As we begin Parshas B’Shalach, klal Yisrael has just witnessed the miracles of leaving Mitzrayim and are now traveling towards Har Sinai, ready to receive the Torah. In between, however, lies a cosmic event: K’rias Yam Suf, the splitting of the sea. One can ask, though, why K’rias Yam Suf was even necessary. Why couldn’t the Jews go from the spiritual high of the makos (plagues) and Y’tzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus) straight to Matan Torah? Why did they first have to pass through the sea? This question is strengthened by the commentators who point out that this journey through the Yam Suf was apparently pointless. The Midrash explains that klal Yisrael exited on the very same side of the Yam Suf that they entered! If Hashem simply wanted to destroy the Egyptians, there are far easier ways to accomplish this. What was the purpose of such a journey?
The Commentators explain that K’rias Yam Suf was in fact a necessary step before the Jews could receive the Torah, but their reasoning is quite enigmatic. They emphasize the need for the Jewish people to pass through the waters of the Yam Suf in order to be ready and capable of receiving the Torah. The question we then need to ask is: What is the significance of water in regard to the Jewish People’s journey from Mitzrayim to Har Sinai?
Y’tzias Mitzrayim: A National Birth
Y’tzias Mitzrayim was not merely a physical process, whereby the Jewish People departed from the land of Egypt and traveled towards a different location. It was a spiritual metamorphosis, an existential transition, the birth of a people. Prior to leaving Mitzrayim, B’nei Yisrael were a collective of people; but upon leaving, we became a single nation, a single people, and a unified whole.
Water As the Medium of Creation
The Maharal explains that the fundamental nature of water is that it is formless. Water has no form of its own; rather, it takes on the shape of its container. (It is pure chomer, without any tzurah.) The ocean is completely shapeless; and, unlike dry land, which has paved paths, it has no pathways or landmarks. This characteristic of water is indicative of its essence. Water represents the initial stage in every creative process. Before something becomes expressed and takes on form, it remains in a formless and amorphous state. Through the creative process, physical form emerges from this amorphous beginning. This is why the Torah states that during the original creation of the world, there was initially only water. Only afterwards did dry land emerge from the water.
Destroying or Recreating?
This theme of water as the medium of creation is present again in Parshas Noach, when the Mabul covered the world with water. The deep idea behind the flood is that Hashem was not destroying the world, He was recreating it. The Dor HaMabul became so corrupted that Hashem decided to start over again with Noach alone. Hashem therefore immersed the world in water, so that it could go back into its primordial state of formlessness and void. Only once it went back into its original state could the dry land emerge once again from the waters, recreated. Only once the dry land emerged, and the world was born once again, did Noach leave the teivah.
The Maharal goes on to explain that this same theme is the reason why the Jewish people had to immerse themselves into the waters of the Yam Suf between leaving Mitzrayim and receiving the Torah. Y’tzias Mitzrayim set the stage for the creation and birth of the Jewish People; and when they immersed in the waters of the Yam Suf, they went through the transformative process of being born as a nation. Thus, just as the creation and recreation of the world were accomplished through water, the Jewish People as a nation had to be formed through water, as well. As the Midrash explains, the splitting of the Yam Suf is comparable to a pregnant woman’s water breaking. Klal Yisrael entered the Yam Suf as individuals, but emerged reborn, as a nation. Let us now delve a bit deeper into the birth of the Jewish People and show how Y’tzias Mitzrayim encapsulates this principle.
Nisan vs. Tishrei
The Gemara in Rosh HaShanah brings down a debate regarding whether the world was created in Tishrei or in Nisan. There are many opinions that try to resolve this tension and explain the truth behind each perspective. Rashi suggests that while the world was created in Tishrei, we count the months by Nisan. Tosafos thinks that while Hashem “decided” to create the world in Tishrei, establishing the potential, he actualized that potential in Nisan. A third, and perhaps more pertinent, explanation is discussed, as well, suggesting that while humanity as a whole was created in Tishrei, klal Yisrael as a nation was created in Nisan, embodying the conceptual creation of a new stage in world history. Thus, we see that Y’tzias Mitzrayim was, in fact, the cosmic moment of creation for klal Yisrael as a nation.
