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.

(Shemot 15,8)


"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

which is found in Mishna Shabbos V,1. This is the explanation as it seems to

me. Where ever אף וחרון occur together in the Bible, I interpret it

similarly. חרה אף, is similar to [the word in:] "My bone

is burning from the heat" [where חרה]

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

Dov Abramson

Rabbi Eliezer

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)

This familiar

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 Israel was able to point Him out

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 Israel – men, women and children,

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 Egypt and the

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

the Jew.

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 :

2. According

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 Mt. Carmel.

3. See :

Many thanks to the art historian Ronit Steinberg who revealed to me this


4. See :

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 Museum of Contemporary

Jewish Art in San




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!

(Meggilah 10b)


A despondent soul accepts oppression, while a spirited soul fights

for freedom.

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 Israel from


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

Parsha 10)


The third Temple

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

have established'.

(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 land of Moab

opposite Beth Peor'.

 (Devorim 34.6).


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

Mugrabh (Morocco) and will

proceed to Jerusalem,

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.

(Iggeret HaShmad-Rambam)


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