SALT - Sunday, 7 Shevat 5779 - January 13, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
In loving memory of
Yitzchak ben Chaim Zvi Schwartz z"l, who passed away on 13 Shvat 5771
and Sheva Shayndel bat David Schwartz z"l, who passed away 13 Shvat 5778
Dedicated by Avi and Sarah Schwartz
            Parashat Beshalach tells the famous story of keri’at Yam Suf – the miracle of the splitting of the sea to allow Benei Yisrael to escape from the pursuing Egyptian army.  The Midrash (Midrash Tehillim, 114) curiously associates this miracle with the story of Yosef’s escape from Potifar’s wife when she attempted to lure him to an illicit relationship.  The verse in Tehillim (114:3) describes the miracle of the sea with the words, “Ha-yam ra’a va-yanos” (“The sea saw and fled”), and the Midrash explains that the sea “fled” – meaning, its waters split – when it “saw” Yosef’s coffin, which Benei Yisrael were carrying with them.  The word “va-yanas” is used to describe Yosef’s escape from Potifar’s wife when she grabbed his garment in her attempt to seduce him (“va-yanas va-yeitzei ha-chutza” – “he fled and went outside,” Bereishit 39:12), and thus the Midrash teaches that the sea “fled” in the merit of Yosef’s “fleeing” from Potifar’s wife.
            The Divrei Yechezkel (Rav Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam of Shinova) suggests an insightful explanation of the Midrash’s comments based on a verse in Sefer Yeshayahu (57:20) which compares the wicked to the waves of the ocean – “ve-ha’resha’im ka-yam nigrash.”  Rashi, in his commentary to Yeshayahu, explains that just as the ocean’s waves repeatedly try extending beyond the boundary set for them, and continue their efforts despite their and their fellow waves’ repeated failures, likewise, the wicked stubbornly seek to violate the boundaries of acceptable behavior.  The image of the seashore, then, symbolizes the evildoers’ desire to extend beyond the limits on appropriate conduct, to free themselves from constraints and follow their base wishes and desires.  The Divrei Yechezkel thus explains that the Midrash depicts Yosef and the ocean waves as two opposite models – a model of restraint, and a model of unrelenting efforts to breach accepted boundaries.  According to one view in the Gemara (Sota 36b), Yosef nearly succumbed to temptation when he was lured by Potifar’s wife, but he succeeded in abstaining because of his firm commitment to remain within accepted limits of behavior.  As opposed to the ocean waves, which constantly aspire to exceed their limits, Yosef’s desire was to limit himself to what is morally acceptable.  The image of the ocean waters receding upon seeing Yosef’s coffin thus symbolizes the polar opposite tendencies of evildoers – represented by the sea – and the righteous, such as Yosef.  Whereas the wicked seek to extend beyond acceptable limits, and breach the boundaries of appropriate behavior, the righteous seek to live with moderation and restraint, enjoying the pleasures of the world within the boundaries set by God, and always striving to respect those boundaries without ever exceeding them.