Beshalach 5772 – Gilayon #736
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Parshat Beshalach – Tu BiShevat
The waters piled up,
The floods stood straight like a wall;
The deeps froze in the heart of the sea.
"The breath that issues from
both nostrils". Scripture speaks, if it were at all possible, of God
in the same manner as it does of a human monarch, in order to make human ears
hear the facts in accordance with what usually transpires, so that they may
understand the matter: When a man is angry breath issues from his nostrils.
Similarly, "smoke rose up in His nostril" (Ps. xvIII:9), and also "by the breath of His nostril are
they consumed" (Job. IV:9). And this
is the meaning of "For My name's sake I will lengthen My anger: when one's
anger subsides, his breathing becomes long, while when one angers, his
breathing becomes shorter.
'I will place a nose-ring in My
nose in order to close up My nostrils against the anger and the breath so that
they not come out.' The word לך [here means] for
your sake. אחטםhas
the same meaning and root as in 'a
wild camel with a nose ring חטם that
similarly. חרה אף, is similar to [the word in:] "My bone
means burning and heat, because the nostrils become hot and
burning, at a time of anger. In the same way, חמה which denotes wrath is derived is also derived from heat
It is for this reason it says: וחמתו בערה בו his anger burnt within him, and when anger
subsides one says: "His mind has cooled off."
(Rashi Shemot 15,8)
…in order that it not be
misunderstood that those attributes of God of which man may speak of Him and
praise Him emanating from his actions, are attributed to Him as if He were
human, it is said at the beginning of the song "I will sing unto the Lord"
that is to say that I will mention praises that are poetic and contain images
that are not real, in this way I will describe the Lord with attributes so as
to please the ear. Therefore he says "the Lord is a warrior… glorious in
power… at the blast of your nostrils… You send forth Your fury… Your
right hand O Lord shatters the foe" However, the truth is that one cannot
describe Him with any attribute even though they may emanate from His deeds as
we might similarly describe a human being.
"For He has triumphed
gloriously" is a poetic statement for truthfully God is above all kinds of
praise that one may employ. Therefore the most appropriate praise is silence,
as King David has said: "For You silence is praise" (Ps. 62). Similarly, Chazal understood this
point when they said: "The best medicine of all is silence. (Meg. 18a) as
it is written, "For You silence is praise." Meaning that for You
silence is praise. Likewise, Moshe refers to Hashem, as "too awesome for
( R. Yosef Albo: Sefer HaIkkarim Maamar 2 Chapter 23)
What did the maidservant actually
See at the sea?
Visual Representations of the Splitting of the Sea
says: From where do we learn that the maidservant by the sea, saw sights that
even Isaiah and Ezekial were not privileged to see? When I spoke to the
prophets for I was granted many visions. However when He revealed Himself by
the sea, no one found it necessary to ask – who is the king? When they saw Him
and recognized Him, they all opened their mouths and sang: This my Lord and I
will enshrine Him. (Mechilta Shemot)
midrash on the verse "This is my Lord and I will enshrine him" is
generally brought as a description marked by its concreteness of the revelation
of God at the splitting of the sea. The image of God was so perceptible, says
the midrash, every male and female of
with his finger. (this is my Lord)
I am suggesting that the dramatic words
of the Mechilta refer not only to the revelation of the Almighty, but also to
the powerful imagery of the entire scene. Rabbi Eliezer seeks to inform us that
with all the "pyrotechnics" of "maaseh hamerkava" that
Ezekiel the prophet envisaged, the powerful vision of the splitting of the sea
was ten times greater.
Why so? Aided by a non-representative
review of artistic works dealing with the Splitting of the Sea, we shall
attempt to answer our question. Firstly let us mention that which is
self-understood: any instance of the visualization of a biblical scene – the
fact that we really do not actually know how things really looked and that
allows our own imagination and that of artists throughout the ages to play,
suggesting a visual commentary of the scene. And lest we not forget, visual
commentary is always perforce a type of textual exegesis.
What did the Maidservant actually see at
the Sea? How did the splitting of the Sea actually look like?
In the work of the anonymous illustrator
of the Sarajebo Hagaddah (Barcelona circa 1350), the oldest Hagaddah we have,
the folio illustrating the Splitting of the Sea is divided into two parts1:
the upper part describes the crossing of the Sea by the Children of Israel,
while the lower part describes Miriam and the women-folk singing. In the upper
part, undoubtedly, the heroes are the people themselves, who occupy the major
portion of the composition. The children of
bunched together passing through two walls of water in an arc shaped
path, from right to left. In contrast, Moshe Rabeinu – who certainly is one of
the heroes of this scene as described in the bible – occupies a relatively
minor position by this artist. His image appears at the margin of the picture –
identifiable by the crown upon his head – his head appearing only partially.
