(Torah Portion Beshalach) Mayim!
The Torah records two occurrences where waters split: The first was during creation, when G-d split the waters of the world suspending half of the waters in the Heavens with the remainder left on earth forming the oceans, rivers and lakes. The second is when G-d split the waters of the Red Sea.
The splitting of the Red Sea was witnessed and experienced by over 2 million Jews along with the pursuing Egyptians who were drowned in the sea when the waters came crashing down on them.
Our Sages teach us that during the miracle of the splitting of the sea, all bodies and containers of water throughout the world also split. Thus, everyone became aware of the phenomenon of the splitting of the Red Sea and the salvation of the Jews.
Our Sages teach us that Mayim – water is symbolic of the Torah. The Kaballah teaches us that the water in Heaven symbolizes the Written Torah and the waters on earth represent the Oral Torah Law.
This was demonstrated by Moshe our leader and teacher who spent 40 days and nights in Heaven learning the Torah from G-d Himself. He then descended to earth with the Tablets of the Ten Commandments and taught all the laws and intricacies of Torah to the Jewish nation. Moshe bridged the Written Torah that originated in Heaven by transmitting and conveying the Oral Torah to us on earth.
Our Sages tell us that the Jews merited that the waters of the Red Sea split because they were destined to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai 43 days later.
The waters split to their right and left. The right side was in the merit of the Mitzvah of Mezzuza which is affixed to the right doorpost as one enters a house or room, and the left side was in merit of the Mitzvah of Tefillin which is tied on one’s weaker left hand.
The waters in front and back of them also cleared out. The waters in front moved away in the merit of the Mitzvah of Circumcision and in the waters in the back of them in the merit of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis – where the Talit hangs down along one’s back.
The Torah relates an incident where the Jews traveled for three day and they thirsted for water. Our Sages tell us that aside from the physical thirst, they were also experiencing a thirst for the water of Torah which they lacked.
As a result of this, the prophets of that time instituted that the Torah be publically read on Monday, Thursday and Shabbat afternoon so that a period of three days should not go by without Torah.
G-d tells us that the Land of Israel is different than Egypt, for Egypt relied on the Nile overflowing to irrigate their fields while the Land of Israel is dependant on G-d’s benevolence of rain. Rain descending from the Heavens is more spiritual than hydration from the Nile.
The Pharoh proclaimed himself a deity and took possession and credit for the Nile. In fact he proclaimed “I don’t need the rains emanating from the upper spheres.” For this reason, G-d specifically smote the waters of Egypt during the first plagues of blood and frogs.
Getting back to the episode of the Jews thirsting for water; the Torah tells us that the Jews actually found water but it tasted bitter and they complained to Moshe. G-d instructed Moshe to take a piece of wood and cast it into the water; when Moshe did so, the waters became sweet.
Commentators explain this episode on a deeper level. The Jews had gone without Torah (water) for three days. When they resumed its study and practice the Torah (water) seemed bitter to them. They began to blame the bitterness they were experiencing on the Torah and its teachers.
G-d then instructed Moshe to take an Aitz – piece of wood and cast it into the waters. The Hebrew word Aitz (wood) and the word Aitza – advice – are similar. G-d told Moshe to give the people some guidance and explain to them that the reason the waters of Torah weren’t sweet to them is not because there is something wrong with the Torah. Rather, it was because they ignored it for some time and as a result their spiritual ‘taste buds’ had gone awry. Their lack of appreciation of the Torah caused it to become bitter. Moshe explained to them that if they change their perspective and realize the impediment rests within them, then when they approach the Torah they will sense its wonderful sweetness.
The people listened to Moshe, and as the Torah attests – the waters of Torah became sweet and delicious to them!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family