The seventh and eighth days of Passover commemorate the great miracle G-d performed by splitting the Red Sea for the Jews and allowing them to escape from the pursuing Egyptian army.
The Torah relates that after the Jews were freed from Egypt and had traveled three days, Pharoh had a change of heart and pursued the Jews with what remained of his army.
The Torah tells us that Pharoh pursued the Jews when they were at a place called Baal Tzefon. What was Baal Tzefon? Our Sages tell us that it was the only place of idol worship that G-d did not destroy at the time of the slaying of the first born. G-d allowed this idol to remain so that Pharoh would place his trust in this idol and pursue the Jews so that he would be destroyed at the Red Sea.
The Torah relates that when the Jews first got wind of the Egyptian pursuit, they panicked. The Torah tells us, Pharoh Hikriv, which simply means Pharoh drew close. However, the word Hikriv, can also mean sacrifice. Thus, the verse can be understood to mean, Pharoh sacrificed.
Commentators explain that a number of things were happening at the same time. As Pharoh was on his way to catch up with the Jews, he stopped by Baal Tzefon and Hikriv – he offered sacrifices to the idol. When the Jews saw him drawing close they became scared and they drew themselves close to the Almighty by repenting and calling out to G-d.
Pharoh used this opportunity to come close to his idol while the Jews used the circumstance to make a personal accounting and draw close to G-d.
When the Jews were at the banks of the Red Sea, the waters did not want to split for them, for, as the Medrash tells us, there was a charge against the Jews. The water claimed, “Why should I split for the Jews? After all, both the Jews and the Egyptians worshiped idols.”
The Medrash relates that when the waters saw the casket of Yosef, which Moshe had located and brought with them when they left Egypt, they split.
Two things need clarification. Why was there a claim that the Jews worshipped idols in Egypt? After all, the Torah tells us that the Jews rejected the sheep deity of the Egyptians when they took the sheep into their homes, slaughtered it, roasted it, and ate it, the night before they left. They had all given up any respect they had for the idol. What claim was there that the Jews were worshipping idols?
Secondly, what was it about Yosef that caused the sea to change its mind and split for the Jews?
Perhaps we can explain as follows.
The Hebrew words used to describe idol worship are Avodah Zarah, which means, serving something foreign. True, the Jews gave up all respect for the idols of Egypt and its formal worship. However, the prosecution still claimed that the Jews had not totally accepted G-d, since they only drew close to Him by external force, because Pharoh was pursuing them.
The Heavenly officer over the sea considered this claim and refused to split the sea. But when it noticed the casket of the righteous Yosef, and recalled how Yosef as a teenager was subject to the continuous entreaties of his master’s wife and when he was about to succumb to temptation he overcame his passion and ran away, the sea also ran and split.
Yosef is the one we look to and seek to emulate when we wish to refrain from immorality.
What gave Yosef the ability to run away from sin in the moment of great passion? Our Sages tell us that an image of his holy father Yaacov appeared in the window and it reminded him of his past and destiny. That reminder enabled him to run away from committing the sin.
When the sea saw Yosef’s casket it understood that any outside stimulation, occurrence, event, sight or word of encouragement that a Jew receives which helps him refrain from sin or inspires him to come closer to G-d is not – Avodah zarah – service through something that is foreign, rather it is actually G-d Who placed it there in order to motivate him to come closer to Him. Therefore, it promptly split and the Jews were saved.
The Egyptians failed to recognize and internalize the miracle of the sea splitting for the Jews and continued to pursue them. The waters then turn on them and they were done.
The current virus and pandemic has turned over our lives in many ways, be it through illness, death, loneliness, job loss, financial hurt, social and family distancing and the disruption of our previous ways of life. We learn from our Torah that a Jew looks at the conditions as a motivational message from G-d that He wants us to come closer to Him. We can draw close through prayer, performance of Mitzvos, study and respect for Torah, repentance, Tzadakah, or by being more sensitive to what we say about others. Anything that we do that inches us closer to G-d will bring a response and generate His guarantee in the Torah, “All the illness that I brought upon the Egyptians, I will not place upon you, for I am G-d Your Healer!”