What did the Sea See?

Picture courtesy of Seed UK 2023

On the 21st of Nissan, the Seventh Day of Pesach, we read the story that which took place seven days after Bnei Yisrael left Egypt and the Sea famously split.  The Egyptian army drowned.  Moshe and Bnei Yisrael sang the Az Yashir

We recite Hallel every day during Pesach and the second paragraph specifically refers to leaving Egypt and Kriat Yam Suf – The Splitting of the Sea.  In Tehillim 114:1-3 we read

(1) Betzait Yisrael Mimitzrayim Beit Yaacov Meiam Loez (2) Hayta Yehuda Lekadsho Yisrael Mamshelotav (3) Hayam raah Vayanos

 (1) When Israel went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech, (2) Yehuda became His sanctuary;  Israel, His dominion. (3) The sea saw and fled…..

What did the Sea See that caused it to split?

Various opinions include; The Divine Presence; The Children of Israel and The Staff of Moshe.  A fascinating explanation as to what the sea saw that caused it to flee is brought by the Midrash Tehillim 114   

raah arono shel Yosef yoreid layam, Amar Hakadosh Baruch Hu “Yanus mipnei Hanas”

…It saw Joseph’s coffin being lowered into the water.  Hashem said “Flee for the one who fled”

The Midrash links the use of the word  vayanas  to a previous story in the book of Bereishit, where exactly the same word vayanas  is used.  Our attention is drawn to the story of Yosef, who had been sold as a slave in Egypt to Potiphar’s household.  Yosef worked hard and he was elevated to the position of the head of the household staff.  One day when everyone else was out – Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him.  The story is recounted in  Bereishis 39:12 

Vatishpetseihu bivigdo leimor,”shichva imi!”, Vayaazov bigdo beyada vayanas vayeitze hachutza 

She caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, fled and went outside

Why does the Midrash link Potiphar’s wife attempting to seduce Yosef to the Splitting of the Sea?  The Talmud Yoma 35b enlightens us

bechol yom vayom hayta eishet Potifar mistdalto bidevarim.  Begadim shelavsha lo shacharit lo lavsha lo arvit 

Each and every day, the wife of Potiphar seduced him with words. The clothes that she wore for him in the morning, she did not wear for him in the evening.

This demonstrates how unrelenting Potiphar’s wife was in her attempts to seduce Yosef, we can understand that Yosef had every reason to capitulate.  He was a young man, alone in Egypt, presumed dead by his father and sold into slavery by his brothers.

However Yosef did not succumb to temptation.

Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain in his commentary Shem MiShmuel, Parshas Vayeishev 1:10  explains….

Yosef haya lemaala mehateva…. d’achar shehu asa lemaala mehateva nidcheh gum ken hatevea mipanav….

….what Yosef did was superhuman….after he achieved a superhuman feat; nature was suspended for him….

Yosef’s refusal to yield to Potiphar’s wife was a completely unnatural act. Disregarding his own natural instincts and emotions, Yosef fled from temptation.  Just as Yosef overcame his own nature, in an act of Divine reciprocity – many years later the Sea was compelled to ignore its own natural tendency to ebb and flow with the tide. Hayam raah Vayanos.— The sea saw and it fled.

Yosef earned the title, Yosef Hatzadik,  Yosef the righteous, as a result of his rejection of the amorous advances of Potiphar’s wife.

Let us hope that like Yosef, we can find the inner strength to withstand the challenges we face in our own lives.  Who knows what the ripple effects of our actions may be?

Wishing everyone Chag Kasher Vesameach

About the Author
Chava is a Community Educator in London and has served as the Scholar in Residence at Hampstead and Finchley United Synagogues. She is a regular speaker at various shuls and private homes. Chava completed an MA in Jewish Education (LSJS and Birkbeck), an MA in Property Valuation and Law (City University Business School) and a BSc (London School of Economics) in Accounting and Finance. She is a Matan Bellows Eshkolot Fellow, an alumnus of Michlala, and a graduate of the LSJS Bradfield Women's Educators, the Montefiore Scholar Diploma and the Herzog Tanach Teachers Programmes
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