• Rabbi Chaim Richman

Parashat B’Shalach: The Splitting of the Sea and the Resurrection of the Dead

A major component of parashat B’Shalach is the famed ‘Song of the Sea’ sung by Moshe and the Children of Israel at the miracle of the parting of the sea (Ex. 15). This seminal event was the climax of the Exodus from Egypt, and an unparalleled prophetic experience for all of Israel. The clarity with which all of Israel were able to directly perceive the endless love and might of the Holy One, blessed be He, is witnessed by the words, “Israel saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt; and the people revered Hashem, and they had faith in Hashem, and in Moses, His servant” (14:31). This was not just a matter of extraordinarily lucid perception; it was experiential. All of Israel experienced firsthand the reality of God, that is – that God is the only reality. The event was so transcendent, so transfiguring, that our sages state that the simplest, most ordinary person had a greater revelation at the splitting of the sea, then that of the prophet Ezekiel.

So what exactly did they see, that inspired them so? Our sages teach us that the entire nation walked along the sea bed, the whole night long, and each tribe along a different path, separated by walls of water that enabled them to see each other. Mothers fed their hungry children by simply reaching their arms into the water piled at their sides, and pulling out fruit for the children to eat. The event was brimming with so many miracles – no wonder our sages record that everyone sang this song – even the unborn babies in their mothers’ womb.

In summary, the conventional understanding is that the great and overwhelming sense of joy experienced by Israel at this event was a result of the realization of G-d’s strong hand upon them, and in witnessing the many great miracles of the crossing of the sea. However we are also aware, on a deeper level that the symbolism in the Song is quite mystical and its stanzas are replete with references and allusions to cosmic themes.

In one of the Talmud’s most famous lessons pertaining to these hidden references, our sages state that the Song of the Sea is itself the main “proof from the Torah” of the concept of the Resurrection. For indeed, the belief in the ultimate and eventual resurrection of the dead – one of Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith – is a basic principle of Jewish faith; it will occur, in Maimonides’ words, “at the time that G-d wills it.” Yet it is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. (This in itself is a whole mystery that the great kabbalists like the holy Arizal write about: why is that this important foundation of Torah faith, is hidden in the Torah and not mentioned explicitly? That is an exquisite teaching, but we shall leave it for another time….)

So how does the Song of the Sea serve to prove this idea? Although Ex. 15:1 is invariably translated at “Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song,” the Hebrew words actually mean “Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song…” – for the word yashir is future tense. The meaning is clear: Not ‘then they sang’ but ‘then,’ meaning in the future, it will be Moses and that very generation of the children of Israel, who will themselves once again sing this song…at the time of the ultimate Resurrection.

In Israel’s prayer book as well as in the code of Jewish law, it is emphasized that “whoever recites the Song of the Sea daily, with intense devotion and concentration, and above all with great joy, will merit to recite it in the next world.”

Even given the central role that the exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea occupies in Torah thought, still, why is the recital of the song at the sea of such paramount importance, that an assurance such as this is given? Why is it so powerful, that its proper recitation guarantees the opportunity to repeat it for all eternity? Why is it that one who joyfully utters song in our own generation will merit to say it in the future? Is this simply an affirmation of the Talmud’s idea that links this event to the final resurrection?

Could it be that as great as we understand this event to have been, as much as we think we might be grasping it intellectually, and as high as we can imagine Israel’s prophetic experience to have been, that actually it was even more than we can imagine, and that we have not even begun to fathom the great lesson that the Song of the Sea is really teaching us?

The holy Arizal teaches us a profound truth…that in reality, the circumstances surrounding the utterance of the song by Moses and Israel at the sea, and the details pertaining to the event, are not at all what people think. Everyone is missing it altogether.

This great Torah master explains that the true reason for Moses’ and Israel’s joy at the splitting of the sea was because at that moment, seeing the awesome true power of God, they realized internally, on the deepest level of reality, with the perfect certain clarity of prophetic vision, that one day, there really will be a resurrection of the dead. This was not belief for them…it was knowledge. As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook writes, this realization is the true source of joy for the righteous of all generations.

So open up your heart to understand what this really means…so deep…

When the men, women and children of Israel sang this song at the sea, it was not simply a reaction to the great prophetic revelation they experienced of God’s love and power – as great as that revelation was.

What was really happening, was that they realized deep in their souls that everything that they were seeing, which they were able to process and translate into the language of palpable, transcendent knowledge…it was just a microcosm, a preparation, a practice and forerunner for the time when it will really be sung with fullness – at the time of the resurrection. The joy that they felt at seeing G-d’s hand upon them at the sea, was only on account of the fact that they realized, if He can do this, He will certainly do that as well.

The words of the Song are indeed an allegory; the focus and intention of the singers was not about this event at all! The splitting of the sea was merely the catalyst that propelled the Children of Israel into an expanded state of consciousness, and every phrase of the song of the sea, ostensibly speaking of this miraculous event, is actually an allusion to the great and magnificent future event when G-d’s love and power will be displayed in the most immeasurable way—at the Resurrection. The song is not about that event at all; it is about the future!

This is the secret behind the Talmud’s statement that these verses are proof for the concept of the resurrection from the Torah. The common misconception is that the song will be sung at the resurrection by all of Israel because it was sung at the great event of the sea. But actually the opposite is true. It was only sung at the sea to a small extent, when the people realized that one day the greatest moment of all will be upon us, and they experienced a shuddering twinge, a passing momentary glimpse, of how great the joy at that moment will be, when the curtains of illusion part and we realize that life is eternal, as God’s love is eternal, and everything we thought was reality, was the real illusion.

The true lesson of the Song of the Sea is that the best is yet come.

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