The seventh day of Passover is the day of the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, symbolizing the end of the Exodus. Towards this special day, I wanted to share a fascinating and relevant Torah of the Holy Tanna (Mishnaic sage), Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel.
The splitting of the Red Sea occurred at the most discouraging moment of the Exodus. After everyone thought they were finally free, they found themselves surrounded by the Egyptians on the one hand and on the other by the Red Sea. The people were in a terrible confusion, and Moshe tried to calm them down with the following promise: “But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the LORD will work for you today;…. The LORD will battle for you; you hold your peace! “
But … Moshe’s comforting and reassuring message to the people was not acceptable to God: “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward”. Why does God criticize Moshe? What was wrong with the prayers and the words of encouragement of Moshe Rabbeinu?
Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel interprets the words of God to Moshe Rabbeinu as follows: “Why do you come and pray before me? The prayers of my people precede your prayer! Tell the children of Israel to go forward!“
God rebukes Moshe, for in this distress Moshe – the leader – is the one who turns to pray to God, and at the same time instructs the Israelites to remain silent, instead of realizing that the opposite is true. The Israelites are the ones who are supposed to pray now!
With all due respect to the quality prayer of Moshe Rabbeinu, it is not comparable to the prayer and voice emanating from within the entire nation. Indeed, immediately after the splitting of the Red Sea, everyone burst into song together – “Az Yashir Moshe U’Bnei Israel – Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD …”
Sometimes there is a tendency for Torah scholars to converge within themselves, within their safe and cozy sector – their comfort zone. They prefer having their shuls and synagogues closed and sterile. They might avoid welcoming guests who are not frequent “shul goers” and may sometimes disturb the holy atmosphere of the prayers by hurting the decorum, with inappropriate behavior or clothing, or even by a mobile phone that might ring by accident. The quality of the prayers is very important, but it must be remembered that if this is an exclusive prayer, in which there is no room for every Jew, something in this prayer is flawed. This is the essence of the criticism of Hashem on Moshe Rabbeinu: “Why do you cry out to Me? “
Today more than ever, it is essential to redeem the “frum” society from the trouble and danger of “sectorialism”. Many Jews today seek for unity and tradition, Jewish identity and social justice, and we must be attuned and respond to these social transitions. The miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea should serve as a reminder that Judaism is the asset of each and every Jew, and that prayers and shuls are not exclusive clubs, suited for observant people only…