The Splitting of the Yam Suff was the crowning display of Hashem’s judicial mastery over nature and humanity. The Medresh tells us that Hashem’s presence at that event was so manifest that the lowliest servant understood G-d’s reality more profoundly than the greatest prophets. The aftermath of that event is recorded in the Torah as the moment when the entire nation believed in Hashem’s absolute control over the universe and in His unique love for the Jew. They celebrated this awareness of G-d with a spontaneous burst of Shira – song.
Shira is the language of the angels as they proclaim G-d’s mastery over heaven and earth. The children of Yakov, having witnessed the hand of G-d, were catapulted to the level of the angels themselves. As Dovid Hamelech said in Psalm 35:10, “All my being proclaims that there is no one like Hashem!” Every individual present at the parting of the sea had no choice but to declare from the depths of their being the absolute certainty that there is a G-d who cares enough to reward and punish.
Following the singing of the Shira, something happened. The Torah detailed a series of confrontations between the Bnai Yisroel, Moshe, and Hashem over issues of basic survival. Three days after the Jews witnessed G-d’s manifest presence, they came to Marah. They were tired and thirsty and the water was bitter. They complained to Moshe and Moshe, as per Hashem’s instructions, made the water sweet.
They traveled 10 miles into the Sinai Desert and complained that they were starving, and that they had been better off in Mitzrayim! Hashem informed Moshe, who in turn informed Aharon, who told the Jews that they would have meat that night and Manna in the morning! As a sign of their trust in Hashem that He would continue to provide for them, they were not to save Manna from day to day. Some of the people didn’t listen and Moshe got angry at their obvious lack of trust in G-d who had taken them out of bondage and sent them food from the skies.
The Jews traveled to Rephidim, 10 miles west of Mt. Sinai (Jebal Musa), and complained about thirst. The rallying call of “Why did you bring us out of Egypt?” grated harshly on Moshe’s expectations that they would be more trusting and appreciative; so he turned to Hashem for help. Hashem instructed Moshe to strike a rock and bring forth water to quench their thirst. Moshe facilitated this miracle and named the place Ma’aseh U’merivah- Testing and Argument, to commemorate the distrust that the people had exhibited.
Why were the Jews distrusting of Hashem? What happened to that overwhelming moment of absolute clarity when the entire nation stood in awe and wonder at the manifest reality of the creator who rules His universe on the principles of rewarding good and punishing evil? Why didn’t the Jews believe that the same G-d who could perform ten plagues and split the sea could also provide them with food and water?
Trust is a by product of constancy. The more constant and consistent G-d’s manifest caring, the greater the trust on the part of the people. When Hashem wistfully reflected back on the Exodus, he does so through the words of Yirmiah (2:2) “I remember the kindness of your youth when you trustingly followed me into a barren land.” Hashem recognized that 210 years of slavery are not wiped away with one, or even ten, miracles. In fact, the more the miracles the less realistic our understanding of Hashem. Hashem is far more present in the normal workings of nature than He is in His momentary displays of miraculous intervention. The educated and discerning observer recognizes the true manifest presence of G-d in the every day constancy of the norm. The fact that the Bnai Yisroel demanded constant reassurance demonstrated how tenuous their trust in Hashem was. The performance of miracles generated a need for more and more miraculous demonstrations and proofs of G-d’s caring and love.
At any point in the early history of the Jews, the nation could have made a quantum leap of faith and embraced the reality of Hashem’s caring presence. However, it would have required a leap of faith that the Bnai Yisroel weren’t prepared to take. We, who have the expanse of history as the foundation of our faith, have been gifted with over 3,000 years of proof of Hashem’s loving constancy. If only we would permit ourselves to acknowledge the proof, we too would be able to sing Shira.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.