Linda Pardes Friedburg
Russian-speaking American Israeli Community-building Mom

Masa’ei: Return to Dahab, Leaving Egypt

Sunrise over Saudi Arabia, near Blue Hole, Dahab - Sinai, July 2022 (Photo: Linda Pardes Friedburg)

One who has not snorkeled the Coral reefs of Dahab has not seen beauty all of her days.”

6 a.m. Warm wind, cool water. I maneuver the slippery brown black rust-colored rocks in the gently lapping waves,  adjust my mask and mouthpiece, lay face down, eyes open, and enter the Divine universe of Jacques Cousteau.
Superlatives fill my brain, but none do justice to the humbling brilliant beauty that unfolds before my eyes.
Bursts of orange and yellow goldfish against the background of the blue abyss. Schools of shimmering minnows, corals in every hue – endless scallops of bright and pale yellow waves,  pink and lavender bubbles, vibrating translucent tentacles, massive brain-shaped coral near the exit of our reef; I see baby blue, and pale green and deep deep violet, Violet!!!
I lightly touch a clam’s white curvy mouth with my foot and it clenches. And notice other curvy mouths, fuchsia and deep turquoise – omgoodness, there are deep turquoise clams in the world! Their pulsing white-outlined lips grin back at me.
 And everything is bathed sparkling, dancing sunlight.
Where do these color combinations come from?  God’s limitless imagination.
And the fish! They swim in joyful pairs, in schools and alone, unaffected (unlike me) by the jostling current above them. Beautiful, striking, funny, surprising and bizarre…
One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish. Dr. Seuss was surely here!
Some deep blue with yellow accents, or bright yelllow with black and white diagonal stripes – some huge, some small, deep salmon colored fish, navy fish with flourescent pale blue and golden spots, all dot in and out of the corals.  Rainbow fish with turquoise pinks greens and blues in no particular pattern. And black-bodied fish with streaks of flourescent blue, yellow noses, fins and tails. The unfriendly looking clownfish with scores of long white and red tentacles. The deep rust hiding spike fish, who I also  keep a safe distance from. The giant yellow flat as a pancake fish with dark spots for eyes. The bizarre rodfish, pale and deep green, some over a meter long!
The pale blue poka-dotted fish with striped gills – clearly the inspiration for mismatched modern scarf fashion in Israel.
And my favorite for its symmetry (happily scant in the Coral world),  the navy fish with its perfectly patterned blue, orange and white striped belly.
An ever-changing paradise with endless surprises every turn , every new entry into the water.
Hours of entertainment and discovery, and no screens!
My dear Dad always said that snorkel goggles compensate for nearsightedness under the water, and this is true – another great chesed of the magical Coral kingdom so close to our borders.
Having imbibed and described just a bit of my adventures in the coral reef, our five day visit is ending. I understand my husband’s need to come back here every few months – to kite-surf and indulge in the serenity of this unspoiled desert and mountain oasis.
Reading Parsha Masa’ei – Journeys – every day as I vacation here. For 38 years we wandered these parts, after the generation of the Spies lacked the courage to enter the Land. There are even opinions that “V’di Zahav”, one of the encampments in the desert mentioned in the first pasuk of next week’s parsha, Dvarim, is Dahab of today.
And 38 years ago, I visted Dahab for the first time,  with its scanty huts and Bedouin children selling sugary pitot and grabbing what they could from our backpacks.
Today’s Dahab is much more hospitable – a combination of modern beachfront cafes and very backwater Bollywood.
Even if there is disagreement among our Sages whether biblical and future Eretz Yisrael includes Sinai, including in the division of the Land in this week’s Parsha – “The border then turns from Azmon to the stream of Egypt, and its ends will be to the sea” (Bamidbar 34:5)
“וְנָסַ֧ב הַגְּב֛וּל מֵֽעַצְמ֖וֹן נַ֣חְלָה מִצְרָ֑יִם וְהָי֥וּ תֽוֹצְאֹתָ֖יו הַיָּֽמָּה” (במדבר לד:ה)
this area feels very much an intrinsic limb of our beautiful Land.
“אֵלֶּה מַסְעֵי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָצְאוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם”
“These are the journeys of the Children of Israel as they traveled from Egypt…” or literally, out of their “Mei-tzarim” – narrow places.
From our travels through the desert, as a developing nation, through our current trials and personal paths, as we ingather to Israel both physically and spiritually, journeys are a necessary part of our maturity and purpose as a people.  The Baal Shem Tov says this is the reason for Parshat Masa’ei – “to show each Jew the straight path we must pursue all of our lives.”  The names of every station in the desert have a symbolic significance, relating to the spiritual condition of Bnei Yisrael.
Our paths may never seem clear, but every stop is indeed purposeful – we are exactly where we need to be in this moment, in order for us to reach our next station, through effort and faith, and gradually break through our “straits,” to lives more full of  meaning and clarity.  Even when we travel, speaking foreign languages and experiencing other cultures,  we deepen our connection with the world and impact those we meet through the values we take with us, strengthening ourselves along the way.
As we enter the Nine Days of  reduced joy, focusing on the loss of our spiritual Center and Compass in Jerusalem and thinking of all that needs fixing, I realize how much my “Ma Rabu Ma’asecha” (How wondrous are Your works!) experience in Dahab impacted my personal journey.   My association with the Sinai desert will always be much less Egypt, and much more my leaving the narrow straits of Mitzrayim.
May we learn very soon how to help one another break through our narrow straits, both individually and as a nation, through humility, faith, joy, sensitivity and unity.
Shabbat shalom and Chodesh tov!
About the Author
Linda Pardes Friedburg made Aliyah from New Jersey in 1990. She is Founding Director of Shishi Shabbat Yisraeli National Jewish Leadership Initiative for Young Russian-Speaking Israelis, is grateful for her six kids and one Belarussian husband, and still feels the need to pinch herself every time she drives up the hill to Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion, their home since 1994. EMERGENCY UKRAINIAN/RUSSIAN NEW OLIM CAMPAIGN!
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