Splitting the Red Sea

  • Rav Yehuda Rock

 

PARASHAT HASHAVUA

 

 

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This shiur is dedicated in loving memory of Dr. Paul Okon,
Pesach ben Bezalel, z"l, on the occasion of his yahrzeit.

By his example, he taught us love of family, respect for others, love of Torah and Mitzvot, and love of Israel.
 
He is sadly missed.  May his memory be a blessing.

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PARASHAT BESHALACH

 

Splitting of the Red Sea

 

Rav Yehuda Rock

 

 

The account of the splitting of the sea, as it appears in this week's parasha, has two different themes, such that two separate narratives are actually woven into the same account. A review of the various internal contradictions and repetitions within the account will assist us in distinguishing and separating the two intertwined themes.

 

Although the opening verses of the parasha contain elements of the two themes, and the Song of the Sea reflects some of their ramifications, we shall not address them in this shiur. Our discussion will be limited to the main part of the story – i.e., chapter 14 (leaving out the two verses of summary at the end of the chapter).

 

Let us first review the opening verses of the chapter:

 

God spoke to Moshe, saying:

Speak to Bnei Yisrael, that they should go back and encamp before Pi Ha-chirot, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Ba'al Tzefon; before it shall you encamp at the sea.

And Pharaoh will say of Bnei Yisrael: They are lost in the land; the desert has closed them in.

And I shall harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue after them, and I shall gain honor through Pharaoh and through all of his host, and Egypt will know that I am the Lord.

And they did so. (1-4)

 

God presents His plan to Moshe: Bnei Yisrael will encamp at the sea, such that it will appear to Pharaoh that they have lost their way and have no way of proceeding. I, God, will strengthen Pharaoh's tendency to exploit Bnei Yisrael's distress, and he will pursue them. The purpose of this scheme is to punish Pharaoh and his army, and thus the Egyptians will learn to fear God.

 

The splitting of the sea is depicted here as a staged production whose outcome is known in advance. In fact, Bnei Yisrael are, at no stage, in any danger. The splitting of the sea is not God's response to an unexpected threat; rather, He plans it all in advance and even reveals His plan to Moshe.

 

Let us now move on to the stage where Bnei Yisrael are standing at the sea and God instructs Moshe to split it:

 

God said to Moshe: Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael, and let them journey on!

As for you – lift up your staff, and stretch your arm over the sea and divide it, so that Bnei Yisrael can proceed on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

And I – behold, I will harden the heart of the Egyptians, and they will follow them, and I will gain honor through Pharaoh and through all of his hosts, through his chariots and through his horsemen.

And Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor through Pharaoh and through all of his hosts, through his chariots, and through his horsemen. (15-18)

 

Seemingly, Moshe cries out to God in the face of the danger that now confronts them, and God answers that he should part the sea; and God will harden Pharaoh's heart, and will punish the Egyptians. The same expressions that were used at the beginning of the chapter are repeated here, but our impression here is that Moshe is not aware of what is about to happen. Thus, we are faced with an apparent contradiction: on one hand, the beginning of the chapter (1-4) describes a plan set and described in advance to Moshe; on the other hand, verses 15-18 paint a picture of Moshe crying out in his anguish to God, and then being answered with a new Divine plan – which turns out to be identical to the one described previously!

 

There are further contradictions and repetitions in this chapter. The following are some of them:

 

·   In verse 4, following God's command and His description of the plan, the text states: "And they did so." In other words, they fulfilled His command and encamped at the sea, at the exact spot that God had specified. Thus, they have already left Egypt, and at this stage have already managed to encamp at the edge of the wilderness (see also above, 13:20). However, from later on, in verse 8, it would seem that only then do they leave Egypt: "And he pursued after Bnei Yisrael, and Bnei Yisrael went out with a high hand."

