Picture the splitting of the Reed (or Red) Sea. Based on the movie versions, we tend to visualize Moses raising his staff, so that the waters part instantly—supernatural special effects! But the Torah (Exodus 14:21), offers a more naturalistic depiction of the miracle, one that involves wind: “And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind (ruach kadim רוּחַ קָדִים) all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”
“Kadim” in Biblical Hebrew means “east,” and also has a sense of “before.” It’s the direction that is before you if you face the rising sun. It comes from one of those unusual Hebrew roots that can mean two opposite things: “forward” (a notion of progress) as well as “before” (a notion of antiquity). Kadim can also simply mean “the instrument of God”(JPS Torah Commentary). So Ruach Kadim, while in a simple sense, might be a hot wind from the Arabian Desert, in a mythical sense it is a providential wind of change that advances history and also a primal wind that comes from an ancient, hidden and divine source.
I once heard a speech by an Israeli who had served in the famous rescue mission at Entebbe. He said that everyone was rigorously prepared and willing, but as they approached their goal, thick clouds obscured their view. At the last moment, the clouds parted and the pilots could see the runway clearly. At that moment, he began to believe in miracles as “times when you prepare and work hard, and then everything goes right.” The winds blow your direction.
Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of emulating the Divine, of human partnership with God. It’s not enough to remember with gratitude that once a miracle happened and the Sea parted for us. The parting of the Sea is a paradigm of Redemption, or saving others and helping them to transcend their seemingly fated circumstances. Engaging in acts of justice and compassion, we help to make the sea part for others.
And according to Hassidic traditions, the parting of the Sea is also the classic archetype of change and liberation in our own lives. When we feel stuck in a situation, we may experience it as a personal Mitzrayim (the Hebrew word for Egypt, where we were slaves to Pharaoh), literally a “narrow, tight place.” In this paradigm, the parting of the sea represents our moments of personal rebirth, of opening to new horizons and the beginning of a new personal journey. We might experience dramatic positive changes in our lives as natural (the result of hard work), miraculous, or both at once.
Consider and comment: What is your definition of a miracle? Have you ever experienced what you would call a miracle? How does the parting of the Sea inspire you to action for others? To personal growth and change? Does it ever feel miraculous?
Featured Image: Splitting the Sea graphic by Amboo Who, via Flickr