“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The L’RD drove the sea back with a strong east wind throughout the night and turned the sea into dry land. So the waters were divided. Then Bnei-Yisrael went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, while the waters were like walls to them on their right and on their left.” – Exodus 14:21-22
“If they came into the sea, why does the Torah write: “they came unto dry land?” If they came unto dry land why does the Torah call it “sea?” (Shemot Rabbah 21.10). The verse teaches that the sea was not split for them until they had set foot in it while it was still sea up to the level of the nostrils (to demonstrate their faith). Immediately after they had done this the sea was converted to dry land. – R’Bachya on Exodus 14:22, sefaria.org
The midrashim are not always meant to be taken literally, rather to make a point. Perhaps, one inference to be drawn from this particular midrash, concerns the nature of emunah (faith). While the faith required by B’nei Yisrael to enter into the narrow passage created in the midst of the sea is comprehensible, an even greater faith would have been required if they began to enter the water, even before the splitting of the sea.
The nature of faith, is not only an abstract quality of belief, per se, in something that is unseen. True emunah is to actually believe in what one cannot see, beyond speculation, as if it exists in actuality, and has an influence in a person’s life. Therefore, while many people claim to have a belief in G-d, only by trusting in Him, in tandem to the day to day challenges of life, does that belief become more of an actuality, especially when we become aware of the causality between His influence and the circumstances in lives.
Belief in G-d is more than an intellectual exercise in speculation, in order to compel us to have a reference point (e.g., Heaven) to direct our prayers towards in times of need. The nature of faith denotes an interface between a person’s belief system and practice, not as something removed from a person’s life, compartmentalized in a region of the mind, wherein a disconnect exists to that person’s practical existence.
At the Sea of Reeds, the Almighty’s Presence within the pillar of fire, and the pillar of cloud, were manifestations of His actual existence. Additionally, the splitting of the sea served as a sign of His power, not only to the Children of Israel, also to the rest of the world at that time. The existence of G-d, the manifestation of His Presence, and the signs of His interaction in this world are not as easily found in our lives, surroundings, or greater environmental milieu. Instead, emunah (faith) requires a profound degree of nuanced awareness.
Three points can be made, in regard to the acquisition of emunah. First, an intellectual understanding of who G-d is, inclusive of the role he plays in the world, and in our lives. Second, the gaining of knowledge of Him, by way of the performance of His mitzvoth (commandments). Third, His relationship to Israel, the Jewish people, and mankind as a whole. These three points provide entry points into learning about Him from a vantage point that will help to bridge the distance between us and a transcendent G-d. What is important to keep in mind, is that He is not only transcendent, He is also immanent, that is within the world, as well as closer to us than we might be aware of, even inasmuch that he hears the prayers within our heart.
“The L’RD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation. This is my G’d, and I will glorify Him, my father’s G’d, and I will exalt Him.” – Exodus 15:2
The Talmud teaches that He is both in His throne in Seventh heaven, as well as able to hear our whispered prayers on earth. This connotes His oversight of worldly affairs, through His sovereignty, like a King on a throne, as well as His intimate connection to those who earnestly seek Him.
Concerning His interaction in the lives of the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds, the midrash states that even a lowly handmaid saw more at the Sea of Reeds than the prophet Ezekiel saw in his visions (see Ezekiel ch. 1). In other words, she was able to perceive more in regard to H’Shem, because of her actual experience, where G-d’s intervention was clear.
The midrash emphasizes the importance of seeing G-d’s direct interaction in our lives; this type of interaction is referred to as hashgacha peratis – G’d’s guidance over the life of every individual on earth, even on a personal level. The other type of divine guidance, is called hasgacha kelalis – His guidance over the affairs of the world, including nature, and nations, especially Israel. Acknowledging G’d’s sovereignty might be reframed as an acknowledgement of how everything happens in the world either according to His will or is permitted by Him.
Whereas comprehension of how he guides us on an individual level is more subtle, in need of an increased awareness of the events of our own life in the moment. With a heightened awareness, we may begin to see a relationship between our own actions, even our thought and speech; and, how in response to our positive or negative thoughts, speech, and action, we will be dealt with measure for measure. When we begin to see how the blessings in our lives, as well as the curses (negative consequences) in our lives are a result of our attitude and perspective to His commandments, then we will comprehend how what occurs in our lives is a measure for measure response.
“Awe, reverence, and respect towards H’Shem “is the beginning of wisdom.”
- Psalm 111:10
Only with a healthy fear of H’Shem, are we able to have a foundational starting point for true wisdom. Additionally, when we are pursuing His best interests for ourselves, instead of any interests that may be contrary to His will, then we begin to reconcile ourselves to Him. If we make the effort for teshuvah (returning to G’d) then, He will meet us halfway (Yoma 35b).