“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea… and the sea split” Exodus 14:21

By Rabbi Barry Lerer , January 10, 2014

In Psalm 114, we read the description of how the Red Sea parted: “The sea saw and fled.” The rabbis ask, “What did the sea see to make it flee?” and they answer, “It saw the bones of Joseph!” (which the Children of Israel carried with them from Egypt).

What was it about Joseph’s bones specifically that should make the sea part? Perhaps the greatness of Joseph’s life is that he acted against his nature. In resisting the temptation of Potiphar’s wife, he went against one’s natural impulse. But there is an even greater example.

After Joseph has been reunited with his brothers in Egypt, he forgave them for their past actions against him. Not only did Joseph forgive them wholeheartedly but a fascinating midrash tells us that during the 17 years that Joseph’s father Jacob was with him in Egypt, Joseph avoided ever being alone with his beloved father.

The reason was simply to prevent the possibility that Jacob might ask Joseph how it was that he, Joseph, after being reported killed by wild beasts many years earlier, should end up as Viceroy of Egypt. For if Jacob asked him about that, Joseph would have to reveal his brothers’ bad behaviour to his father.

These are genuine examples of going against one’s nature. When the sea saw this wonderful character trait of Joseph and his level of devotion, it decided that if Joseph could act against his nature, it too should be able to act against its nature and it thereby split. When we are put in a situation and we rise above our natural tendencies, we gain so much, maybe even the power to split seas.

Last updated: 10:32am, January 10 2014