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When the Waters Break

Updated: Sep 27, 2023


What do you think about birth-days?

No – not the day that someone acknowledges with warm wishes – I mean the day of birth.

When the hot-off-the-press youngster enters the scene, he protests vehemently. Why’d he have to part with his secure Eden? But at that shattering moment a soothing voice reassures him and someone softly strokes the body that he didn’t know he had. He later learns that the woman who comforted him is called ‘Ima”.

Soon Ima introduces Aba. It’s not too awful, he figures – so he smiles at ‘Ima’ and “Aba’ – and they really seem to like that. They introduce the new recruit to a bunch of kids who also have names. But one of them pinches him when Ima’s not looking, and he screams at the injustice. Ima comes running, and he gets a sweet drink – not such a bad deal.

Is this scenario sounding familiar? Maybe you also learned early on that relationships are an inevitable part of life in this world. But it doesn’t end with your mother, it continues with extended family, peers, mentors, community - all humans are always relating to someone. And probably like me, one day you felt this urge to deepen your quest for human connection, and you began searching for a marriage partner. Miraculously, you found, or rather were found by someone with whom you developed a mutual bond.

Speaking about birthdays, what’s the most frequently celebrated one of all?

Imagine it’s two thousand, four hundred and forty eight years since Creation. The past eighty years have been steeped in excruciating experiences of purgatory. The agonizing tortures that were inflicted on the Jewish slaves in Egypt are too numerous to list. So, just to mention one, we recall the many birthdays that didn’t allow for grand family celebrations…

The midwife has left the small barren home. She has settled the mother, Tirza, with her six newborn sons around her[1]. Tirza, who bore these sons with immense foresight[2], faith and selflessness, tries to conceal this birth keeping her sextuplets absolutely quiet.[3]

But concealing the birth of six robust[4] infants is an exercise in futility. And as surely as the Nile overflows, the door is thrust open by an Egyptian informer, showing Pharaoh’s efficient henchmen[5] where the new mother lies. Instinctively, Tirza begins to grab her babies. She hides one under the bed, and throws a light blanket over two others. She grabs a fourth child and shoves him under the cloak she is wearing – but how fast can one desperate woman conceal six squiggling infants?

And then her world goes dark – she screams in desperate protest as three muscular Egyptians begin to extract beautiful Jewish sons, descendants of our grandfather Ya’akov, from everywhere – from her arms, their cots, and yes –under the bed. Tirza fights back, she screams for Aviezer, her husband – but of course, he cannot hear her. He has slept in the field yet again[6], scrounging for straw[7] in between his labors for the master’s harvest. The brutes who are stealing her beloved sons have left one particularly nasty fellow to restrain her. Tirza cries out to the G-d of Ya’akov as she struggles to break free from the iron grip of the guard. With supernatural strength– Tirza gives one mighty kick to Mr. Egyptian Brute, and flees from the house at super-sonic speed. She arrives at the banks of the Nile as Pharaoh’s guards are leaving; snickering secretively[8] between themselves at their ‘typical’ day’s work. And Tirza begins to wade into the water almost up to her nose after the flailing little hands and feet, bobbing up and down as the Nile swiftly pulls them away from her. Tirza collapses in grief on the banks of the Nile.

And now Tirza is alongside Aviezer with their six sons who were miraculously returned to her[9], joined by those who are loyal to the G-d of Avrohom. The exodus from Egyptian soil has commenced. Moshe Rabbenu (who himself was extracted from the Nile), Aharon and Miriam are leading the group. They have reached the water – but rather than the Nile, they face the raging Reed Sea. And through the unusual cloud that hovers at the head and tail of their entourage, they can perceive the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. They are assailed by the sound of galloping horses, and the swish of racing chariots subsumed by the roar of blood-thirsty male voices urging their stallions forward.

Now Nachshon is wading into the water. Is he mad? – The water is nearly up to his nose! The enemy is gaining, it is so windy[10] and a few brave men advance toward Nachshon. Unbelievably, the water is stirring! It is standing! How can water stand? But then how can three million slaves leave Egypt laden with donkeys and valuables? And the redeemed slaves surge forward, divided according to tribe as they walk through twelve narrow channels between crystalized[11] walls of water! The land underfoot is dry, yet they are encased in water that allows them to see the other channels through which their brethren traverse.

They gradually emerge at the end of their twelve defined tracks[12]. As the last Jewish refugee takes a step forward, the waters break behind him, returning to their natural state, as he gradually pulls out of his tribe’s channel. Soon the Egyptians fall silent.

