Parshas Tzav - Passover Edition (5773)
One of the greatest miracles in history that we commemorate on the holiday of Passover is Kerias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Sea.
In describing this miraculous event, the Torah tells us that the waters split and the Children of Israel came “within the sea on dry land” (see Exodus 14:22). A few verses later (in verse 29), the Torah writes that all the Egyptians drowned in the sea yet the Children of Israel came “on dry land within the sea”.
The Bible commentators point out some difficulties with the text. First, why does the Torah repeat itself? Prior to the drowning of the Egyptians, the Torah writes that the Children of Israel came within the sea on dry land. Afterwards, when the Egyptians were no longer a threat, the Torah reiterates that the people came on dry land within the sea. Is this second verse necessary, once the Torah had already stated the same thing earlier?
Furthermore, the Torah seems to reverse the order from “within the sea on dry land” in the first verse to “on dry land within the sea” only a few verses later?
We can answer these questions with the help of a short story:
At the end of his long and productive life, the famous Polish sculptor, Jan Krakowski, decided to give a gift to his beloved city Warsaw. He told the mayor that he was planning to sculpt a magnificent horse which he would like to have placed in the park in the center of the city. The mayor was overjoyed at the thought of such a gift, and gave the celebrated sculptor the green light. Krakowski worked on the horse for two full years until his masterpiece was finished. He called the mayor to notify him that the horse was ready. The mayor sent workers who transported the horse to the city park. Krakowski and the mayor sat down at a nearby café to watch the reaction of the people as they would see his beautiful horse. However, to the great dismay and horror of the mayor and the sculptor, everyone just walked right past the resplendent sculpture without even noticing it! Krakowski was heartbroken. How is it possible, he wondered, that people could fail to notice his beautiful sculpture? Then the mayor jumped up and said, “I figured it out! I know why everyone is ignoring your amazing handiwork. You see, your horse is so lifelike that it looks like a real, live horse…. and nobody in Warsaw stops to look at a horse! What you need to do is to split the horse in half – so that the people will know that it isn’t just some live horse - and then watch what happens.” Krakowski took the mayor’s advice and split the horse in two. Sure enough, within seconds everyone at the city park took notice of Krakowski’s magnificently sculptured horse and it was the talk of the town.
G-d, a sculptor infinitely greater than Krakowski, sculpted and created a most beautiful world for us to look at and live in and enjoy. Yet we often walk right by His magnificent handiwork, without noticing how amazing it truly is. We take G-d’s miraculous creation – this world full of beautiful mountains and seas and oceans and plant life and animals etc. - for granted, as if it is just part of “nature” and has always been there.
So, for one time in history, G-d decided to split the sea – one of His beautiful “pieces of art” - into two, just to “get noticed”. When the entire world heard about the miraculous Splitting of the Sea it became the “talk of the town”. Yet, the point of the miracle was that everyone should realize that even when it is not split, the sea is G-d’s handiwork, and that the entire universe and everything in it was all created by G-d just for us to enjoy.
With this we can now understand the verses quoted earlier. When the Jewish people first went into the sea to escape from the Egyptians, they came “within the sea on dry land”, i.e. they entered into the water and it miraculously split for them and became dry land. But after witnessing this amazing miracle that G-d did for them, they came to the realization that at all times, even when they are “on dry land” and not being chased by their enemies, they are really “within the sea”, i.e. that only because G-d decided when he created the world to part the seas and make dry land, are we even able to survive at all.
This teaches us a fundamental tenet of Judaism – and one of the many lessons of the Passover story. There is really no difference at all between miracles and “nature”. According to the Torah, nature is just a miracle that G-d put into place at the beginning of Creation. The sea itself is a great miracle, even when it’s not splitting. And all the many miracles that we commemorate on the holiday of Passover are really there to remind us that G-d is with us – and makes miracles for us – every single minute of our lives.
[Sources: Partially based on the writings of the Noam Elimelech]