Dear Rabbi,

Why did the Israelites have to pass through the Red Sea? On my map of the Middle East, the route from Egypt to Israel is directly through the desert. The sea is totally out of the way. G‑d led them on a detour, trapping them between the sea and the chasing Egyptians, and then split the sea. Does G‑d have no sense of direction?


In describing the Exodus, the verse tells us that “G‑d did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, which was close by, because G‑d said, ‘The people might reconsider when they see war, and return to Egypt.’”

Nevertheless, the biblical story is meant to provide us a lesson for our personal lives. So here’s how I understand the words of the sages on this:

The earth is comprised of oceans and continents, sea and dry land. The difference between the two is: On dry land, all is open and visible. The trees, animals, mountains and people that occupy it are all easily recognizable. The sea, on the other hand, is a big blue expanse of mystery. Though the sea is teeming with life, when you look at it you can identify nothing; all is hidden beneath the surface.

So it is with a person. Our personality has two layers: our sea and our land. What we know of ourselves, our visible strengths, our tested talents and our known abilities, the elements of our character that we are aware of—these comprise the “dry land” of our personality. But below the surface of our character lies a vast sea of latent talents, inner strengths and untapped abilities that we never knew we had. In the depth of our soul lies a reserve of dormant energy waiting to be discovered. This is our “sea,” and even we ourselves are unaware of what lies there.

How can we access this reservoir of potential? How can our sea become dry land? There is only one way. And we know it from the encounter at the Red Sea.

The Israelites had their back to the wall: Egyptians closing in on one side, a raging sea threatening on the other. They had only two options: despair or faith. Logic and reason demanded that they give in. There was no possible way out of their predicament. But faith demanded that they keep marching to the Promised Land. Sea or no sea, this is the path on which G‑d has led us, so we have to have faith and march on. And so they did.

It was at that moment, when hopelessness was countered by faith, that the impossible happened, and the sea opened up to become dry land. The most formidable obstacle dissolved into nothingness, without a struggle, just with faith. The people became empowered exactly when they acknowledged G‑d as the only true power. By surrendering themselves to a higher force, they discovered the force within them. They split their own sea.

The Jewish people are no strangers to times of challenge. At the very birth of our nation, we needed to learn how to face these challenges. So G‑d took us on a detour to the sea and opened it up for us. He was telling every Jew for all times:

Obstacles are not interruptions to the journey; they are the journey. Keep marching towards the Promised Land. Every challenge along the way will give you deeper insight and renewed power. Just have faith. It will split your sea.

See The Muddy Path from our selection on The Splitting of the Sea.