In the Midst of the Sea - בשלח

Friday, 18 January, 2019 - 11:46 am

Sea.jpgIn the Midst of the Sea

The splitting of the sea is one of the great miracles in the Bible. When the Talmud describes something that is unnatural, and “difficult” for G-d to achieve, the Talmud uses the phrase “it is as difficult as the splitting of the sea”.

If we want to understand the concept of a miracle, what it is, how and why it happens, we must first think about nature.

As human beings began contemplating the incredible universe they began to seek explanations and look for patterns to explain the natural phenomenon they observed. Collectively we label the explanations as “nature”. Why does light travel at the speed of 186,282 miles per second? Well, that's because that is its nature. Why do cells in the human body act the way they do? Why does the human DNA replicate the way it does? Well, that is its nature. Why does gravity operate in the precise way that it does? Again, that’s nature.

If we think about it, we will notice that much of what we call nature is a description not an explanation. We have made incredible strides in understanding the way the universe operates, in observing, and predicting some of its amazing patterns. Yet, understanding how the natural forces operate is not necessarily the same as understanding why it works precisely this way and not slightly, or vastly, differently.   

This idea is alluded to in the Hebrew word for nature, which is “Teva”. The etymology of “Teva” is the word “Tuvuh” which means “drowned”. Nature is just as mysterious as a miracle, but because nature is constant, its mystery is “drowned” and concealed. And it appears to be unremarkable. The truth, however, is that the rising sun is as miraculous as the splitting of the sea. The only difference is that the rising sun is a continuous miracle while the splitting of the sea was a one time event.

When a miracle occurs we are reminded that there is a creator who is involved in creation and who has the power to change the usual patterns of the universe, and to give room for the unexpected. But the purpose of the miracle is to help us discover the miracle of nature. When we witness the awesome power of G-d at the splitting of the sea we are reminded that, indeed, all of creation is an expression of the greatness of G-d.   

In the Torah’s description of the splitting of the sea we read:

Then the children of Israel came into the midst of the sea on dry land, and the waters were to them as a wall from their right and from their left. (Exodus 14:22)

Israel “came into the midst of the sea on dry land”. Yet just a few verses later the Torah reiterates the miracle, this time it changes the order of “Sea” and “dry land”:

But the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the water was to them like a wall from their right and from their left. (Ibid. 14:29)

So which one is it? Did we enter “the sea on dry land” or was it “dry land in the midst of the sea”? The Chassidic masters explain: at first the Jewish people entered the sea and experienced the great miracle of “dry land”. Once they experienced the miracle they reached a deeper understanding that even when they are on “dry land”, where there is nothing unnatural to their existence, they are indeed “within the sea” surrounded by G-d’s “constant miracles”, providence, and loving care.

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