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The Second Opening of the Sea

By Rabbi Mordechai Fhima
February 5, 2020

Two weeks ago, I heard a beautiful shiur from Rabbi YY Jacobson, the likes of which I have never heard before, when he was in London for the Aleinu conference.

The opening of our portion relates how Pharaoh reconsidered immediately after he let the Jewish people go. “He said to the Children of Israel: They are lost in the land, the desert has closed in on them.” Rashi raises the following difficulty with this verse: Pharaoh did not speak to the children of Israel, for they had already left Egypt. How can the תורה imply that he was talking to them?

The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel gives an astonishing explanation. There were two Jews, named Datan and Aviram, who refused to leave and remained in Egypt. Pharaoh spoke to them, reassuring them that the Jews were lost, stranded, and stuck in the desert. Their choice to flee the country was an ill-conceived one.

Here is where the story becomes mind staggering. If they chose to stay in Egypt, how do we discover them journeying with the Jews in the desert – complaining about the manna and revolting alongside Korach? The seeming answer is plain if absurd. They must have tagged along with Pharaoh when he went to pursue the Jews by the sea. In addition, when the sea split, they too were spared. They too crossed along with the Jews, and got to the other side safe.

This is absurd. These two fellows who were absolute atheists, it seems, fighting Moses and G-d at every step of the way, choosing to remain in Egypt, are saved with their brethren. They linked their fate and destiny to Egypt, not to the Hebrews. Why were they spared at the Red Sea while all of the Egyptians drowned?

Additionally, the Midrash teaches that many Jews did not want to leave Egypt and died during the three days of darkness. Despite this, Dathan and Aviram who also did not want to leave survived. Why?

We always say that in Parashat Bechalach there was kriat Yam Suf   the tearing the sea for the Jewish people and there is many saying by Chazal like

קָשִׁין מְזוֹנוֹתָיו כִּקְרִיעַת יַם־סוּף וְקָשֶׁה זִוּוּגוֹ כקריעת ים סוף

Our Sages taught: Providing  with his livelihood is as difficult as tearing  the Red Sea (Pesachim 118a) Providing a person with his marriage partner is as difficult as tearing the Red Sea (Sotah 2a).

Is it difficult for Hashem, to do anything?

What is the meaning of this expression “difficult”?

Another issue is the choice of phrase in the Gemara, because when we look in the Pesoukim, in the Torah we see the word  ובקעהו  ויבקעו המים

אַתָּ֞ה הָרֵ֣ם אֶֽת־מַטְּךָ֗ וּנְטֵ֧ה אֶת־יָדְךָ֛ עַל־הַיָּ֖ם וּבְקָעֵ֑הוּ וְיָבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָֽׁה׃

And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.

וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־יָדוֹ֮ עַל־הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ יְהוָ֣ה ׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃

Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters split.

The Torah describes the “opening of the sea” and not the “tearing of the sea.” Where is the source for Kriat Yam Suf if not in the Torah?

Furthermore we see in the Parasha ויבאו בני ישראל בתוך הים ביבשה והמים להם חומה  that the water were a  Homa  that mean a fence of protection and later on in the Paracha pasouk 29 ובני ישראל הלכו ביבשה בתוך הים והמים להם חמה       the Pasouk says Hema without a Waw  and the resultant word – Hema, means anger. The question is clear, namely, was there a protection in the form of a fence or anger?

Many more point out a difficulty in the Pesoukim, which follow. The first Pasouk says that the Bnei Yisrael were going in the sea dry and the Pasouk later says that they were in the dry (land) inside the sea. A further question to ask is, Why does the Torah repeat that the Bnei Yisrael went in the sea at the end of this last Pasouk?

The Torah teaches us that there were really two separate openings of the sea. The first one was a בקיעה , an opening of the sea and the water was a real fence to secure and protect the Bnei Yisrael. However, after this, there was a new tearing of the sea, not a בקיעה, but a קריעת ים סוף , a tearing of the Red Sea. The first one was the pre-condition with the sea, planned since the creation of the world, as implied by the Pasouk saying וישב הים לפנות  בקר  לאיתנו, the sea returned towards morning to its course. The Midrash expands on this, saying l’etano harishon, to the condition made during the creation that the sea should open for Am Yisrael. After the Jewish people crossed the sea, Pharaoh came charging together with Datan and Aviram to bring the Bnei Yisrael back to Egypt.

The question is asked: Why should the sea open for these two, who will cause Moshe Rabenou so much trouble throughout the desert, with the Mana and siding with Korach?  Hashem did not want to open the sea, but he was forced to do a new  Kriat yam souf, not part of the condition made at creation.  The sea was no longer a fence of protection, but a wall of anger – it was very difficult to open the sea for these two men who never wanted to leave Mitsrayim. Why should the sea open a second time, never mind for such troublesome people ?

Our rabbis tell us that back in Mitsrayim, it was these two men, Datan and Aviram, who were the taskmasters. When Pharaoh made the work harder for Bnei Yisrael, they were willing to be beaten to release pressure from the Bnei Yisrael and were saved in this merit. Such is the merit of people that are willing to suffer for another Jew, to the extent that even though Hashem knew that they would cause trouble throughout the dessert, they were nonetheless saved. For the sole merit of suffering for another Jew, Hashem did Kriyat Yam Suf for them.

Now we understand the aforementioned phrases 1) Finding a wife is as difficult as Kriyat Yam Suf and 2) Parnasa is as difficult like yam souf. We refer to the second tearing of the sea, in the same way as it was difficult for Datan and Aviram to open the sea, so too, sometimes a person doesn’t deserve a certain Shiduch or to have Parnasa, but Hashem gives for a specific reason, even though it may seem undeserved.

We know nothing is difficult for Hashem; rather the action of a person may push away the blessing that they deserve.

Let us learn to care about another Jew, as we need to know Hashem has a great pleasure in showering us with all the blessings of the world, but sometimes our actions create a difficulty preventing us from receiving the blessings from above.

Shabbat shalom

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