In our Parsha, Pharaoh has second thoughts about releasing the Children of Israel. He pursues them and traps them by the Red Sea. With six hundred of his finest chariots, he plans on repaying this people for the destruction they have wrought upon his country. Mayhem is everywhere: people are screaming, some are praying and others are complaining.
Finally, God tells Moses (Exodus 14), “Why do you cry to Me? Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to go forward. And you, lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.”
“And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to retreat by a strong east wind all the night, and sea became dry land, and the waters were divided.” The sea splits, the Jews cross over on dry land, Pharaoh and all the Egyptians pursue after them, but then the sea walls cave in and the Bnei Yisrael are finally free of their oppressors.
Yet, the Midrash says all of this wasn’t so simple. In Hallel, we quote Psalm 114 and sing, “When Israel went out of Egypt… The Sea saw and fled.” The Midrash asks, “What did the sea see that made it flee?”
One opinion is that it saw the casket of Joseph, and for what Joseph did in his lifetime, God repaid him correspondingly. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph the verse says, “He abandoned his garment in her hand, and fled and went outside.” Therefore, when the Jews were trapped by the sea, the sea also took to “fleeing” on behalf of Joseph.
I understand that God performs miracles for individuals, yet something that will affect the destiny of all of the Jewish people should need the merit of all of the Jewish people. Why should a nation of millions be saved because of the merits of a forefather of just two of the tribes who lived 200 years earlier?
Therefore, when the sea saw the casket of Joseph and split in his merit, I’m inclined to believe, it wasn’t just in his singular merit of fleeing from the wife of Potiphar, rather, the sea evaluated Joseph’s influence; how his life and teachings impacted the Jewish nation.
Indeed, Joseph is the embodiment of Jewish pride and confidence, in fact, Jewish pride and strength of character traits permeate all of Rachel’s descendants.
The first time we meet Rachel she is shepherding her father’s sheep, even though she’s the younger sister. When Leah is about to marry Jacob, tradition has it that Rachel handed over the secret signs between her and Jacob to Leah so that Leah would not be embarrassed.
When Esau is introduced to Jacob’s family, Joseph steps in front of his beautiful mother in order that Esau should not set eyes upon her. He intuits his dreams be prophecies and relates them to his brothers even though he knows they will resent him.
Joseph refuses to commit adultery and be unfaithful to his master. The tribe of Benyamin wages a civil war against all the other tribes in order to establish its own independence.
When King Solomon needs to be rebuked for his excesses, Yeravam (a descendent of Joseph) is the only one brave enough to rebuke him. Mordechai (from the tribe of Benjamin) is the only one courageous enough to stand up to Haman.
The common denominator of Rachel’s descendants is that they are willing to fight for what they believe in. They act upon their convictions even when the outcome is unsure and dangerous. This is our belief and we follow it wholeheartedly!
This is what the casket of Joseph meant to the Jewish people, and in that merit, the sea split for them. Over the course of time, with the blending of all the tribes, we are all descendants of Rachel. If we will want to create change in our community, country or even the world, we’ll need to follow bravely in the Rachel’s ways.
The sea split in Joseph’s merit, for he’s the one who always believed in himself and took action upon his beliefs, and it’s people like that make seas split.