MIRACLE AT THE SEA
One of the most striking remarks which Rashi, the great medieval commentator, makes in the Torah is a quote of the Midrash on this week's portion.
One of the most striking remarks which Rashi, the great medieval commentator, makes in the Torah is a quote of the Midrash on this week's portion. Illustrating the magnitude of the splitting of the Red Sea, the Midrash points out that the most common of Jewish maidservants saw a greater revelation of the Divine presence at the Red Sea than did the most illustrious prophets in all of Jewish history. This is a truly perplexing comment, for although the splitting of the sea was one of the most fantastic miracles of all time, how can the Midrash claim that a simple, uneducated maidservant was able to reach a higher level of appreciation of Hashem than even the greatest prophets? Especially in light of all the rigorous requirements to be a prophet which the halacha (Jewish law) delineates, how can one comprehend this statement?
There are two diverse ways by which a person's mind functions in appreciating the world -- the intellectual and the emotional. The prophets, after years of serious study and contemplation, as well as after years of doing acts of kindness and righteousness, achieved an understanding and perception of Hashem which merited real and almost personal communication. Their comprehension of Hashem was deep, thorough, and complete. The maidservant at the splitting of the Red Sea could not be compared with the prophet on an intellectual level.
However, outside of any intellectual appreciation, a person also has an emotional side which is triggered by experiences and their forceful impact. Without any deep thought, a person can be profoundly affected by an experience which can shape and mold one's life. The Midrash is telling us that everyone present at the splitting of the sea experienced what no other prophet ever experienced. This gave them an opportunity to develop an emotional awe of Hashem that the other prophets never possessed, since no miracle since then has occurred with the same enormity as the splitting of the Red Sea. This was a more obvious manifestation of Hashem than any scene that the prophets witnessed. This is not to say that the witnesses of this miracle had a better understanding than the prophets, but rather that they saw a spectacle which almost automatically caused them to feel something far more powerful than did even the greatest prophets.
Every one of us has both experiential and intellectual encounters that have the potential of making a significant impact on our lives. Neither is necessarily better, but both remain important and valuable. We must be aware of the significance of both intellectual and emotional fulfillment, and strive to grow from them in our everyday behavior. May we all have the strength to grow from the experiences which we are exposed to and from the knowledge which we gain from them.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently a junior at Yeshiva University in New York.
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