The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Shevat 12, 5770/January 27, 2010

"I will sing to HaShem..."
(Exodus 15:1)

We know that on the eve of the Israelites' great escape across the Sea of Reeds, G-d caused a "strong east wind [to blow] all night long." (Exodus 14:21) We aren't told what the weather was the following morning as the children of Israel walked across the sea on dry ground, but it is safe to speculate that the day was spectacularly clear. For we are told by our sages that all of the children of Israel, from the mightiest to the lowliest, saw further than even the greatest of their future prophets ever would. In fact, they saw clear from this world into the next.

Pointing to a curious grammatical turn of phrase in the Hebrew words, "az yashir - and then sang Moses and the children of Israel," (ibid 15:1) which is more accurately translated as, "and then Moses and the children of Israel will sing," our sages teach us that the Song of the Sea was sung not only at the time of the crossing of the sea, but will be sung again by Moses and the children of Israel in the future, at the time of the resurrection of the dead. What was so unique about this moment in our history that the nascent nation of Israel was afforded so powerful a one-time glimpse into the future?

Ostensibly, the revelation at Sinai, still six weeks away at the time of the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, is the moment of greatest revelation for the children of Israel, for it was there that Israel received Torah. But something even more monumental took place at the Sea of Reeds. The great miracles that G-d wrought in Egypt, the ten plagues, all were directed toward Pharaoh and Egypt. G-d Himself explains that their purpose is to make known His name to Egypt, and by extension, to the world. (ibid 7:5) The plagues were intended to make perfectly clear to Pharaoh Who was in charge in this world, and that it wasn't Pharaoh. G-d was not ready to take Israel out of Egypt until this message was irrevocably delivered.

But when G-d split open the Sea of Reeds it was the very first time that He performed such a miracle only for the benefit of His people, the children of Israel. The time of chastening the nations was over, and this was G-d's first revelation of His new intimate relationship with Israel. The splitting of the Sea was an expression of G-d's pure and endless love for His people. And for the Israelites, this was the first intimation of G-d as loving Redeemer, that was first announced by G-d when He told Moses, "I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov with [the name] Almighty G-d, but [with] My name HaShem, I did not become known to them." (ibid 6:3)

The children of Israel responded to G-d's fulfillment of His Divine promise with complete and perfect emunah - faith in Him. And this faith they expressed in the soaring words of the Song of the Sea, "I will sing to HaShem, for very exalted is He; a horse and its rider He cast into the sea... " (ibid 15:1) Their great rush of faith cast aside, not only the waters of the Sea of Reeds, but all the illusions and limitations inherent in this world. Thus the vision of the resurrection of the dead, G-d's ultimate reversal of man's mortality.

This, then, is the splendid future the Israelites saw in the world to come. But what vision did their perfect faith afford them for this world? The answer to that is also found in the words of the Song of the Sea:

"You shall bring them and plant them on the mount of Your heritage, directed toward Your habitation, which You made, O L-rd; the sanctuary, O L-rd, [which] Your hands founded." (ibid 15:17)

In this moment of prophetic clarity, in this instant of perfect intimacy with G-d, the children of Israel also saw and understood for the first time the purpose of their miraculous exodus from Egypt, and their final intended destination, after all their future peregrinations in the desert and in the harsh exiles that were to follow, this being the building of the Holy Temple on G-d's holy mountain in Jerusalem. For it is there, in the Holy Temple, and in the performance of the Divine service, that the moment first experienced at the Sea of Reeds, the timeless moment of Divine love and intimacy and perfect faith, in which the promise of the world to come and the promise of this world are glimpsed, is made a living reality.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the current Torah reading of Beshalach, and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds: What about the casket of Yosef caused the sea to turn back the tide and open a path for the Israelites? What vision did they achieve while crossing over to the other side? What can the miraculous manna that fell from heaven teach us about our daily requirements for life? The answer to all these questions and a happy Tu b'Shevat to all!

Part 1
Part 2