But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. — Exodus 14:29
This month marks one of the most ancient and holiest of Jewish celebrations, Pesach, or Passover. It is a celebration of God’s redemption of His people, Israel, from bondage, and freedom is a theme underlying the celebration. Please enjoy this collection of timeless devotions from my father, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, on this sacred observance. – Yael Eckstein, President
We are all born with a unique nature. For better and for worse, we have certain tendencies, both strengths and weaknesses. Usually we are most successful when we operate in the realm of our strengths. But there are also times when we are called to overcome our natural weaknesses which might otherwise hold us back from the life that we want to live. Sometimes, we need every bit of strength that we have to go against our nature so that we might move forward in our lives.
In the climactic moment of the Exodus story, the sea parts and the Israelites walk through on dry land. The sea, which by nature is cohesive, flowing, and without boundaries, was suddenly concrete like walls, “But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”
The Jewish sages make a beautiful comment that the sea went against its nature because of the bones of Joseph which were present during the parting of the sea. If you remember, Joseph had made the Israelites promise to bring his bones out of Egypt when they were leaving, and they made good on their promise. In Psalm 114:3 we read: “The sea looked and fled . . .”
But what was it that the sea noticed? According to tradition, it was the bones of Joseph, and it was a powerful reminder of someone who went against his own nature. When Joseph was a young man, the beautiful and powerful wife of his master, Potiphar, tried to seduce him. However, Joseph went against his human tendencies, resisted temptation, and fled from Potiphar’s wife. In his honor, the sea went against its nature and fled as well, creating a path for the Israelites to freedom and redemption.
I came across another piece to this story. We know what inspired the sea, but who inspired Joseph? One answer is that it was his mother, Rachel, who went against her own nature on what should have been her wedding night. Although Rachel was deeply in love with Jacob and had waited seven years to marry him, she went against her nature and allowed her older sister Leah to pass herself off as Rachel and become Jacob’s bride. Rachel was selfless and fled from her own desires for the sake of her sister’s happiness and dignity.
In all these situations – Joseph, Rachel, and the sea – going against nature was temporary, but completely necessary. Similarly, we are called at times to go against our nature for a higher purpose. Let us be encouraged to summon our strength and part with our nature if only for a moment. A moment of self-sacrifice can lead to a lifetime of salvation.