moses red sea

Which is worse: disrespecting God, or one another? The answer provides insight into the Jewish people’s miraculous rescue at the Red Sea!

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Beshalach” (Exodus 13:17 – 17:16) and in it we read of the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. In the famous movie depicting the event, the sea splits in two, allowing the Jews to cross down the middle on dry land. The Midrash tells us, however, that the sea split into 12 different parts, allowing each of the 12 tribes to cross separately on their own.

But getting back to the movie, and what seems to be a literal reading of the Torah, the sea split into two part forming a tall wall on each side. The word for wall is “choma” and is normally written with four Hebrew letters. However, in this week’s Torah reading, when referring to the walls of water, “choma” is written with only three letters.

The letter “vav” which forms the “o” sound in the word “choma” is missing. Although this is not as serious as it may sound, as the letter “vav” is often replaced with a vowel/dot that serves the same purpose, our sages tell us that there is a deeper message here.

The three letters used for the word “wall/choma” can also be read as “cheima” meaning “anger.” We are told that this refers to the angels who were “angry” that the Jewish people were getting special VIP service at the Red Sea even though they were idol worshipers, having been influenced by Egyptian culture.

The angels argued that if the Egyptians were public enemy number one, largely due to their idolatrous ways, and they were about to be drowned, then why should the Jews be saved? Both peoples were idolaters deserving of the same fate!

It is explained that although the angels had a point, the Jews had one very special merit to their credit, which made them deserving of being saved, even though they were idol worshipers: unity.

Taking a trip down memory lane, recall that in the days of King David the people were relatively pious, faithfully worshiping God and observing the Torah. Nevertheless, since the people lacked unity and would turn on one another, God did not protect them as well as He could have during war and a disproportionate number of Jews died in battle.

On the other hand, in the days of King Ahav, when the people were as sinful and idolatrous as could be, they were always victorious in battle. Why? Because even though they were idolatrous, they were unified, they lived together in peace.

The message is clear. God is willing to forgo His honor and help us out even when we are not deserving based on the way we have been relating to Him.

But God has no tolerance if we do not treat to one another as we should. Although the people rebelled against God when they built the tower of Babel, God merely exiled them and did not kill them, in the merit of the great sense of brotherhood and friendship that prevailed.

On other words, when we are kind to others, we arouse God’s compassion on us…even if we may not deserve it.

Sorry angels…the Jewish people truly DID deserve to be saved!

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below.

Living Torah: Learn to Make the Right Choices!