·   In verse 5 we read, "The heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the nation, and they said: What is this that we have done, for we have let Bnei Yisrael go from serving us. And he readied his chariot…." In other words, in order for Pharaoh to pursue Bnei Yisrael there was actually no need to harden his heart; he was ready to pursue them of his own initiative. Immediately afterwards, though, we read (8): "And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he went after Bnei Yisrael…." This would seem to suggest that there was indeed a need for some hardening of his heart.

·   The actual pursuit is described twice (8-9): "And he pursued Bnei Yisrael… and the Egyptians pursued them."

·   In verse 9 we find: "They reached (va-yasigu) them as they encamped at the sea" – i.e., they caught up with them. But then, in verse 10, we are told, "Pharaoh drew near" – in other words, he came closer, but did not actually catch up with them.

·   In verse 13, Moshe tells the nation: "Stand still and see God's salvation." But immediately afterwards, God tells Moshe: "Speak to Bnei Yisrael, that they should journey on."

·   After verse 23 describes the Egyptians entering the sea in pursuit of Bnei Yisrael, we read in verse 27: "The sea returned to its strength towards morning, and the Egyptians fled towards it." If they were already inside the sea, how could they "flee towards" it?

 

There are more questions, and they will be treated in the course of our discussion.

 

Apparently, the solution to all of these contradictions lies in the distinction between the two separate themes, narratives, or "aspects" that are interwoven into this account. Once again we shall rely on the exegetical methodology known as "shitat ha-bechinot" which was developed by Rav Mordekhai Breuer.[1] By delving into the difficulties that arise from the joining together of the two aspects – such as repetitions or contradictions – we are able to expose the two independent "aspects," and thereafter to explore their significance. Here, we apply this methodology to the story of the splitting of the sea. (It should be pointed out that Rav Breuer himself proposed a division of the chapter into two "aspects," but the division proposed here is a different one.)

 

The key to distinguishing the two "aspects" in our chapter lies in the very first contradiction that we discussed above. From one perspective, the entire event of the splitting of the sea is a production that is planned in advance, with a view to teaching the Egyptians a lesson: "Then Egypt will know that I am the Lord." This is the aspect with which the chapter begins (1-4). Verses 15-18 belong to the other aspect. From this perspective, Bnei Yisrael were on their way out of Egypt when Pharaoh decided to pursue them, and Bnei Yisrael were suddenly in trouble. It was only at this stage that God decided to save them by splitting the sea, and by hardening Pharaoh's heart so that he would enter the sea after them. The main purpose of the splitting of the sea, according to this aspect, was not to teaching the Egyptians about God, but rather to save Bnei Yisrael. The story here is not another episode in the ongoing battle between God and Egypt, but rather falls under the heading of the relationship between God and Israel.

 

The second aspect, too, adds that Egypt will learn that "I am the Lord." In this aspect, Egypt knowing that "I am the Lord" is secondary objective, which arises only in the wake of the fact that the Egyptians pursue Bnei Yisrael up to the sea. This idea is suggested by the wording of the verse: "Eygpt will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh" (18). This knowledge is not the purpose of God being honored through Pharaoh; rather, the knowledge will be a positive result of God being honored through him. In verse 4, in contrast, as part of the first aspect, the words "Egypt will know that I am the Lord" are the concluding words of the plan, its ultimate aim.

 

Now we need to systematically divide the other verses of our chapter between the two aspects, in accordance with the various repetitions and contradictions that arise. Let us examine the first part of the chapter (verses 1-18):

 

(1)              God spoke to Moshe, saying:

(2)              Speak to Bnei Yisrael, that they should go back and encamp before Pi Ha-chirot, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Ba'al Tzefon. Before it shall you encamp at the sea.

(3)              And Pharaoh will say of Bnei Yisrael: They are lost in the land; the desert has closed them in.

(4)              And I shall harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue after them, and I shall gain honor through Pharaoh and through all of his hosts, and Egypt will know that I am the Lord.

               And they did so.

(5)              And it was told to the king of Egypt that the nation had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants turned against the nation, and they said: What is this that we have done? For we have let Israel go from serving us.

