The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses

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Author: Louis Ginzberg

The Sea Divided

God spake to Moses, saying, "Why dost thou stand here praying? My children’s prayer has anticipated thine. For thee there is naught to do but lift up thy rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it." Moses replied: "Thou commandest me to divide the sea, and lay bare the dry ground in the midst of it, and yet Thou didst Thyself make it a perpetual decree, that the sand shall be placed for the bound of the sea." And again God spake to Moses: "Thou has not read the beginning of the Torah. I, yea, I, did speak, ’Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear,’ and at that time I made the condition that the waters shall divide before Israel. [29] Take the rod that I gave unto thee, and go to the sea upon Mine errand, and speak thus: ’I am the messenger sent by the Creator of the world! Uncover thy paths, O sea, for My children, that they may go through the midst of thee on dry ground.’"

Moses spoke to the sea as God had bidden him, but it replied, "I will not do according to thy words, for thou are only a man born of woman, and, besides, I am three days older than thou, O man, for I was brought forth on the third day of creation, and thou on the sixth." Moses lost no time, but carried back to God the words the sea has spoken, and the Lord said" "Moses, what does a master do with an intractable servant?" "He beats him with a rod," said Moses. "Do thus!" ordered God. "Lift up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divide it." [30]

Thereupon Moses raised up his rod - the rod that had been created at the very beginning of the world, on which were graven in plain letters the great and exalted Name, the names of the ten plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, and the names of the three Fathers, the six Mothers, and the twelve tribes of Jacob. This rod he lifted up, and stretched it out over the sea. [31]

The sea, however, continued in its perverseness, and Moses entreated God to give His command direct to it. But God refused, saying: "Were I to command the sea to divide, it would never again return to its former estate. Therefore, do thou convey My order to it, that it be not drained dry forever. But I will let a semblance of My strength accompany thee, and that will compel its obedience." When the sea saw the Strength of God at the right hand of Moses, it spoke to the earth saying, "Make hollow places for me, that I may hide myself therein before the Lord of all created things, blessed be He." Noticing the terror of the sea, Moses said to it: "For a whole day I spoke to thee at the bidding of the Holy One, who desired thee to divide, but thou didst refuse to pay heed to my words; even when I showed thee my rod, thou didst remain obdurate. What hath happened now that thou skippest hence?" The sea replied, "I am fleeing, not before thee, but before the Lord of all created things, that His Name be magnified in all the earth." [32] And the waters of the Red Sea divided, and not they alone, but all the waters in heaven and on earth, in whatever vessel it was, in cisterns, in wells, in caves, in casks, in pitchers, in drinking cups, and in glasses, and none of these waters returned to their former estate until Israel has passed through the sea on dry land. [ 33]

The angel Gabriel was eager to drown the Egyptians during the same night, but God bade him wait until early the next day, until the hour of the morning watch, when Abraham had made himself ready to set out for the sacrifice of his son. Gabriel succeeded, however, in holding back the turbulent water about to sweep over Israel. To the wall of water on the right, he called, "Beware of Israel, who will receive the law in time to come from the right hand of the Lord," and turning to the wall of water on the left, he said, "Beware of Israel, who will wind the phylacteries about their left hand in time to come." The water behind he admonished, "Beware of Israel, who will let the Zizit drop down upon their back in time to come," and to the water towering in front of them, he called, "Beware of Israel, who bear the sign of the covenant upon their bodies." [34]

God caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind, the wind He always makes use of when He chastises the nations. The same east wind had brought the deluge; it had laid the tower of Babel in ruins; it was to cause the destruction of Samaria, Jerusalem, and Tyre; and it will, in future, be the instrument for castigating Rome drunken with pleasure; and likewise the sinners in Gehenna are punished by means of the east wind. All night long God made it to blow over the sea. To prevent the enemy from inflicting harm upon the Israelites, He enveloped the Egyptians in profound darkness, so impenetrable it could be felt, and none could move or change his posture. He that sat when it fell could not arise from his place, and he that stood could not sit down. Nevertheless, the Egyptians could see that the Israelites were surrounded by bright light, and were enjoying a banquet where they stood, and when they tried to speed darts and arrows against them, the missiles were caught up by the cloud and by the angels hovering between the two camps, and no harm came to Israel. [35]

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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "The Sea Divided," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses Original Sources, accessed July 5, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UMJZFZT9BM64VFJ.

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "The Sea Divided." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, Original Sources. 5 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UMJZFZT9BM64VFJ.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'The Sea Divided' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 3: From the Exodus to the Death of Moses. Original Sources, retrieved 5 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UMJZFZT9BM64VFJ.