The metaphoric maidservant of Rabbi Eliezer occupies center stage and the
important viewpoint is hers. The position of the Egyptians in the picture is
not overlooked. With an arresting stylistic decision, our artist chooses to
depict the figures of the drowning Egyptians only with a stroke of a
floating-contour. Only Pharaoh, identified by a red robe has a "solid"
presence over the other Egyptians.. Perhaps this is a reflection of the midrash
that says that Pharoah alone survived the drowning at the sea2. One "hero"
is absent from the scene and that is God. Perhaps one can sense His presence is
one of the figures passing through the sea, seen pointing with his index
figure. Perhaps this is reflected in the midrash we have cited at the beginning
of our essay, as if the man is declaring:"This is my God!"
An unusual fascinating treatment of the
splitting of the sea is to be found by the Israeli artist Joseph Bergner (b.
1920). He has a few works that deal with the splitting of the sea. Most of Bergner's
works deal with still- life – in the kitchen, graters, grinders, strainers,
salt shakers, kettles, and the like. In a work from 1979 entitled "The
Target"3, he has painted scores of kitchen utensils – chairs,
tables, stools, lamps, clocks – clustered together in one line crossing land
beyond the horizon of a sea shore. Above are hovering skies like before a
storm. Although humans are absent from the work, neither Jews nor Egyptians –
and the waters are calm and not choppy, the immediate association of the work
is the approach of the objects to the sea in the biblical narrative. Above the
work hovers the motif of the "Wandering Jew": the kitchen utensils
are uprooted from their habitat to wander in the wilderness. Surprisingly we
find a reversal of Exile and Redemption.
We are used to seeing the Exodus from
meeting at the sea as a process of redemption, this work contains elements of
exile and alienation. Perhaps the work seeks to ask the question: Will the
waters part for us again when we will be compelled to march in a line like this
the next time?
In another work entitled "The
Splitting of the Sea4", Bergner goes one step further – he
returns the utensils from an environment of nature and brings them back to the
house. The utensils now rest upon a white table cloth (Shabbat?) Now the
objects march in front of us, the viewers, and almost fall from the table into
the open abyss between the viewer and the work of art. The transfer of the
biblical scene of the crossing of the sea to the Jewish home creates both a
sense of comedy and of tragedy. Or in other words: a summary of the story of
In our dealing with visual presentations
of the crossing of the sea, one must mention the audio-visual treatment of this
event. It is not accidental that the two major films of the twentieth century
dealing with the exodus – "The Ten Commandments" (Cecile B. Demille,
Director:1956) and "The Prince of Egypt", (Directors :Brenda Chapman,
Steve Hickner, Simon Wells; 1998) – the scene of the parting of the sea is
perceived as the visual high-point of the film. These two instances utilized
the most advance film technology available at their times. However, there are
marked differences between the two productions5, but they share the
hierarchy of their "heroes". In the two films mentioned – as opposed
to the creations of Bregner and the anonymous illustrator of the Sarajebo
Hagaddah – the nation plays a secondary role. Moshe is the main hero and the
God figure is present only in an amorphic and implied form. However in the film
medium, the hero is the sea itself. In the film "Prince of Egypt"
this is particularly manifest. The magnificent work done by the animation
artists of the film, shifts our breathing from the direction that we are
observing a familiar great force of nature, and changes its form and very
Perhaps here we can discover a response to our initial question: why
was the vision of the maid-servant more powerful than that of the prophet Ezekiel?
Perhaps it is because the visual power of what transpired at the Splitting of
the Sea emanates from the power of the miracle itself – a surprising radical
change in nature, stirring up amazement that defies indifference. The vision
literally stirs our senses in a way that another meta-natural vision – as for
example, Maaseh HaMerkavah, is unable to accomplish.
For a view of the work : http://is.gd/yam_suf_sarajevo
to R. Nechemia in the midrash on the verse "There remained but one",
according to his rule of עד ולא עד בכלל . There are
many examples in ancient Jewish art where visual elements draw from a midrash
and not necessarily from "pshuto shel mikra". Ex. The Dura Europus
depiction of the snake under the altar built by Elijah on
3. See :
Many thanks to the art historian Ronit Steinberg who revealed to me this
4. See : http://is.gd/bergner_crossing
5. Yuval Rivlin compared the two films in a captivating
article entitled "Who gave us the Torah" "Deot 16, 2003.