(6)              And he readied his chariot, and took his people with him.

(7)              And he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over all of them.

(8)              And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he pursued Bnei Yisrael, and Bnei Yisrael went out with a high hand.

(9)              And the Egyptians pursued them, and they caught up with them as they encamped by the sea – all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen, and his host – at Pi Ha-chirot, in front of Ba'al Tzefon.

(10)           And Pharaoh drew near, and Bnei Yisrael lifted their eyes, and behold – the Egyptians were coming after them.

(11)           And they said to Moshe: "Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you have brought us to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us, in taking us out of Egypt?

(12)           Is this not the thing of which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying: Leave us alone, and we shall serve the Egyptians – for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness!

(13)           And Moshe said to the nation: Do not fear; stand still and see God's salvation, which He will perform for you this day. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you will never see them thus again.

(14)           God will fight for you, and you will remain silent.

(15)           And God said to Moshe: Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael, and let them journey on!

(16) As for you – lift up your staff, and stretch your arm over the sea and part it, so that Bnei Yisrael can proceed on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

(17) And I – behold, I will harden the heart of the Egyptians, and they will follow them, and I will gain honor through Pharaoh and through all of his host, through his chariots and through his horsemen.

(18) And Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor through Pharaoh and through all of his host, through his chariots, and through his horsemen.

 

Henceforth, the aspect to which verses 1-4 belong will be called aspect I. Verses 15-18 belong to aspect II.

 

Let us now look at verse 5: "It was told to the king of Egypt that the nation had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants turned…." Here, Pharaoh is described as regretting his decision to let the people go and as deciding, on his own initiative, to set off in pursuit – in contrast to verse 8 (at least, the first part of it) which describes God as hardening his heart. Verse 8, then, describes the realization of the Divine plan set out in verses 1-4. Hence, we shall categorize the first part of verse 8 as belonging to aspect I, while verse 5 belongs to aspect II.

 

Verses 6-7 are a direct continuation of verse 5 (aspect II), and it clearly would make no sense for them to be followed by God hardening Pharaoh's heart, in verse 8 (aspect I). Therefore, verses 5-7 are a single unit belonging to aspect II.

 

Thus, in aspect I, God speaks and then fulfills His words. Following His command concerning His plan, Bnei Yisrael carry out their part of the plan ("And they did so" – verse 4): they encamp at the specified place, and God then does what He promised to do – He hardens Pharaoh's heart (8). In aspect II, the narrative begins not with a Divine initiative, but rather with a process initiated by the Egyptians, who regret having let Bnei Yisrael go.

 

Verse 8 contains two parts. 8(a): "And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt"; 8(b): "And he pursued after Bnei Yisrael, and Bnei Yisrael went out with a high hand." These are two separate clauses, each of which needs to be categorized. We have already concluded that 8(a) belongs to aspect I.

 

8(b) describes Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt now, at this stage of the story. In 8(a), by this stage they are already encamped at the sea. Therefore, 8(b) must belong to aspect II.

 

The first part of verse 9 – "The Egyptians pursued them" – is a repetition of 8(b). Both describe the Egyptians pursuing Bnei Yisrael, and seemingly there is no need for 9(a) after we have read 8(b). Therefore 9(a) must be part of a different perspective on the story – aspect I.

 

The difference between the two accounts of the pursuit is clear. In aspect II, which comes to tell us about God's deliverance of Bnei Yisrael from the threat that faces them, emphasizes the great danger by depicting the Egyptians as setting off in pursuit immediately with Bnei Yisrael's departure. Bnei Yisrael leave, and the Egyptians are already on their heels. In aspect I, in contrast, it is the Divine plan that is highlighted: only after Bnei Yisrael are already stationed at the place designated for the purposes of the continued realization of the plan, only when everything is in place, does God harden Pharaoh's heart, such that he sets off in pursuit.