When the Yam- Suf waters ‘broke’ the people were pushed out of their tight and narrow channels – as newborns of Hashem’s nation[13]. What could be more appropriate than to pick up a tambourine and sing a celebratory Shira at this birthday sensation?

Ah, so that is why the redemption from Egypt[14] and the Creation of the universe[15] are parallels; water was an intrinsic part of their process.

Ever after, this Birthday of Yetzias Mitzrayim is celebrated daily.

And once in a lifetime; we celebrate a process akin to the splitting of the Yam Suf[16] when each couple stands under their chuppah. Each specific couple is preceded by dozens of generations of parents, each creating the exact child, who bore the exact child who would eventually bear the chosson and kallah respectively. Each generation had to endure – wars and churban, exiles and revolts, oppression and edicts, inquisitions, pogroms and holocausts - didn’t we all survive our Mitzrayims?

Nice – we all like happy endings, don’t we?

  • Corollary 1: So often we mothers bemoan the Mitzrayims facing our child. While you’ll naturally try to spare your child from painful experiences, when they do occur, be reassured that this ordeal was custom delivered by Someone Who loves your child even more than you. Rather than wring our hands in anxiety, we’d be far more productive by helping our child obtain tools toward ‘redemption’.

Sima was reeling, who would have guessed that Yirmi would break their engagement? Sima’s mother couldn’t imagine how she and Sima would return to square one. Sima’s mother was tempted to hide under her covers and wait for this nightmare to end! But her lovely daughter was just as good and sweet as before she met Yirmi, wasn’t she? How could she abandon Sima just when she was mourning her loss? With renewed resolve, Sima’s mother helped her daughter to process what had happened. Both mother and daughter analyzed the great kindness of Hashem in giving Sima this opportunity for introspection, growth and refining her understanding of relationships. It was but a year later, when Sima stood alongside her chosson, Yeshaya, that she understood how her painful experience prepared her for a relationship of a significantly higher caliber.

But we’re not done yet. What water catastrophe followed Breishis? Mankind didn’t ‘get it’, and Noach and his family were the sole survivors.

Similarly, when we hung up our tambourines after an enthralling chorus of Oz Yashir –what premier event followed the Yam-Suf-birthday?

When the nation couldn’t find potable water[17] at Marah, Moshe was instructed to throw a type of wood into the water rendering it drinkable.

Next stop: Eilim, where they encountered natural springs of water.

Hmm – noticing a pattern?

Midbar Sin: Introducing the ultimate in divine food products: mann! How? It ‘rained[18]’ down, and was protected by layers of damp dew.

Final ‘wet’ stop for B’shalach is Refidim[19]. Again, no water, and Moshe is under threat. But never fear, Moshe managed to procure water. Consequently, Refidim became ‘Massah U’merivah” indicating how the People challenged Moshe about water saying, ‘Is Hashem in our midst or not?’[20]

And that really sums it up.

Any of you ever created water? Did you ever dig up two juicy hydrogen molecules and splice in a single oxygen? It’s a successful recipe– how come you’ve never tried?

Because you can’t!

You want to know if Hashem is in your midst? Look at the water! You’ll find Him in Breishis and Noach, you’ll find Him at every birth, and in the Nile, the Yam-Suf and at the well, and you’ll find Him in water that emerges from sticks, stones and dew.

And He’s right there under the Chuppah.

You and I cannot create water exactly as we are unable to cook up our child’s shidduch!! It’s the same as splitting the sea – only Hashem knows that recipe.

  • Corollary 2: being in the Shidduch business is being in the Emuna business

Are you hoping to marry off your child one day? Are you a shadchan? Are you yourself looking for your richtige zivug? How in the world are any of us going to get to, or arrange a chuppa if the whole thing is beyond us?

Birthdays, eh?

Who demonstrates no-fail attendance at every one of her kids’ births? Quite conveniently – the child’s mother! Imagine how bad your newborn would feel if you’d missed the bus and hadn’t shown up! Yet not only did you reliably come to the event, but your child enjoyed your full participation. It didn’t stop there – you instinctively knew how to relate to your newborn, establishing a bond that is eternal and un-severable. The primary relationship 101 started when that bewildered little person emerged and landed in your arms. That’s the moment when you started preparing your charge for relating to others, and eventually their spouse! And if they learn to relate well– then they can triumph at the ultimate relationship with their Creator!

