Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Q: Why did Moses cross the Reed Sea?

A: He wanted to get to the other side.

It’s the seventh day of Passover - the penultimate day, here in the Diaspora - and, surprisingly, my Matzoh Honeymoon continues. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. Surprise!

Today at synagogue, the Torah reading consisted of a big chunk of Parshat Beshallach, the dramatic story of the Israelites’ flight from Egypt, pursued by the armies of Pharaoh (who, after agreeing to free the Israelites, developed a case of Morning-Afteritis). The reading is capped by the Song at the Sea, which is chanted to a special melody while the congregation stands... and that’s the piece I read, all 32 verses worth.

Interestingly, the Torah never explains how Moses gets from one side of the Reed Sea (often improperly called the Red Sea) to the other. He is commanded to raise his arm and staff to split the sea; later, he is told to raise his arm and cause the sea to wash over Pharaoh’s charioteers - but nowhere is it said that Moses actually crossed over along with the other Israelites... the above-noted Red Sea Pedestrians.

Since, like Nature, Jews abhor a vacuum, plenty of stories have been cooked up over the years to explain how Moses got across. Stories like this, intended to fill in the gaps in Scripture, are known as midrash. Midrash, given its religious context, is a much nicer term than “crock of shit” or even “bunch of made-up baloney.” [Of course, to the skeptics among us, it’s all a bunch of made-up baloney, including Scripture... but that’s a discussion for another time.]

One possibility: He surfed across. It’s not clear what Moses would have used for a surfboard, but, being a creative sort, I’m sure he could have come up with something. Supporters of this theory cite the fact that Moses was from the tribe of Levi, the tribe that would eventually serve in the Temple...and so was the first Big Kahuna. [“Kahuna,” in Hebrew, refers to Priestly Activities; it comes from the same root as “kohen,” priest.] According to the text, “...and the water was a wall for them, on the right and on the left.” Anyone who has ever seen the break at Waimea Bay on the north shore of Oahu knows that a huge wave resembles a wall - and so it is very possible that Moses would have been able to “hang aseret” while catching some gnarly wave action.

Another possibility: He was picked up by a whirlwind and deposited on the other side of the Sea. This is an actual midrash, although by whom concocted I have no idea. But I theorize that, if this were true, then when Moses landed on the other side of the Sea, everything would suddenly be in color instead of black-and-white like in Egypt.

What ideas can you come up with? How did Moses get across the Reed Sea?

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