Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
It appears from different Midrashim that before the Red Sea finally
split for Moshe and the Jews, some fairly heavy-duty negotiations
took place. The Yam Suf, it seems, had a mind of its own about
splitting. According to one Midrash (Tehillim 15), the Sea argued
that the Jews were no more deserving than the Egyptians, seeing as
how they too had worshipped idols in Mitzrayim. According to
another (Shemos Rabbah 21:6), the Sea argued that since it was
formed on the third day of creation, and Moshe on the sixth, it was
"older" than Moshe - and why should the older sibling move aside to
make way for the younger? Indeed, when Nachshon ben Aminadav
jumped into the sea's raging waters, he almost drowned. Yet in the
final hour, just as things seemed bleak and hopeless, his bravery, and
the prayers of Moshe Rabbeinu, saved the day, and the Yam Suf split
for Bnei Yisrael, and drowned the pursuing Egyptians with its
reverting waters. The narrative has all the elements of an old-
In another Midrash, however, Chazal reveal that the splitting of the
sea was a pre-condition of its very creation: Hashem, the Midrash
says, made a stipulation with the Red Sea on the day it was created
that when the time would come, and the Almighty would give the
cue, it would miraculously split its waters (Shemos Rabbah 21:6).
One would imagine that had Moshe, Nachshon, and the Jews been
privy to that version of the script, they might have been a lot calmer!
If everything was pre-arranged, and the final touches on their
salvation had already been taken care of thousands of years
previously, why does there seem to be such a sense of urgency
surrounding the moments before the sea splits?
We are taught that finding a shidduch (a spouse), and finding a
parnasah (means of earning a living), are as difficult for Hashem as
splitting the Red Sea (Pesachim 118a [parnasah], Sotah 2a [zivug]).
What is the connection between these two tasks and splitting the sea?
And in what way is anything "difficult" for Hashem? Is k'rias Yam Suf
any more "difficult" for Hashem than, say, a man opening a door?
(After all - they don't call Him "Master of the Universe" for nothing!)
The father of a not-so-young yeshiva bachur told the
following story: Our oldest son was soon going to turn
twenty-eight, and he was still single. When we first realized
it was not going to come easy, and that our younger
children would in-turn suffer from the delay, my wife and
I stopped sleeping at night. Every day, we would await
"the" phone call, and wonder if, perhaps, today would
bring relief. As the years passed, we suffered many
My entire life had become wrapped up in finding a
shidduch for our son. I was nervous and overwrought
constantly. I was unable to function as a father for my
younger children. One Chanukah night, when my wife had
taken the children to visit my mother, I stayed home, too
depressed to go along. As I sat there staring at the
candles, I slowly felt a tremendous sense of siyata di-
Shemaya flow from the candles and envelop me.
"Enough!" I told myself, "this can't go on."
The following Friday night, after the little ones were asleep,
I told my family the following story, which I heard from one
of the gedolei ha-dor zt"l: He had once been riding on a
bus when he noticed that in the front-passenger seat sat
a small boy. On his knees, he held a plastic dashboard
that had a steering wheel and a horn attached to it. His
gaze was fixed intently on the road ahead. As the bus
veered right and left, he turned his steering wheel
accordingly. Of course, when the bus stopped, he stepped
on "the brakes," and a small pneumatic psssss escaped his
lips. He checked the doors and windows periodically, and
honked abrasively when they were cut off. He worked hard
the entire trip, much to the amusement of the passengers.
"He dreams day and night about becoming a bus driver,"
his father explained. "Before I got him the steering wheel,
he would drive me crazy, trying to honk my horn, and
getting in my way. Now, I sit him next to me, and I tell
him: Gadi - start the motor and drive the bus! As you can
see, he does a beautiful job, and I can do mine in peace."
"Did you hear that?" the Torah Sage later remarked. "The
Almighty runs the whole show: He gives us a steering
wheel, turns to us, and tells us: Nu - drive the bus! And we,
small-minded children that we are, sweat and struggle to
keep the bus on course. We exhaust ourselves from the
effort, while 'upstairs,' all the passengers are amused. Our
livelihood is fixed on Rosh Hashana, yet we struggle to
earn it, and work overtime to earn even more. If we feel
someone is getting in our way of earning a living, we yell
at him: Get outta my way!... What we fail to see is that our
Father is really the one driving the bus, and that while we
must wave our arms and go through the motions as best
we can, we should never forget that we're really just back-
seat drivers." From now on, I told my family, we're going
to try to take things in stride. Your mother and I are still
going to continue doing everything we possibly can, but
I'm going to try to keep things in perspective, and not
allow stress and obsession to ruin our family. (Remarkably,
a few weeks after telling his family this story, and changing
his attitude, the right match came along, and his son
became a chassan.)
Something similar to this occurred at the banks of the Red Sea. The
script had been written way-back-when, and the envelope had been
sealed; there was absolutely no need for alarm. But we knew nothing
of all this - and we were really sweating. Hashem even let us "drive the
bus:" Nachshon plunged into the waters, Moshe and the Jews prayed,
and at the last minute... Well, we all know the rest of the story. Had
we known about the now-famous "condition" would we have acted
differently? Should we have acted differently? NO. Hashem very much
wants us to do everything within our means to "help ourselves." But
perhaps, had we known that our "last-minute" escape route had
already been sketched in indelible ink onto the wall-map of history,
we might have sweated things a little less. Perhaps what's so "difficult"
about splitting the Sea is that Hashem must ultimately allow us to
have that delusion; He must hide His face from us, and allow us to
continue to grope and struggle as if the bus were ours to drive.
Among the things that give people stress, earning a living and finding
a zivug (match) undoubtedly rank among the very top. Yet our zivug,
and those of our children, were already proclaimed in heaven forty
days before we were conceived (Sotah 2a). Our parnasah for this
year was already decided on Rosh Hashana (Beitzah 16a). We go
through the motions, as we must, but there's really not all that much
we can do to change things. Hashem, as He did when He split the
sea, makes things seem as if we are holding the wheel and steering
the bus. We fret and we sweat, we dodge and we turn, and Above,
the Almighty smiles - enjoy the ride!
Have a good Shabbos.
This week's publication was sponsored by Mr.
Moshe Wajsbaum, in memory of his grandfater, R'
Yehoshua Heshel ben R' Moshe Eliezer Wajsbaum, who
passed away Shabbos parshas Beshalach, 13 Shevat
Text Copyright © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.