What it takes to split the sea


This week’s Torah portion is Beshelach, Exodus 13:17 – 17:16.

Growing up, I learned the words to Mi Chamocha as a prayer in the prayer book. It was not until I learned Torah that I discovered those words came from this week’s Torah portion.

The words of the prayer are found in the section known as Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, in Exodus 15:1-18. It is followed by Miriam’s Song in Exodus 15:20-21. The words mi chamocha mean, “Who is like You God!” According to some commentators, unlike in our prayer books that end the verse with a question mark, it is actually a declaration of our faith in God.

The way that this song is written in the Torah is very unusual. It is not written as a regular column. Rather, there are spaces in between the verses in the song. Through studying this passage with colleagues, I have decided that it looks very much like stepping stones along the journey that the Children of Israel are taking. They have left the land of Egypt where they were enslaved for 400 years. They are now crossing through the Red Sea (also known as the Reed Sea) and sticking their toes and then their whole bodies into the future.


Yet, it was not that simple. The Children of Israel needed to learn to trust God and to establish a relationship with God as a free people. The midrash relates that when the Children of Israel arrived at the shores of the sea, no one wanted to walk into the water. So, God told Moses to hold up his staff and that the waters would part.
But nothing happened. The people started to complain and panic as the Egyptian army approached. They cried out to be saved. And then one individual by the name of Nachshon ben Aminadav stepped into the sea.
Again, nothing happened. So, Nachshon took another step and then another step and then another step until the water was up to his nose. At that point Nachshon cried out, “I believe!” and the waters parted.

It took Nachshon to demonstrate his belief in a greater spirit that could not be seen for the entire community to be saved. In our lives we have had many Nachshons to show us the way.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marched to raise the consciousness of others and to bring awareness of those not being granted their civil rights.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with King and taught that one should “pray with his legs.”
When I was born, women were not ordained rabbis. That changed in America in 1972 with Rabbi Sally J.

Priesand, who was ordained at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She went on to teach about equality in religion and leadership.

They are just three of our modern day Nachshons. They took those steps and helped our community and our world evolve.

Questions to consider

How can you be like Nachshon ben Aminadav?

What actions can you take to make others feel heard in our community?

If you were to choose a social action project to do with your family and/or friends, what would it be? n

Rabbi Jennifer Weiner is rabbi educator at Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield.

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