Dov Abramson is an artist and graphic designer
dealing with Jewish-Israeli themes. His work entitled "Because of the
trees we can see the forest" is currently on display in the
Jewish Art in
Joy at being rescued does not require gloating over the enemy's defeat
Does God rejoice when His enemies are defeated? Is it not written:…
As they went forth ahead of the vanguard, saying: Praise the Lord for His
steadfast love is eternal" (Chronicles II, 29,21). Said R. Yochanan: why is the phrase "ki
Tov" omitted in their praise? Because God does not rejoice in the defeat
of the wicked! Furthermore, it is written: "they did not approach each
other the entire night" (Shemot 14) The
celestial angels sought to sing. Said the Lord: My handiwork is drowning and
you want to sing!
A despondent soul accepts oppression, while a spirited soul fights
One wonders as to how does a multitude of 600,000 fear their
pursuers, and why do they not fight for their lives and those of their
children? The answer is: The Egyptians were the former masters of Israel and
this generation that is departing from Egypt learned to suffer under the yoke
of Egypt and their souls became despondent: how can they now fight their
masters, weak and unfit for combat, did not Amalek come with a relatively small
group and were it not for Moshe's prayer would have dealt Israel a mortal blow,
for Hashem is the performer of great things and "for Him actions are
measured", did He not arrange that all males who departed from Egypt die,
for indeed they were lacking in their ability to engage the Canaanites in
battle, until their arose a new generation that had not endured exile and had
acquired a spirited soul, as I have previously commented.
(Ibn Ezra Shemot 14:13)
The prophecy of miriam
"And Miriam the prophetess took" Where indeed is Miriam
considered a prophetess? But, she said to her father that he will produce a son
who will deliver
Immediately," And a Levite went and took… and she conceived and gave
birth to a son".
"And she could no longer hide him". Reprimanding, her
father said: Daughter, from where do you draw your powers of prophecy? However,
still clinging to her prophecy,"And his sister stationed herself at a
distance to learn what will befall him" the word stationed implies
prophecy as it is written: "I have seen the Lord stationed by the altar":
and as it is written, "And God came and stationed Himself" and as it
is written: "Summon Joshua and station …" "at a distance"
always refers to the Holy Spirit, as it is written: God appeared to me from a
distance". "to learn…" knowledge implies the Holy Spirit"
as it is written: "For the land is replete with Divine knowledge' ""what
will befall him…" refers to the Holy Spirit as it is written: "My
Lord God does nothing without having revealed His purpose to His servants the
"… Aaron's sister" and not Moshe's sister?" What
does this come to teach us? Because Aaron risked his life for her, she is
referred to as Aaron's sister.
(Mechilta Beshalach, Massechet Shirah
will not be built by human hands
You will bring them and plant them in Your own mountain,
The place You have made Your abode, O Lord,
The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands established.
…but the future sanctuary that we anticipate will be built to
perfection will descend from heaven, as it is said (Shemot 15) 'the divine sanctuary which Your hands
(Rashi Sukkah 41a)
"An everlasting life has He implanted in our midst": Worthy
Rambam is dealing with a notion among Diaspora Jews that during times of
religious persecution, it is preferable to suffer them and await the coming of the
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai said: Were you to have a sapling in your
hand and were you to be told: behold the Messiah- first put it into the ground
and afterwards go and greet him.
(Avot According to R. Nathan, version
R. Shmuel taught in the name of R Yehudah: Were one to divulge to you
the time of the end of the redemption, do not believe him, for it is written 'the
day of vengeance is in My heart' if the heart does not reveal itself to the
mouth, how can the mouth reveal the secret to anyone?!
R. Berachia and R. Simon said in the name of R. Yehoshua ben Levi:
Three clues have I given you as to the location of the grave of Moshe, as it is
said: 'and they buried him in the valley in the
opposite Beth Peor'.
nevertheless it is written, 'no man shall know of his burial site'.
Anything of which I have given you a multiplicity of clues, no man will
decipher them until the end of days. As it is written:… 'for these words are
secret and sealed to the time of the end.'
(Midrash Tehilim Ps. 9)
…but those who delude themselves saying that they will remain in
their land (and suffer the oppression) until the arrival of the Messiah in the
I do not know how to excise this apostasy. They are committing a sin and are
misleading others. The prophet Jeremiah referred to their ilk when he said: 'They
offer healing offhand for the wounds of My people saying, "All is well,
all is well. (Jeremiah
6,14) For there is no fixed
time for the arrival of the Messiah, yet they say his arrival is close or they
say that it is distant. The obligation to perform the mitzvot is not dependent
upon the arrival of the Messiah – we are bidden to perform Torah and mitzvot
and to attempt to perfect our observance of them. After we have discharged our
obligation, should God deem us or our children worthy of beholding the
Messiah-all for the better; if not-we have not lost anything. On the contrary,
we have profited by carrying out our obligations.
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