The Israelites have finally gotten to the Reed Sea, the Pillar of Fire and the Pillar of Cloud are introduced into the story, and (oddly) Job makes a cameo appearance in the midrash. What could be more fun than that? Join Daniel and Karl as they discuss Exodus Chapter 15.
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2 and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth: That is Pithom [one of the cities built by the Israelites, Exod 1:11], but now it was called Pi-hahiroth, since there they [the Israelites] became free men (בְּנֵי חוֹרִין). They [the Hiroth] are two high upright rocks, and [because there is] the valley between them [this] is called the mouth (פִּי) of the rocks. — [from Mechilta]
(Mechilta) G‑d said to Moses: “Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward” (14:15)
As they stood at the shore of the sea, the people of Israel split into four factions.
One faction said: “Let us cast ourselves into the sea.” A second faction said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third said, “Let us wage war against the Egyptians.” A fourth said, “Let us cry out to G‑d.”
Thus Moses said to the people: “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G‑d, which He will show you today. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again anymore, forever. G‑d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent” (14:13–14).
To those who said, “Let us cast ourselves into the sea,” he said: “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G‑d.” To those who said, “Let us return to Egypt,” he said: “As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again anymore, forever.” To those who said, “Let us wage war against them,” he said: “G‑d shall fight for you.” And to those who said, “Let us cry out to G‑d,” he said: “And you shall be silent.”
(Mechilta; Rashi) “Why do you cry to Me?” (14:15) G‑d said to Moses: “Moses! My children are in dire straits, the sea is closing in on them and the enemy pursues, and you stand and pray at length? Why do you cry to Me? There are times that call for lengthy prayers, and times when one must pray briefly . . .”
(Midrash Rabbah) It came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel (14:20)
A shepherd was leading his sheep across a river, when a wolf came to attack the sheep. What did the shepherd do? He took a large ram and threw it to the wolf, saying to himself, “Let him struggle with this till we cross the river, and then I will return to bring it back.”
So too, when Israel departed from Egypt, the angel Samael (Satan) arose to accuse them, arguing before G‑d: “Master of the Universe! Till now they have been worshipping idols, and now You divide the sea for them?” What did G‑d do? He delivered into his hands Job, one of the counselors of Pharaoh, of whom it is written (Job 1:1), “That man was wholehearted and upright,” and said: “Behold, he is in your hands” (ibid. 2:6). Said G‑d: While he is busily occupied with Job, Israel will go through the sea; afterwards, I will deliver Job . . .
There was the cloud and darkness, and it illuminated the night (14:20)
According to the natural order of the world, can a person who lights a candle say, “So-and-so, who is my friend, may use the light, while so-and-so, who is my enemy, may not”? But G‑d is not so confined. . . . His cloud produced light for Israel and darkness for Egypt.
(Mechilta; Rashi) The waters were divided (14:21)
All the water in the world divided, even the waters in cisterns and ditches, in jars, cups, casks and bowls, as it is written, “The waters were divided”—it doesn’t say “the water was divided,” but “the waters were divided.” The supernal waters divided, as well as the terrestrial . . .
(Talmud, Sotah 37a; Midrash Rabbah) The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground (14:22)
Each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then sprang forward Nachshon the son of Aminadav and descended first into the sea [and they all followed him] . . .
Why does it say “The children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground”? If they went into the sea, then why does it say “on the dry ground”; and if they went on the dry ground, then why does it say that they went “into the midst of the sea”? This is to teach that the sea was divided only after Israel had stepped into it and the waters had reached their noses—only then did it become dry land.
The daughters of Israel passed through the sea holding their children with their hands; and when these cried, they would stretch out their hands and pluck an apple or a pomegranate from the sea and give it to them.
24 through a pillar of fire and cloud: The pillar of cloud descends and makes it [the earth] like mud, and the pillar of fire boils it [the earth], and the hoofs of their horses slip. — [from Mechilta]
25 and He led them with heaviness: In a manner that was heavy and difficult for them. [This punishment was] in the measure that they [the Egyptians had] measured [to the Israelites], namely “and he made his heart heavy, he and his servants” (Exod. 9:34). Here too, “He led them with heaviness.” -[from an unknown source, similar to Mechilta]
27 and the Lord stirred: Heb. וַיְנַעֵר. As a person stirs (מְנַעֵר) a pot [of food] and turns what is on the top to the bottom and what is on the bottom to the top, so were they [the Egyptians] bobbing up and down and being smashed in the sea, and the Holy One, blessed be He, kept them alive to bear their tortures. — [from Mechilta]
(Talmud, Sanhedrin 39b) The waters returned, and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them (14:28)
In that hour the ministering angels wished to sing songs of praise before G‑d, but He rebuked them, saying: “My handiwork is drowning in the sea, and you wish to sing before Me?!”