us use in our divine service. The revelation in the messianic era will be much greater, necessitating an even greater split. Thus, the split into seven represents the idea that all seven attributes and sefirot will be uplifted to their own divine source.

May it happen soon. Amen!