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Deep Sea Diving

by Rabbi Eliezer Gurkow

  

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The Gardens

Seeking an escape from the fast pace of the big city, I used to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Strolling along quiet lanes, I would breathe in the fragrance and enjoy the scenic beauty. Sitting peacefully by the pond, I would close my eyes and try to leave the city behind.

The gardens were expansive, but not large enough. The escape was lovely, but not total. Even from a distance, the din of New York traffic was always audible. The muffled cacophony of honking horns and screeching tires always disturbed the serenity of my botanic oasis.

Deep Sea Diving

The other day I met a friend, an enthusiastic scuba diver. He invited me to dive with him and encouraged me to explore this radically new experience. “It's a different world down there,” he gushed. “Utterly peaceful and quiet. You feel as if you have left the world behind. Life's nagging problems fade away as you escape into the depths of the underwater kingdom.”

Ah, at long last. The elusive escape. I grant that Scuba diving is not a typical rabbinical activity, but the promise of escape is enticing. A new world. A radical departure from all I know. Should I try it?

I would breathe in the fragrance and enjoy the scenic beauty. Sitting peacefully by the pond, I would close my eyes and try to leave the city behind
Splitting the Sea

This might be precisely what G-d had in mind when he split the Sea of Reeds for our ancestors. After their Exodus from Egypt, G-d charted a course of travel that led our ancestors to the Reed Sea. Tracked and chased by the Egyptians, they were trapped between a vicious army and a ferocious sea.

At the last moment, just before disaster struck, G-d split the sea into twelve open lanes and enabled our ancestors to cross. The Egyptians gave chase and plunged forward into the sea, but the walls of water gave way, drowning the army in an aquatic grave.

The Torah doesn't tell history for the sake of story telling. As readers of this column know, every biblical episode holds relevance to our modern day. What is the modern significance of this ancient story?

Seeing G-d

Our sages taught that G-d revealed himself to every Jew at the Reed Sea. In the words of our sages, “Even the angels do not merit the vision that was granted to every Jew at the Reed Sea.”1 What was the nature of this vision and why was it revealed to every Jew?2

The sea bed, a kingdom unto itself, is concealed beneath its surface. Penetration of this concealed kingdom is possible, but it requires a complete break from dry land. Descent into its murky depths leaves us at the sea's mercy. Light fades, sound and smell disappear. We are held in the sea's powerful grip.

Once we descend a new world emerges. An exciting world. Novel creatures, exotic fauna and coral reef; myriads of treasures await us below. So enthralling is this world, that confronted by it, the other simply fades. The sea bed becomes real, dry land, but a distant memory. The worries, fears and concerns of every day lose their meaning in the sea's alluring beauty.

Alas, we cannot remain for long. Thrilling as it is, we must keep our eye on the clock. An extra minute in the water can spell doom. We are attracted to the beauty, but we also want to live. It's a death trap; we cannot straddle both worlds for long. We must choose. We could drown in the beautiful sea or abandon its beauty, for life. On the surface we could revisit its throbbing beauty by conjuring up the images in our memories, but survival always come first.

Footnotes

  • 1. Shemot Rabba 23: 15. In their ode to G-d after the sea splitting, Moses proclaimed, “This is my G-d and I shall beautify him.” A principal of Hebrew grammar posits that the word, "this", denotes something that you see before you and can point to. That Moses and the people who sang with him, said, “this is my G-d," teaches us that they saw G-d before their very eyes and pointed to him.
  • 2. If the angels did not merit seeing this vision than surely we cannot pretend to understand it. Yet we are required to seek knowledge and understanding, even if we will never grasp the fullness of its meaning.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

History » Desert Sojourn

Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Chassidic
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Exodus
1. The miraculous departure of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage in 1312 BCE. 2. The second of the Five Books of Moses. This book describes the aforementioned Exodus, the giving of the Torah, and the erection of the Tabernacle.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.