 

9(b) – "They reached them as they were encamped at the sea, all of Pharaoh's horses and his horsemen and his host, at Pi Ha-chirot, in front of Ba'al Tzefon" – describes Bnei Yisrael as already camped at the sea, at the exact place specified earlier, in verse 2 (aspect I). We therefore conclude that 9(b) also belongs to aspect I, and thus the whole verse belongs together.

 

The first part of verse 10 – "And Pharaoh drew near, and Bnei Yisrael lifted their eyes, and behold – the Egyptians were coming after them" – contradicts verse 9 (aspect I), which described the Egyptians as already having caught up with Bnei Yisrael. Here, Pharaoh is only "drawing near" – but not yet up to where they are. Hence, 10(a) belongs to aspect II. Further proof for this categorization lies in the expression "coming after them" – implying that Bnei Yisrael are also on the move, rather than being "encamped" – i.e., stationary, as depicted in aspect I.

 

As for 10(b), it becomes easier to classify if we take a look further on, at verse 15, which we have already marked as aspect II. In verse 15 we read: "God said to Moshe: Why are you crying out to Me?" Hence, we deduce that Moshe was crying out to God. If we search the preceding verses to see where this is noted, we find that there is no explicit mention of him crying out. We must therefore conclude that his cry is included along with the cry of Bnei Yisrael in 10(b): "Bnei Yisrael cried out to God." In response to this cry of Bnei Yisrael – and Moshe in their midst, God tells Moshe: "Why are you crying out to Me?" Therefore, verse 10(b) is necessary in order for verse 15 (aspect II) to be intelligible. Hence aspect II must include 10(b).

 

Verses 10 and 11 describe very different reactions on the part of Bnei Yisrael to the danger that faces them. In verse 10, they cry out to God. This is a positive and desirable reaction: the positive function of danger is to bring a person to pray to God. In contrast, verses 11-12 go on to describe Bnei Yisrael complaining. Their words here sound like a prelude to the sort of complaints which, in Sefer Bamidbar, cause God to become angry with the nation and to punish them. Chazal resolve the seeming contradiction between the two behaviors – praying to God, complaining – by that Bnei Yisrael were divided into groups, or sectors, each with its own response to the situation. However, the verses themselves contain no hint of such factionalism. It is possible that the actual, real-time intermingling of the two aspects did lead to different reactions on the part of different groups of people, but on the level of the literal text we are left with widely disparate descriptions, and it is logical to conclude that they represent two different aspects of, or perspectives on, the narrative. Hence if verse 10 belongs to aspect II, verses 11-12 must belong to aspect I.

 

Indeed, the different reactions on the part of the nation are well suited to the respective themes of the two aspects. In aspect I, the fact that the story is about a Divine plan that is executed within the framework of God's war against Egypt is highlighted by the fact that although Bnei Yisrael complain, and are perhaps not worthy of being saved, the plan continues nevertheless. The behavior of Bnei Yisrael does not affect the events one way or the other, since God's intention in executing the plan has nothing to do with them. Aspect II, on the other hand, tells the story of the relationship between God and Israel. Within this perspective, the Torah emphasizes the behavior that is necessary in order for Bnei Yisrael to be worthy of God's deliverance – their prayer and crying out to Him.

 

In Moshe's words to the nation, in verses 13-14 ("Moshe said to the nation: Do not be afraid; stand still and you will see God's deliverance…") it is clear that Moshe is aware of the Divine plan, and that he himself has no fear. This contrasts with the impression that we receive from aspect II, where Moshe cries out to God together with Bnei Yisrael. His command, "Stand still and you will see God's deliverance" – i.e., stand where you are, also contradicts what we read in verse 15 (aspect II), where it is clear that Bnei Yisrael are commanded to journey forwards. Hence, verses 13-14 belong to aspect I, and they are Moshe's response to the complaint of Bnei Yisrael in verses 11-12.

 

We have already categorized verses 15-18 as belonging to aspect II.

 

Attention should be paid to the fact that what arises from our analysis is that the command to split the sea is conveyed to Moshe only in aspect II. From the perspective of aspect I, Bnei Yisrael are encamped at the sea and await God's deliverance. There is no command to Moshe to split the sea.

