Singing at the Sea

Haim Watzman

If you skipped something in the Haggada last week it may well have been that page of disputations among the Sages in which they argue about precisely how many plagues the Egyptians suffered at the Red Sea. Was it 50, or 200, or 250? Since the book of Exodus only tells us about ten plagues in Egypt and says nothing about plagues at the Red Sea, it’s hard to fathom what the Rabbi Yose, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Akiva were trying to get at here. And could there really be enough permutations of vermin, disease, and natural disaster to make up 250 plagues?

But this midrash, like a number of others, shows that the Sages believed that, in some ways, the miracle at the Red Sea—which we commemorate on the seventh day of Pesach—was greater than the miracle of the escape from slavery. In fact, in many midrashim, the crossing of the Red Sea, not the Exodus itself, is the archetype of redemption, the model for the future salvation of the Messiah.

Rav Tzair, an anonymous Hebrew blogger, cites a midrash (Shemot Rabba 23) in this spirit:

Read moreSinging at the Sea

The Cistern And The King–An Elul Story

Haim Watzman

A cool wind blows through the vineyard in Yavneh late in the month of Elul. The sun, obscured by large but unthreatening gray-blue cloud, has passed the sky’s pinnacle. Rabban Yohanan Ben-Zakkai’s students, who until just a few minutes previously had been engaged in a heated debate over whether the shofar could be blown when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. This was formerly allowed only in the Holy Temple, which was destroyed some years before. Could a rule applying just to the sacred precinct now be expanded to include all of Jerusalem, or perhaps Yavneh as well, or even the entire Land of Israel?

“We seem,” says Rabban Yohanan—the Nasi, head of the Sanhedrin, reconstituted here on the southwestern coastal plane of the Holy Land after the Temple’s destruction—“to have lost our train of thought.”

Rabbi Yosi points to the sky. “Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, a cloud often passes between us and divine inspiration.”

“Perhaps,” says Rabban Yohanan, “I should tell a story.

Read moreThe Cistern And The King–An Elul Story