The parting of the sea is arguably the most fantastic miracle of all time. We witnessed a display of G‑d's presence and His rule over the dictates of nature in a most dramatic way. Obviously, it was not just a miracle that had to be performed to save the Israelites from the Egyptians. G‑d could have saved them in other ways. It also did not provide a path for the Israelites in their trek towards the Promised Land, since, as the Midrash comments, they exited the sea on the same side that they entered it. Nor could it have been merely to drown the Egyptians, since there were less spectacular methods of destroying them, such as by a plague. Obviously, the parting of the sea had some deeper purpose. It served as a spiritual experience for the Jewish people which prepared their souls for the giving of the Torah.

Thus, in the Tosefta it is written that in addition to the obligation to remember the Exodus all the days of our lives, we are enjoined to remember the splitting of the sea as well. This essay, based on discourses of the Alter Rebbe and the Rebbe Rayatz, explores the eternal significance of the splitting of the sea.

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song…. (Ex. 15:1)

At Sinai, the level of revelation and perception varied among the people. Each person perceived according to his or her spiritual capacities. Thus, Moses saw more than Aaron, Aaron more than the elders, and so on (Rashi Ex. 19:24). This was not the case at the parting of the sea.

The word the Torah uses for the singing of Moses and Israel is "yashir", not the plural form, "yashiru". This is because in their singing they were one. This also demonstrates that they shared the same level of perception. The most spiritually inept Israelite was able to declare, "This is my G‑d!" Land and sea are two identical worlds sitting side by side…

At other times, even the great prophets of Israel were only able to say, "Like this said G‑d…". Their perception was approximate. But the Israelite at the sea was on the level of Moses, who communed with G‑d "face to face" and prophesied on the level of "This" (Sifri Numbers 30:2).

In fact, from the Midrash it seems that the Israelites merited a revelation that even Moses did not merit on his own:

How great are those who descended into the sea! For Moses, master of all the prophets, asked G‑d, "Show me Your glory", but in the end G‑d said, "You shall see [only] My back; my face you shall not see." But each of those who descended into the sea pointed a finger and said: "This is my G‑d!"

Land and Sea

What was it about the parting of the sea that brought about such revelation?

Land and sea are two identical worlds sitting side by side. "All that exists on land exists in the sea." (Chulin 127a) The difference between them is that in the sea all is covered and concealed, while on land all is revealed and open. Furthermore, the creatures of the sea derive their life and existence from the sea. They cannot live even for a moment outside it. Land creatures, by contrast, receive their nourishment from the produce of the ground. But they live beyond the ground, not within it. Hence, their dependency upon the ground is not as apparent as that of fish on water.

The sea is the embodiment of the Hidden World [in Aramaic, Alma d'itkasya]; the consciousness of the Hidden World is such that one's source is apparent; there is no sense of separateness. Land, by contrast, is the embodiment of the Revealed World [in Aramaic, Alma d'itgalya]; the creatures of the Revealed World experience a sense of false independence and individuality. [Fish therefore maintain a higher spiritual level than land animals. For this reason, they do not need to be refined through ritual slaughter for human consumption, as is the case with animals (Reshimot).]

Malchut and Keter

Land and sea correspond also to the outer and inner dimensions of malchut.

To explain: malchut acts as a bridge between Atzilut and Beriya. Its inner dimension contains within it the lights of Atzilut in a concealed fashion. The outer dimension of malchut draws from the inner dimension and acts as the source for the lower worlds.

Atzilut itself - a world of infinity - cannot produce a finite world. A bridge must stand between them - one that will take the light of Atzilut and process it in a way that it can create lower, finite worlds. So the inner dimension contains the light of Atzilut, while the outer dimension becomes the source for the lower worlds. Keter serves as the bridge between the Infinite and Atzilut

On a higher level, this occurs in keter as well, which also contains two dimensions. Atik is the inner dimension of keter, while Arich is the outer dimension. Keter serves as the bridge between the Infinite and Atzilut, since the Infinite has no relation even to Atzilut. Therefore, the inner dimension of keter contains within it in a concealed fashion the light of the Infinite, while the outer dimension acts as the source for the world of Atzilut.

[The sea, therefore, corresponds to the inner dimension of malchut and keter, in which the Infinite light is hidden, Alma d'itkasya. Land corresponds to the outer dimension, in which there is revelation of a lower reality, Alma d'itgalya.]

The parting of the physical waters of the sea was a reflection of the parting of the walls of concealment that obscure Alma d'itkasya and the inner dimensions of the lights of malchut and keter.

For a short period of time, the order of nature - where that which is hidden cannot be revealed - was shattered, and the hidden worlds were apparent to every soul.

Israel and the Sea

So the Israelites' interaction with the sea enhanced their spiritual perception. This would seem to indicate that the sea transcends Israel and can educate her, so to speak. Thus the Midrash (Shemot Rabba 21:6) records the sea's comment to Moses, "I will not part before you, for I am greater than you. I was created on the third day of Creation, while you were born on the sixth." The essence of the soul transcends Torah…

Other Midrashic sources, however, seem to indicate that Israel transcends the sea. For example, the Midrash says that G‑d created the sea with the stipulation that it part for the Israelites when the time would come (Shemot Rabba 21:6). In addition, we say in the Evening Prayer, "He splits the sea before Moses", as if the presence of Moses and Israel humbled the sea and caused it to part.

We find conflicting sources regarding the hierarchy of Israel and Torah as well. The Zohar (3:73a) seems to indicate that the Torah transcends Israel, since it is through Torah that Israel connects to the Holy One. On the other hand, there is a Midrashic teaching that lists seven things that existed before the creation of the world, one of which is the Torah. The Midrash concludes with "and the thought of Israel preceded everything."

The answer is that there are two parts of the soul: its essence and its expression. Only the expression of the soul is clothed in the body; the essence remains above.

The essence of the soul transcends Torah. The lower aspect of the soul, however, connects to G‑d through the Torah. [Apparently the same answer would apply to the question regarding Israel and the sea.]

Adapted from Torah Ohr and Sefer Hamaamarim 5700 p. 58

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