 

Let us now consider the verses that follow:

 

(19) And the angel of God, who was proceeding ahead of the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them. And the pillar of cloud went from before them, and stood behind them.

(20) And it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and it was cloud and darkness [for the former], but it lit up the night [for the latter], and one [camp] did not come close to the other all night.

(21) And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea, and God drove the sea with a strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land, and the water was parted.

(22) And Bnei Yisrael went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left.

(23) And the Egyptians pursued and they came after them – all of Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen – into the midst of the sea.

(24) And it was, at the morning watch, that God looked out at the camp of Egypt, through the pillar of fire and the cloud, and He brought confusion upon the camp of Egypt.

(25) And He removed the wheels of their chariots, so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said: Let us flee from before Israel, for God is fighting for them against Egypt.

(26) And God said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand over the sea, and the water will come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their horsemen.

(27) And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength towards morning, and the Egyptians fled towards it. And God overturned the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.

(28) And the water returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen – all the host of Pharaoh that came after them into the sea; not even one of them remained.

(29) And Bnei Yisrael walked on the dry ground in the midst of the sea, and the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left.

 

Verse 19 comprises two parts: 19(a) speaks about an angel, while (b) speaks about the pillar of cloud. The text describes the angel as "proceeding ahead of the camp of Israel" – meaning that Bnei Yisrael are journeying, with the angel leading the way. Even after the angel moves to the back of the camp, he is still "going" (i.e., on the move) behind them. This depiction is compatible with aspect II, in which Bnei Yisrael are journeying, the Egyptians are pursuing them, and Moshe is told to tell the nation to "journey on." The pillar ("amud") of fire, in contrast, is stationary ("omed"). This matches the description in aspect I, where Bnei Yisrael are encamped at the sea, stationary, silent, and waiting for God to save them. Hence, 19(a) belongs to aspect II, while (b) belongs to aspect I.

 

Verse 20 clearly belongs to aspect I. It speaks of the "camp" – i.e., Bnei Yisrael are encamped, the Egyptians catch up with them, and they encamp too. This verse also mentions the cloud, which appeared in the preceding verse as part of aspect I. Likewise, the description "one [camp] did not come close to the other all night" seems better suited to a situation in which the two camps are set up and unmoving during the night.

 

In verse 20, the cloud lights up the night. Apparently, the cloud was part fire, as described in the previous chapter (13:21 – "And God went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead the way for them, and at night as a pillar of fire, to give them light…"). Further on in our chapter, too, we read (24): "… in a pillar of fire and cloud…."

 

In the first part (a) of verse 21 ("Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea") Moshe fulfills the command to part the sea, in aspect II. The last part of the verse (c) – "And the water was parted" likewise matches the language of the command in verse 16 – "And stretch out your hand over the sea, and part it." However, the command suggests that the parting of the water will be the direct and immediately result of Moshe raising his hand over the sea, while in verse 21 the description of the "strong east wind all night" comes in between. The description itself seems illogical: the purpose of Moshe stretching out his hand would seem to be to emphasize the fact that the parting of the sea is an act of God, and a mission entrusted to Moshe (as reflected in the conclusion of the chapter – "And they believed in God and in Moshe, His servant"), since through the act of Moshe that is commanded by God, the water is immediately parted. If, however, after Moshe stretches out his hand, there is still a delay that lasts the whole night, and only as morning approaches is the water parted, then the connection between the stretching of the hand and the parting of the water is not discernible. For this reason it would seem that 21(a) and 21(c) belong to aspect II ("Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea, and the water was parted"), but 21(b) belongs to aspect I.

 

Let us consider 21(b) in isolation, independent of the other parts of the verse and ignoring, for the moment, the parting of the sea, which appears only in aspect II: "God drove the sea with a strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land." Bnei Yisrael and the Egyptians are stationary, each in their respective camp, separated by the pillar of cloud that lights up the darkness, throughout the night. Throughout the night, a powerful east wind drives the sea and dries it up, such that it becomes dry land. Attention should be paid to the fact that there is no mention here of the water parting, or of a narrow path in the midst of the sea; the verse describes the sea in its entirety as drying up.

