Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

Three Days

Shell (photo by Leann Shamash)

The crossing of the sea is the pivotal experience of the Exodus, perhaps only comparable to receiving the law at Sinai. Hollywood has helped the power of our imaginations to visualize the crossing.

The Israelites find themselves on the other side of the sea and we read about the songs that they sing with spontaneity and joy. At this point in the narrative one doesn’t know what to expect next in this drama of fantastical proportions.

Directly after the conclusion of Miriam’s Song of the Sea, we are told that Moses leads the people into the wilderness and after three days of travel they still have not found water. This leads to the beginning of the people’s grumbling to Moses. The initial complaints come as a surprise, considering the magnitude of what has just transpired, but is really such a surprise?

In this piece I have tried to paint a picture of those three days between the sea and the first complaint.

In this piece I have tried to paint a picture of those three days between the sea and the first complaint, putting us there with the people as they crossed, celebrated and then became increasingly aware of their new reality.

As always, I find myself sympathetic to this first generation in the desert. Liberated slaves, unprepared psychologically and spiritually for the rocky road awaiting them. What more could we expect from them?


Three Days

שִׁ֤ירוּ לַֽיהֹוָה֙ כִּֽי־גָאֹ֣ה גָּאָ֔ה ס֥וּס וְרֹכְב֖וֹ רָמָ֥ה בַיָּֽם׃* {ס}

On the first day,

in their relief and joy,

they forgot to brush the wet sand from their feet.

The salt spray remained in their hair.

It stood stiff and spiked.

They cried and clung to each other;

the words of the song still on their lips,

which tasted of salt.

Parents hugged their children.

Friends called out to each other;

hooting at what they had just

seen and done.

They grasped each other’s arms;

jumping and dancing.

Children carried conches from

the sea’s floor;

trading them with their friends.

Souvenirs of the miracle.

They heard the sound of the sea

as they lifted the shells to their ears.

They barely noticed the hot sun

for they had reached the other side.

A dazed and damp people;

both giddy and grateful.

Not a murmur of protest was heard on the shore of the turquoise sea.


And it was evening.

And it was the first day.

And it was very, very good.


On the dawn of the second day

the salt spray had dried their hair,

their skin itched and flaked.

The turquoise of sea lay shimmering far behind them,

no larger than a distant jewel.

Ahead of them stretched wilderness, 

stretched out,

seemingly forever.

The merciless sun began to climb in the sky.

Last jugs of water were shared among families.

Their skin began to burn in the sun.

The people itched and thirsted.

Their feet blistered as they delicately stepped between stones..

Still they moved forward;

movements slowed as water ran out.

And the beginnings of grumblings were heard among the people.

At first just whispers,

because no one wants to be the first to complain

after a miracle,

but the people were parched,

and so hot.


The wilderness unfolded barren before them.

They shaded their eyes and searched

the horizon,

which kept inching away.

At first they fussed softly.

and then whispers became groans

and groans became dry coughing cries for water.

The people forgot the words to the song .


And it was evening.

It was the second day

and it was not so good.


The third day dawned

The people’s lips were parched and blistered from the heat.

Their skin red.

Their eyes dry and caked.

The babies cried but they had no tears to wet their cheeks.

The mother’s milk dried.

The fathers forgot about their yipping

and regret clawed its way into their heads.

They barked out their frustrations.

Shouts of the confused.

Shouts of those who only recently developed the skill of dreaming.

Shouts of those whose song was buried in the dust of the wilderness.

And it was evening.

 And it was the third day.

And things were not good at all.


And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to יהוה, for He*He See note at 15.1. has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

‎וַיַּסַּ֨ע מֹשֶׁ֤ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מִיַּם־ס֔וּף וַיֵּצְא֖וּ אֶל־מִדְבַּר־שׁ֑וּר וַיֵּלְכ֧וּ שְׁלֹֽשֶׁת־יָמִ֛ים בַּמִּדְבָּ֖ר וְלֹא־מָ֥צְאוּ מָֽיִם׃

Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water.

Exodus 15:21,22 Translation from Sefaria

*Opening quote from Shemot 15:21 (From Sefaria)

And Miriam chanted for them: Sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea.

About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
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