T.J. Taa’nit 2:51
presents a most interesting portrayal of the dynamics within the Jewish People
as they were camped beside Yam Suf,
with the Egyptians in pursuit. It seems that the nation was divided into four
factions. One advocated just jumping into the Sea. The second argued that the
nation should just return to
The Korban HaEida sees within these four groupings one that consists of totally righteous individuals, one that consists of totally evil individuals and two that reflect intermediary outlooks. He contends that the ones that said to jump into the Sea were the totally righteous ones. They had total faith that God would save them as there is nothing that can prevent God from doing so, whether on the land or in the sea. Moshe’s directive to them, hityatzvu,2 to stand still,3 would therefore have to be understood as a direction to them that there would be no need for them to enter the water, perhaps to demonstrate their faith,4 but that they should simply, and passively, watch their salvation. The problem with this approach, though, is that hityatzvu, in the verse, is preceded by a directive not to fear, al ti’ra’u. It would thus seem that the specific faction to whom the word hityatzvu was directed was a faction that was afraid. Torah Temima, Shemot 14:13, note 6, interestingly, understands the nature of the group who were speaking about jumping into the water in precisely this manner, and thus contrary to the way that the Korban HaEida saw them. To the Torah Temima, they were the ones who had given up, almost resigned to the fact that they would be pushed into the Sea. The fact is that such controversy is found concerning the nature of each of the factions that the gemara introduces. The gemara simply defines each faction by the position that each assumed in regard to the Egyptians pursuing them, yet the exact nature of each group’s advocated undertaking is not clearly identified, nor is the value, reason or thought behind each viewpoint clear.
A clear example of the confusion that is faced in truly
identifying the very nature of each of these factions is found in regard to the
group that the gemara describes as
calling upon the people to cry. For what exactly was this faction demanding in
declaring “let us cry.” Korban HaEida and Torah Temima see this group as promoting
crying out to God, as, essentially, calling for prayer.6
Torah Shelaima, Shemot 14:13, Note 81,7
however, presents another understanding of the intention in crying out – to
confuse the enemy. He further presents the possibility that these two different
objectives in crying out may represent two separate sub-groups within the one
larger group described as advocating crying. A group may be described as
advocating for a specific action, like jumping into the sea, yet the underlying
motivation for this action may be diametrically the opposite – one expressing
the greatest faith in God while the other is feeling despair. The gemara may further describe a group
pursuant to a broad description of their desired course of action, like crying
out, yet two individuals may differ regarding the specific nature of the act
that each is promoting and its intended purpose. There were four different factions
that were formed within the Jewish People as they found themselves confronting
the presence of the
fact is, though, that this midrash
may actually describing four general and broad types of responses that human
beings have in a crisis situation. There is the one who retreats such as those
who wished to return to
Rabbi Benjamin Hecht
1 See, also, Mechilta, Shelach 2:13.
3 Shemot 14:13.
4 Other works, I have seen, translate hityatzvu as either stand fast or stand ready. The latter translation is most interesting as it reflects the fact that the nation would have to eventually move, walking through the split sea.
5 Note, of course, is taken of the famous midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 13:7 regarding Nachshon ben Aminadav going into the sea and thereby causing it to split. Responding to this issue, though, is beyond the parameters of this Insight. We can, thus, for our purposes perceive this as a disagreement between midrashim.
6 Still, within the words of these two commentators, there seems to be somewhat of a disagreement in regard to the underlying motivation and value in this advocacy.
7 In quoting the Torah Shelaima, it may be of interest to note that he actually presents viewpoints, within the Torah literature, in regard to the nature, ideology and, even, number of the groups into which the nation was divided at this juncture in history. We will, for the purposes of this Insight, still consider only the division as presented in this Yerushalmi.
8 Effectively, a yerida l’tzorech aliyah.(c) Nishma, 2009
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