 

This description contributes to the theme of aspect I. The aim is not only to save Bnei Yisrael; for this a pathway through the sea would suffice for them to reach the other side. The aim is also to show the Egyptians the power and might of God. This is achieved by having them encamp facing the sea, such that they watch the whole night while God's east wind drives and dries up the entire sea.

 

Verse 22 ("And Bnei Yisrael came into the midst of the sea on dry ground, and the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left") assumes that the water is parted to leave a dry path, but still remains on both sides. Moreover, in this verse Bnei Yisrael are moving and not stationary. Therefore, we conclude that this verse belongs to aspect II.

 

In verse 23 the Egyptians come "after them… into the midst of the sea." In other words, Bnei Yisrael have already entered the sea. Thus, this verse must also belong to aspect II.

 

Verse 24 ("And it was, at the morning watch, that God looked out over the camp of Egypt through the pillar of fire and the cloud, and He brought confusion upon the camp of Egypt") takes place at the "morning watch" – i.e., the last part of the night, towards morning. This is compatible with the description in aspect I, in which God dries up the sea during the night. The pillar of fire and the cloud, as well as the description of the "camp" of the Egyptians, are also suited to this aspect. Now that the Egyptians have witnessed God's power and His strong arm during the night, the time has come for God to bring His plan to realization – "And I shall be honored through Pharaoh and through all of his host…" (verse 4). For this reason, He "brings confusion upon the camp of Egypt." Clearly, verse 24 belongs to aspect I.

 

Verse 25 is the direct continuation of verse 24; it continues God's war against Egypt. Likewise, its description of the Egyptians fleeing "from before Israel" stands in contradiction to verse 28, which tells us that the water comes back onto the Egyptians "who came after them into the sea" (aspect II). Therefore, verse 25 must belong to aspect I. According to this narrative, the two camps are both at the sea. God wages war against Egypt, and the Egyptians understand that this is connected to their war against Israel; they therefore flee from before Bnei Yisrael.

 

Verse 26 ("God said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand over the sea, and the water will come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and upon their horsemen") assumes that the Egyptians are already in the midst of the sea. This was mentioned previously in verse 23, which we categorized as belonging to aspect II. Hence, verse 26 must also belong to aspect II.

 

The beginning of verse 27 ("Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea") represents a fulfillment of the command in verse 26 (aspect II), so 27(a) belongs to II. The logical immediate result of his stretching his hand, as stated in verse 26, is that "the water will come back upon the Egyptians…." This return of the water actually happens only in verse 28: "And the water returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen – all of the host of Pharaoh who had come after them into the sea; not even one of them remained." Hence, verse 28 also belongs to aspect II.

 

The middle part of verse 27 ("and the sea returned to its strength towards morning, and the Egyptians fled towards it"), separating these two elements, belongs to aspect I. Indeed, it is well suited to aspect I: it takes place "towards morning," as a continuation of the preceding descriptions of time in this aspect – "all night" and "the morning watch"; the sea "returns to its strength" after having been transformed – in its entirety – into "dry land"; and the Egyptians "flee," in accordance with the intention that they express in verse 25 – "Let us flee from before Israel." Furthermore, their flight is "towards it" – towards the sea, since according to this aspect they have not yet entered the sea; it is only at this point, driven by their confusion, that they flee from before Bnei Yisrael, who are encamped at the sea, in the wrong direction into the sea. The end of verse 27 ("And God overturned Egypt in the midst of the sea") also belongs to aspect I, since in aspect II the water comes back to cover and drown the Egyptians only in the next verse (28 – "And the water came back…"). Thus, 27(b) (from "and the sea returned to its strength towards morning…" until the end of the verse) belongs to aspect I.

