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Parshas Beshalach (5774)

Matchmaking and the Splitting of the Red Sea

This week, in synagogues all around the world, we will be reading the Torah portion of Beshalach in which we find the story of Kerias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea.

Now this may sound like heresy to some of you, but I am not so sure that the Jewish people ever ‘crossed’ the Red Sea.

And I am not the only one who thinks this way. Great Torah scholars such as Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni, and the Tosafists (medieval rabbis from France and Germany who wrote critical and explanatory glosses on the Talmud called Tosafos, or Addenda, because they were ‘additions’ on the commentary of Rash”i) all concur that the Jewish people never actually crossed the Red Sea.

The Tosafists base their position on a passage in the Talmud in Arachin 15a which derives from a verse in Psalms 106:7 that the Jewish people demonstrated little faith after they crossed the dry land in the middle of the Red Sea. They assumed that just as they were saved from drowning in the Red Sea, the Egyptians also survived.

The obvious question is how could the Jewish people not have realized that, after such a miraculous event occurred to them, the wicked Egyptians could not merit such a similar miracle?

The Tosafists answer that the Jewish people did not cross the Red Sea and emerge on the other side (entering the Red Sea from the Egyptian side and exiting on the side of the Sinai Peninsula). Rather, when they arrived at the sea - at the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez - they were surrounded on three sides by the Egyptians and on the fourth side by the sea. G-d split the sea, creating a path for them to bypass the Egyptians and emerge on the same bank of the Red Sea, but further south and east of where they had originally entered, This means that the Jewish people travelled through the sea in the shape of a "semi-circle". [See also Ibn Ezra’s commentary to Exodus 14:17, Chizkuni’s commentary to Exodus 14:22, and Maimonides’ commentary to Ethics of the Fathers 5:4]

With this – explain the Tosafists - we can better understand the Jews’ fear that their enemies would follow them. They were concerned that the Egyptians who did not enter the sea would follow them on land along the bank of the Red Sea and eventually reach them.

So what does all this have to do with matchmaking, you ask? I’m getting there…

There is a well-known passage in the Talmud in Sotah 2a which states that “it is as difficult for G-d to arrange a shidduch (match) between two people as it was for Him to split the Red Sea.” Much ink has been spilled over the centuries by the great Talmudic commentators to explain the connection between matchmaking and the splitting of the sea.

Now that we learned that (according to the Tosafists and other medieval commentaries) the Jews never actually crossed the Red Sea, but instead travelled through it in the form of a semi-circle, coming out on the same side which they entered but further south, we can explain the connection as follows:

If the Jews were in a semi-circle, that means that those at the inside of the arc had only a short distance to travel before emerging from the deep and muddy sea, while those at the outside of the arc had to travel a longer distance, making their sea journey much more difficult – yet they all made it out safely in the end.

And therein lies the ‘difficulty’ of matchmaking as well. Some guys and girls find their bashert (soulmate) right away, emerging from the ‘sea’ of dating quite early on. Others, who are not as fortunate, have to trudge through that sea for quite some time, taking much longer to find the spouse of their dreams. It is hoped though, that with the help of G-d and the matchmakers, all will eventually emerge from the sea to find their soulmates and live happily ever after.

May G-d bless us that all our dreams and desires be fulfilled for the good. Amen!

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