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B’shalach 5761-2001

“Where is Nachshon, the Son of Aminadav, When We Need Him?”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This coming week’s parasha, parashat B’shalach, describes G-d’s miraculous salvation of the Jewish People by splitting the Red Sea.

The Scriptures dramatically describe the Egyptian forces as they are closing in on the Israelites. The people, consumed with dread fear, cry out to Moshe and say (Exodus 14:11): “Ha’mibli ain ki’varim b’mitz’ra’yim, l’kach’tanu la’mut ba’mid’bar?” Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What is this you have done to us?… It is better that we should serve Egypt, than perish in the wilderness!

G-d tells Moshe to do what he must do. (Exodus 14:21) “Va’yait Moshe et ya’do al ha’yam,” Moshe stretches his hand out over the sea. G-d makes the sea move with a strong East wind all that night… and the water splits. The children of Israel enter the sea on dry land, the water serving as a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians persist in chasing the Israelites into the sea, and there G-d confounds the Egyptians. G-d tells Moshe to stretch his hand out once again over the sea. The water returns to the sea, and covers the chariots and the horsemen of the entire army of Pharaoh who were chasing after the Israelites. As Scripture records, (Exodus 14:28), there remained not one of them.

When the people of Israel see the great hand of G-d, they express reverence for G-d, and have faith in G-d and Moshe, his servant. In joy and ecstacy, the people begin to sing the great song, “Az ya’shir,” the song of Israel crossing the Red sea.

The Talmud in Sotah 36b and 37a recounts an interesting dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Judah. Rabbi Meir maintains that when the 12 tribes stood at the edge of the sea, they strove with one another to be the first tribe to enter the sea. Rabbi Judah disagrees and says, that’s not the way it was at all. But each tribe was unwilling to go in first. As they were standing disputing who would not go first, Nachshon the son of Aminadav, the Prince of the tribe of Judah, entered the water. He continued to walk forth with great faith, and only when the water reached his neck, did the sea begin to split.

One of the most remarkable things about the physical world in which we live and its nature, is its orderliness. From the structure of the smallest atomic particle, to the behavior of the raging sea, the winds in the sky, there is logic, constancy and orderliness. This orderliness allows us to predict the weather and to reckon the half-life of a radioactive element. Nature implies predictability. Obviously, G-d purposefully created the world in this predictable manner. Today, scientists maintain that even those things that appear to be unpredictable will eventually be predictable, as we gain a deeper understanding of the incredible variety of factors that impact on the behavior of these seemingly unpredictable elements and processes.

A “miracle” then may be defined as an instance in which nature ceases to be predictable, departs from its natural order and behaves in an unexpected manner. The splitting of the Red Sea is certainly an example of such behavior.

The controversial scientist, Immanuel Velikovsky in his Worlds in Collision argues that the ten plagues were basically predictable natural occurrences. He theorizes that at the time of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt a great comet broke off from the planet Venus. The comet’s tail containing red dust caused the waters of the Nile River to turn red. Hence, the plague–blood. As the planet Earth went deeper in to the comet’s tail, the dust turned into small stones, and a hail of gravel pelted the earth. Each one of the plagues, Velikovsky argues, was predictable. However unlikely Velikovsky’s theories may be, they do not really controvert the possibility of a Divine miracle, after all, even if the event was not a miracle, the timing was certainly a miracle! The fact that it happened at the particular time that Moshe predicted it would happen, renders the event a miracle. Velikovsky also argues that the so-called splitting of the Red Sea was caused by a great hurricane and unusual tides that caused the seabed to dry up and suddenly gush. The poor Egyptians had the great misfortune of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

In light of this, the Midrash of Nachshon the son of Aminadav is revealing. The Midrash implies that Nachshon was able to affect G-d’s hand, and make the sea split at a particular point in time.

I have previously expounded that the Torah maintains that G-d created the world entirely good, that it was the human who introduced evil into the world, defying G-d, by eating of the tree of good and evil. By defying G-d, Adam and Eve introduce death, sickness, and pain into the world. But G-d has given us the antidotes to cure all illness. In fact, all that is necessary to find these cures is for the human species to resolve to do so, to end sickness and illness, pain and travail.

I would argue even further, that even those things that seem most unpredictable, what insurance companies usually call “Acts of G-d,” are indeed predictable, and are, in fact, controllable.

First of all, we don’t need to build homes on geologic faults where the likelihood of earthquakes is well known, or, to erect mansions on edges of cliffs that are prone to mudslides and erosion. That much we know already. And yet our scientific knowledge is unable to convince our emotions to act responsibly. And so, we continue today to build homes in dangerous locations.

Eventually, science will most likely gain a much fuller understanding of the geothermal and seismic factors that cause volcanoes to erupt and earthquakes to occur. Not only will we be entirely forewarned, but it may very well be possible for us to actually change the course of nature by developing technologies able to release the explosive pressures in a safe and secure manner before eruption and prior to quakes. It’s really not so farfetched.

But, for all this to happen, we need a Nachshon the son of Aminadav who is going to jump into the water up to his neck and say, “I am going to cause the water to split. My profound faith will change the course of nature. My profound faith will inspire scientists to find the factors that will enable us to cause nature to change. My profound faith will convince G-d that He must be my partner to help me find the answers to these seemingly impenetrable questions.”

This Shabbat when you hear the Song of the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea sung in your synagogues, think of Nachshon. He may be inside of you, waiting to emerge and do his thing.

May you be blessed.