 

As noted above, verse 28 clearly belongs to aspect II. Verse 29 then provides a lyrical repetition, emphasizing the contrast between what happened to the Egyptians and the procession of Bnei Yisrael in the midst of the sea.

 

Finally, let us now construct a full and continuous reading of each of the two aspects.

 

Aspect I:

 

God spoke to Moshe, saying:

 

Speak to Bnei Yisrael that they should go back and encamp before Pi Ha-chirot, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Ba'al Tzefon. Before it shall you encamp at the sea. And Pharaoh will say of Bnei Yisrael: They are lost in the land; the desert has closed them in. And I shall harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue after them, and I shall gain honor through Pharaoh and through all of his host, and Egypt will know that I am the Lord.

And they did so.

And God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt,

And the Egyptians pursued them, and they caught up with them as they encamped by the sea – all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh and his horsemen, and his host – at Pi Ha-chirot, in front of Ba'al Tzefon.

And they said to Moshe: "Was it for lack of graves in Egypt that you have brought us to die in the wilderness? What is this that you have done to us, in taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the thing of which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying: Leave us alone, and we shall serve the Egyptians – for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness!

And Moshe said to the nation: Do not fear; stand still and see God's salvation, which He will perform for you this day. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you will never see them thus again. God will fight for you, and you will remain silent.

And the pillar of cloud went from before them, and stood behind them.

And it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel, and it was cloud and darkness [for the former], but it lit up the night [for the latter], and one [camp] did not come close to the other all night.

And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea, and God drove the sea with a strong east wind all night, and He made the sea into dry land.

And it was, at the morning watch, that God looked out at the camp of Egypt, through the pillar of fire and the cloud, and He brought confusion upon the camp of Egypt. And He removed the wheels of their chariots, so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said: Let us flee from before Israel, for God is fighting for them against Egypt.

And the sea returned to its strength towards morning, and the Egyptians fled towards it. And God overturned the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.

 

Aspect II:

 

And it was told to the king of Egypt that the nation had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants turned against the nation, and they said: What is this that we have done? For we have let Israel go from serving us.

And he readied his chariot, and took his people with him. And he took six hundred choice chariots, and all the chariots of Egypt, and captains over all of them.

And he pursued Bnei Yisrael, and Bnei Yisrael went out with a high hand.

And Pharaoh drew near, and Bnei Yisrael lifted their eyes, and behold – the Egyptians were coming after them.

And they were very fearful, and Bnei Yisrael cried out to God.

And God said to Moshe: Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to Bnei Yisrael, and let them journey on!

As for you – lift up your staff, and stretch your arm over the sea and part it, so that Bnei Yisrael can proceed on dry ground in the midst of the sea.

And I – behold, I will harden the heart of the Egyptians, and they will follow them, and I will gain honor through Pharaoh and through all of his hosts, through his chariots and through his horsemen. And Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor through Pharaoh and through all of his hosts, through his chariots, and through his horsemen.

And the angel of God, who was proceeding ahead of the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them.

And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea,

and the water was parted.

And Bnei Yisrael went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left.

And the Egyptians pursued and they came after them – all of Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen – into the midst of the sea.

And God said to Moshe: Stretch out your hand over the sea, and the water will come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and their horsemen.

And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea,

and the water returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen – all the host of Pharaoh that came after them into the sea; not even one of them remained.

And Bnei Yisrael walked on the dry ground in the midst of the sea, and the water was a wall for them on their right and on their left.

 

 

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 



[1]      According to this approach, God writes the Torah in layers, with narratives or halakhic units that parallel one another – different "aspects" – each of which is able to stand alone and to be read in its own right, such that sometimes they appear to contradict one another. Often, these aspects are intertwined, creating a complex or multi-layered unit. This complex unit blurs the points of transition between one aspect and the other, but highlights the difficulties inherent in these transitions. Each story expresses its own independent content, which is important in its own right; however, there is some relationship between them, which justifies their integration into a single text.