Remember Tirza? There was a nation to redeem because of the Tirzas. If not for their perseverance to create the mother / child relationship to begin with, who would be left?

  • Corollary 3: Value yourself! The Creator appointed you for the exalted mission of inaugurating the next generation. No one can replace your brilliant contribution! Why don’t you take your tambourine and thank Hashem for this awesome honor!

Does your child’s age make you any less or more his mother? - Whether cradle or chuppah, your relationship with him can make all the difference. You always matter to him, you always have an influence, and you are the model for all the interpersonal relationships that follow.

  • Corollary 4: Is your child sufficiently relationship – ready? Does s/he notice that there are other people on the ‘Yam-Suf’ path? Is s\he careful not to bump their donkey into someone else’s? Is s\he giving a hand to prevent another from stumbling?

When Boaz met Ruthi, she revealed that she is vegetarian. How did Boaz respond? He might have thought to himself, ‘No way – I’ll never see a steak again!’ Or, he could have answered, ‘Oh, poor you! Did your parents like, force you to eat that grassy stuff, and that vegetarian thing happened as a result? Is it contagious?’ Or, “What’s wrong with you – how did you get involved in such a meshugas?” But in fact Boaz’s one word response was; “Awesome!” With one word, the carnivorous Boaz demonstrated that he is accepting, validating, respectful, other minded, expressive, animated, and interested – these are signs of a person who is ready for marriage.

When Tirza and Aviezer marched with their family to the Yam Suf, imagine them marching each son to the chuppah, because it is almost the same.

At the end of the long, narrow and challenging childhood, where we can see many other boys and girls walking a parallel path – your child will emerge from the chuppah to bear a nation. His or her contribution will be because you brought them to the edge of the raging, and scary sea of adulthood, and encouraged them to jump in, knowing that Hashem would be right there ‘in their midst’.

  • Corollary 5: Not only is your child possibly jumping into a scary sea, but so are you. Your home will readjust to his absence, you may wonder if your new child in law is as pious as you hoped, you may see changes or behaviors in your child that are not as you expected. And to top it off, it’s going to cost you some r’chush gadol[21]!

And here’s the caveat – when emerging on the other side of Creation, or on the other side of the Yam Suf, the journey is not complete. Your child will have to subdue his ego to make room for his spouse. They may occasion upon an oasis of fresh water springs, but likely there will also be moments of complaint, times when they question if they should have stayed in Mitzrayim. They may wonder how they will manage –goodness, it’s an arid desert out there! – What will we eat and drink?

  • Corollary 6: “Emerging on the other side” is possibly the hardest part. For a generation, you were the ‘team – manager’. Suddenly, you exit the chuppa as your child enters cheder yichud and instantly your role has shifted. Your child is occupying a different tent. The new couple must collect their own mann. Perhaps you’ll go out in middle of the night on tiptoe, and quietly place a sign with an arrow pointing in the direction of the oasis. But maybe a sandstorm will conceal it, and they’ll wander towards bitter waters. If your child decides to visit your tent, and request the benefit of your wisdom, you’ll regale them with stories of how to survive a harsh life of slavery. But of course, s/he didn’t share the same experience, and now they’re desert dwellers – new generation, new encounters. You’re being patient – you’re all headed in a similar direction on this journey…

You have escorted your child to his Yam Suf, watched as the sea split, allowing him privileged passage; you know the secret of the watery process. And because of you, your child will in his own way, learn the secret too. The new couple who emerges from your devoted care will follow your example, knowing they could not have made this happen; it is Hashem in their midst.

Originally printed in HaModia, Parshas B'shalach, January 27, 2021

שמות, א: ז' – רש"י 1

מדרש שמות רבא 2

מדרש שמות רבא 3

ילקוט מעם לועז 4

סוטה י"ב- ברש"י 5

שמות רבא 6

שמות ה':ז' 7

רמב"ן שמות א': י' 8

פרקי דרבי אליעזר.ילקוט מעם לועז 9

שמות י"ד: כ"א 10

מדרש תנחומא – בשלח 11

שמות י"ד: כ"ט – אבן עזרא 12

13 Rabbi Akiva Tatz: Kaballah

14 זכר ליציאת מצרים 14

זכר למעשה בראשית 15

קשה לזווגם כקריעת ים סוף: סנהדרין כ"ב 16

שמות ט"ו:כ"ב –כ"ד 17

שמות ט"ז:ד' 18

שמות י"ז : א' 19

שמות י"ז:ז' 20

21 Great wealth – that they took out of Egypt


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