Many Paths: A Pesach Message from Rabbi Dr. Kobrin
Here’s one of the things we did in our house on Sunday to prepare for Pesach: as I recommended in our Seder workshop last week, we contrasted the visual commentaries of Cecil B. DeMille in his The Ten Commandments and that of Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner and Simon Wells in their The Prince of Egypt on the splitting of the Yam Suf, the Red Sea. (Here
are the clips. When we watched the scene from Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, we found it so terrible that I refuse to link to it.) In both films, walls of water gush hundreds of feet in the air while the People of Israel, both awe-stricken and proud, cross the seabed on dry land. Their Egyptian pursuers eagerly chase after them, only to be drowned as the walls collapse upon them. Great, right? Only that’s not what happened.
Tosafot in Arachin explains that the Children of Israel actually did not cross the sea in a straight line like they do in the movies; rather, they walked in a u-shaped semi-circle, ending up further down on the sameshore of the sea from which they set out. The only reason they went intothe water at all was to lure the Egyptians to their death, not in order to cross to the opposite shore.
We sometimes encounter insurmountable problems, and we are all grappling with a terrible reality right now. But just as Bnei Yisrael journeyed forward, for the sake of our children, we must look towards a better future on the horizon. As we prepare for Pesach this year, trying to keep our children happy, doing chesed for those in need, praying for those who are suffering illness, and mourning those we have lost, we remember and believe that we have no idea where things will lead. If we truly believe that God stretches His hand, his yad hachazaka, into history, we must acknowledge that we cannot know what will happen next — but the resilience we are able to find right now will carry us through.
And there’s more, because the Mechilta and Pirkei de-Rabi Eliezerfurther ruin the movie version: not only did the people of Israel not walk in a straight line, but they did not even walk in a single line. Citing the verse from Tehillim that says that God split the sea into pieces, gozer yam suf la-gezarim, they explain that each tribe travelled through their own path through the sea. Imagine twelve parallel semicircular tracks from one part of the shore to another spot on the same shore. As any runner or NASCAR driver knows, the inside track is always shorter than the outside track. Rabbi Yitzchak Mirsky, in his wonderful HaggadahHegyonei Halacha, notes that this is why Hashem needed to knock the wheels off the Egyptian chariots. The tribes on the outside tracks were afraid the Egyptians would take the inside track, would get to shore before they did, and would be able to recapture them.
There are multiple paths to the same destination. Each of our families has different customs, different foods, different melodies and different memories at our respective Sedarim. But ultimately we all end up on the same shore, singing the same song of praises to Hashem for delivering us from our enemies. As bleak as it seemed in Egypt, Hashem delivered us in the blink of an eye; we should be confident again now that our redemption will come just as swiftly at the chosen time. In this, we have much more in common than we have that separates us. There are so many ways to celebrate and so many things about which to be thankful.
This is my thanks, my 7:00 clap. I thank our remarkable teachers; our outstanding Educational Technology team; our administration; and our PTA, led by Presidents Sadie Hakimian and Marla Lemonik. I thank our parents who balanced their professional and family obligations to help their children succeed in their remote learning. Each of you has helped preserve, strengthen and extend our school community, keeping us close and reminding us of who stands and sings with us on the shore.
I wish all of us a chag kasher ve-sameach; may we all have a healthy, safe, meaningful restful Pesach.
Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Kobrin