The image of Miriam of the split sea with her drum is a favorite. So much so that tambourine in Hebrew is called “Miriam’s drum”. Rashi answers for us the question we didn’t think to ask: not like there were music stores on route, so where did they get drums from? “The women were righteous and thus guaranteed miracles, so they brought drums with them from Egypt” (on Exodus 15:20).
Music was always part of my life. I’m especially thinking of our family’s piano which traveled from Germany to Israel in the 1930’s. I admit that as a child, I pretty much took it for granted. It was always there; what’s to think? But one day my kids asked me to describe exactly, how did it make it across Europe to Israel of long ago? ‘What ima, the Nazis came to the door to kick the family out, and your grandma said, ‘just a second, if you don’t mind, the movers will be here soon, and I really hate to leave you the piano’…?
And I’m thinking of the kind of faith that is takes to prepare no sandwiches for the journey, but nevertheless brings along musical instruments…
Then there is the Sea Splitting. The Torah describes how it happened, a phenomenon which scientists have been able to somewhat duplicate:
וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־יָדוֹ֮ עַל־הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ ה ׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים עַזָּה֙ כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃
Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split… (Exodus 14:21).
Indeed, around where we think is Yam Suf, there are watery channels that at times, with enough winds, can shift the waters and expose dry land.
Forget the fact that the miracle has to happen in the right time and right length of time, which is already amazing. For the midrash this was not enough. Our sages describe to us a completely different scenario: seeing the confusion – Egyptians from behind, the Children of Israel at a loss, Moses praying — Nachshon ben Aminadav, the future prince of the tribe of Judah, started walking into the water. Step by step. First his toes got wet. I imagine at this point, everyone around was still arguing and crying. Clouds of dust from the approaching horses in the distance could be seen. Then his knees got wet. His thighs. His waist. At this point, some might have noticed already: ‘Hey, Nachshon! What are you doing? Hey! Hey!’ Then his chest. His shoulders. His neck. The shout-outs quiet down; the crowd is silent. What is he doing? The water are up to his nostrils and voilà!! At that moment, the sea splits.
We who know the “rest of the story” think, ah, of course, The Sea Splits, but Nachshon, unlike Miriam, didn’t pack a bathing suit. He just walks.
As slaves, the Children of Israel got their food every day; maybe even 2-3 times a day. It was probably not much – some soup, little bread; maybe some greens, a piece of fish. But it sustained them. And what’s more: it kept them from worrying. Their masters wanted them alive and working so chances are there will be more tomorrow. As they leave for the desert, they reminisced about the “pot of meat” they used to have in Egypt. A careful reading reveals they didn’t miss “meat” – they might not have much, but there was a “pot”, even if only “leftover”, conveying an idea of “security”, a feeling of ‘there will food tomorrow too’.
Then there was “freedom”.
Things turned upside down: water came from the ground, and bread – from heaven (exactly opposite from how we experience it now!) and with it, a strange directive: take only one day’s portion, except for on Shabbat when there will be double.
What was it like to go out at dusk, satisfied, not hungry yet deeply concerned; what if there will be nothing tomorrow? Ah, but there is. And what about the next morrow? How do we learn to trust, to have faith?
Three different situations: those we can prepare for, trusting that one day, the day will come; those that surprise us, but we can do something about at the moment; and those we just to have to ride, breath, hold on, appreciate the present and trust for an unknown, good tomorrow.
The days before Sinai can be described as an intense faith retreat. We’re even attacked by Amalek, the embodiment of doubt, at the end of the parasha. We have to practice our newly learned skills; we’re going to need them every day of our life.