Chodesh: Recreation of Identity
The very first mitzvah given to the Jewish people upon leaving Egypt was the commandment to declare the new month: “Ha’chodesh ha’zeh lachem rosh chodashim” (Sh’mos 12:2). Why is this so? This seems like a secondary concept, not nearly as important as the mitzvos of Shabbos, bris milah, and many other such essential mitzvos. But the answer is profound.
Upon leaving Egypt, the Jewish People were experiencing their very own birth, their inception as a nation. In doing so, they had to recreate themselves, shedding their slave mentality, and embracing their transcendent purpose as they headed towards Matan Torah. To do so, they needed to receive the koach (power) of newness and control over time. The Hebrew word for month, chodesh, also spells chadash, “new.” A slave has no power over time, no responsibility, no sense of purpose. As part of our birth, we were given a new identity; we were given control over time, and were given a mission to head towards Har Sinai, where we would receive our ultimate purpose by receiving the Torah.
This idea – the birth of the Jewish People – sheds light on some of the strange halachos of the Korban Pesach, the sacrificial lamb that klal Yisrael ate on the night before leaving Egypt. This lamb must be to be one year old, roasted, not cut up or broken, must be eaten within a single house, and in a chaburah (group of people).
The Maharal explains that each of these halachos symbolizes a single concept: the creation of the oneness of klal Yisrael. On the first night of Pesach, we embrace and embody this principle to the utmost of our capability. We eat a one-year-old, reflecting our oneness. It must be roasted, not cooked or boiled, because only by roasting does the meat remain one, whereby cooking and boiling causes the meat to fall apart into separate pieces. It must be roasted whole and mustn’t be cut up at all. One can’t break a single bone, in order to maintain the absolute oneness of the lamb. It has to be eaten in one home and it must be eaten as a chaburah to bring family and friends together into a single unified group, reflecting the oneness of klal Yisrael, whereby each of the individuals is a part of a whole, greater than himself or herself.
It should be no surprise that the Gemara brings down an opinion stating that whenever a convert enters into the Jewish nation, he should bring a Korban Pesach, regardless of the time of year. The meaning is profound: The Korban Pesach is the means of joining the oneness of klal Yisrael, as this is what we did in Mitzrayim when we originally became the Jewish People.
Prerequisite for Matan Torah
Before the Jewish People could receive the Torah, they had to be reborn, recreated with a new identity, both as individuals and as a nation. Next week, when we read about Matan Torah, we need to realize that we aren’t just remembering what happened thousands of years ago. We are about to re-experience this transformative event ourselves! Yet, before we receive the Torah, we must make sure we go through our very own K’rias Yam Suf, our very own rebirth.
Choosing Our Identity
Every day, we get to choose who we are, what we believe in, and how we are going to live our lives. Each morning, we get to create our identity. We don’t have to continue making the same mistakes again and again. Each day, we can restart anew. As Avraham Avinu said, “Anochi afar va’eifer” – I am but dirt and ashes. Most people understand this to mean that Avraham was a humble man. However, there is a deeper explanation, as well. Ashes represent an elemental breakdown of something. Dirt represents the starting point of growth, the place where seeds are planted. Avraham was saying that every day he would “ash” himself, breaking himself down into his elemental and root form, and then plant himself anew in a field of dirt. In other words, Avraham would recreate himself every single day. He never continued living on the same way simply because he had done so yesterday. Each and every day, he looked deep within himself, broke himself down, and recreated himself anew. May we all be inspired to embark on a journey of genuine “afar va’eifer” – finding excitement and meaning in our constant growth and internal recreation. This year, as we read about K’rias Yam Suf, may we each be inspired to undergo a genuine rebirth in our own personal lives, create an even more empowering identity, and prepare ourselves to experience a true Matan Torah.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy (ShmuelReichman.com), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. You can find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.