A Midrashic Deconstruction of the Miracle at the Sea

There is a well-known Midrash that tells of God’s reluctance to perform the miracle until He saw Israel make a move itself to deal with the prodigious problem.

All the tribes of Israel were afraid to jump into the water. Each tribe competed with the other in vacillation and retreat from the joint destiny of the nation.  Finally Nahshon ben Aminadav, a prince of the tribe of Judah, fearlessly, he jumped in, and then the members of his tribe followed, and soon all the people joined in.

An early but lesser-known Halachic Midrash tells the story differently: All the tribes competed with each other to be the first to plunge into the Red Sea, to show the way to the others.  In the heat of the competition, the tribe of Benjamin reached the water first. [1] But the message of this Midrash emphasizes the joint courage manifested by a combined effort of all of Israel helped make the miracle a reality.

Rather than passively relying on faith alone, the community stood together. When a faith community work toward a common purpose, great and unexpected things can occur for contrary to Euclid, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Moderns refer to this concept as “synergy.”

It is unfortunate that of the two Midrashim, the first is better known.  Yet, the first Midrash is, after all, a tragic commentary on the lack of faith within Israel, which in turn prevented them from  working together in finding solutions to the nation’s immediate problems.



[1]For a complete compendium of this material, see R. Menachem Kasher’s Torah Shelmah, Vol. 4 pp. 67-68.

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